Friday, December 19, 2014

Reflections, tips, and ideas

Virginia Society for Technology in Education Conference 2014

Last week I had the privilege of attending the VSTE Conference in Virginia Beach.
The weather was horrible but the conference gave me lots of ideas to share.

The big idea I left with is that when we talk about technology sometimes teachers and administrators feel that they have to know it all before they have their students use it. In Albemarle County there is a single vision of what is best for the student that guides everyone’s practice. The Director of Educational Technology and Professional Development explained the philosophy that:

“School is the Safest place to make a mistake”
Both adults and students in education  should be able to make mistakes and learn, we want to “teach and trust” .

Other useful tidbits:

  • In Google Classroom create an assignment spreadsheet and give students editing permissions. The students will create the “wiki” of resources for that assignment for the whole class to share.
  • Create a group on Diigo for the team or the staff- Diigo is a  free bookmarking service that will also annotate. You can place sticky notes or highlights on a website or website article for the group to pay attention to and the annotations stay attached to the link when it is shared.
  • Create fake email addresses for your students when they need to access a program that requires an email with Dispostable or GuerrillaMail. The emails are temporary.
  • This one is great for meetings - Decide already - enter a question and you and the team will be prompted make a decision; and the best part is the team does not have to be in the meeting!
  • Use Timeline from ReadWriteThink and the lesson plans that come with it for student research on any subject.
  • Try Countable with your students as a starting point for discussion or a topic to start research. This site tracks the bills and issues that our Government Representatives are working on now. You can vote on the issue and then track how the congress person voted.
  • Use a wireless mouse and keyboard to allow more students to interact with the SMART or Promethean boards.
  • Wolfram Alpha is great for getting answers to math problems (and any other question). The pro service gives access to the Wolfram Alpha Problem Generator which will generate problems to solve with step by step answers.

Special Recommendations for Administrators:
  • Studies show that parents get much of their information from social media. Start a blog or twitter account to keep communication going with all the interested stakeholders. Include your schedule for the day, sub lists for the day, changes for the day or other information.
  • Use HassleMe to set up reminders or Remind to notify parents and teachers of emergencies or upcoming events.

Speaking of Twitter:
  • Use tweetymail to tweet right from your email
  • Set up Tweetdeck to view the hashtags you are following in columns, create a list in tweetdeck to narrow tweets shown to students.
  • Tweet faster from websites with
  • Use tag sleuth to visualize the tweet trends and explore graphs of trending topics.
  • Share this with students: TwitterFall will display a preselected list of tweets, like a “waterfall”, with geolocation tags.

Networking news:
  • Information from the Virginia Department of Education: An initiative called the  Education Superhighway designed to get us all high speed broadband and connectivity by 2016 and  a heads up for new technology goals for 2016.
  • Goochland County is a 1:1 district that has told its teachers to stop teaching "to the SOL’s" and concentrate on project based learning, what will be the results?

Amazon echo and the future of education? This new device will answer any question.

This is just a small amount of the information shared at this conference. More ideas worth a mention are the virtual worlds Unity, Kitely, and MinecraftEdu where students can create content.

Rob Furman, Principal of South Park Elementary School in Pittsburgh  describes the idea of changing the "classroom” to a “classworld”  What do you think?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014



  • What is a blog? A blog is a WEB + LOG or microblogs like twitter which are all online means of communicating thoughts and information. It really can be anything you want it to be (instagram, pinterest, TPT, etc). As always, start with an objective and have a plan.
  • Why are blogs a good idea? Blogging is a form of relevant,authentic learning that offers the students a global perspective through communicating outside the classroom walls. Many people make money from blogging and college’s favor students who have a digital writing portfolio that includes blogging. Blogging is also an interactive form of practice with technology, reading and writing that does not happen from a worksheet.
  • How will we blog?  Blogging as a whole class using the classroom website or twitter, or individually using a safe platform such as kidblog.
  • What type of voice and language do you use in a blog post? A blog is a conversation that has quality content. The language should not be formal but grammar, spelling, and punctuation are important. A blog style is not a “class” paper, it is more of a journal entry. Finding your “voice” takes time, have students start blogging at the beginning of the year and then have them review their posts later in the year to see if they can notice any changes in how they write. A blog is a great way to learn about positive commenting that keeps a conversation going. Some teachers have students rate the comments by level where the rating depends on how much the comment added to the conversation. A “good job” comment does not add to the conversation.
  • What is one way to use elements on the web in your blog post? A blog can contain other elements of the web such as a short video from the class, a picture, or a web link to a relevant website. It can even contain audio recordings from the class. Any outside sources of information must be cited by a hyperlink that refers to back to the  original source but a formal citation list is not included. Also any pictures can be credited by a hyperlink.
  • SOL’s - Any strand SOL can be the subject of a blog plus the applicable computer technology SOL’s are covered.
This is a great resource of blogging tips and a good comment generating sentence that will lead to appropriate comments.

A comprehensive information site on classroom blogging with stu
dent examples on how to make it successful.

Kidblog how to:

A place to find other teachers who blog with their classes:

List of great ideas on what to blog about in the “Lots of Ideas” tab

Blogging Examples:

Act fast:
Apply to participate in the Global Education Project

Lets Start Blogging -
Add a comment on some ideas you might have for your class in the comments section below.

Friday, September 12, 2014

What is a Maker Space?

“Makers” in New Kent County Public Schools

Have you heard about Maker Spaces and the Maker movement? They are popping up all over Virginia, including here in New Kent County. A very popular educator, Vicki Davis, has described it as “ ... a unique combination of artistry, circuitry, and old-fashioned craftsmanship. Certainly, learning by doing or "making" has been happening since our ancestors refined the wheel” Her article outlines the research that supports the trend. Simply put, students(and adults) implement 21st Century Skills when they make something.

As one New Kent County Student describes what “making” means to her:

“ of my favorite things is to build and create things. Whenever I build things, I feel like I am my own person and nobody can tell me what to do.  One of the things I think is cool is that I get to design exactly what I want something to look like.
I enjoy building furniture and items for my room and decorations for my locker.  I have found that when I build something and it doesn't work, I may have to take it apart and rebuild it until it works just the way I want.  For example, when I tried to build a chair, it kept falling apart.  I took it down, used other materials and designed it another way.  
 I just keep trying different things until it works.Some of the things I’ve made for my locker were not staying in place, so I needed to use stronger magnets.  I designed a rainbow fringe feature for the top shelf of my locker this year, and I found that embroidery thread, duct tape and magnets did the job  Of course, I needed to use the right strength magnets to hold it all in place.I celebrate when I’ve completed a project and the design works!  
 I’m really proud of myself when a new design comes together.  When I get tired of one design, I can pull it all down and start over fresh – with new ideas and challenges to overcome.  The best thing is that I get to use the design when I’m done with it!”


A maker space can be established in school or outside of school. With the 2014-2015 School year, Mrs. Noctor, the librarian at George Watkins Elementary School is getting ready to have a small Makerspace in the school library. The students will be able to get creative while in the library, which is a a good place for a maker space with so many resources available for inspiration.

2014-08-29 11.35.26.jpg

The hot item to include in a makerspace is a 3D printer.


Mr. O’Rear in New Kent High School used the Donor’s Choose website to receive funding for the 3D printer. The printer chosen was the MakerBot Replicator 2 for its versatility and ease of use. Students will be using various CAD software to design a number of projects throughout the course.

Do you want to see what the Maker Movement is about? The next makerfaire in Virginia is happening on October 4,2014 in Charlottesville, VA. Get Tickets now!

mini maker faire.PNG

If you can not “make” it to the maker faire check out to explore the “maker” in you.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Curiosity and the Library

Be Curious! File:Curious Owl.jpg

What is Happening in the Libraries at New Kent County Elementary Schools? The students are curious, they are working in groups, there is lots of talking, and there is lots of activity. Not at quiet library time. Why? Because they are doing research on something they are curious about and they are creating presentations that reflect their learning. Conducting research can be a challenging activity in New Kent!

This month the 5th graders have put together amazing creative presentations that incorporate more than one computer technology standard as well as SOL content. Ms. Prough, at New Kent Elementary School, had her students use laptops and tablets to research a famous person. The students were then required to create a Google presentation or a Google Earth tour with the curated information. The students created scripts for a video taped mock interview with the famous person.

Ms. Noctor, at George Watkins Elementary School, invited the Virginia Living Museum to send artifacts from the Chesapeake Bay for the students to observe and research.  Once all the research was curated the students wrote out scripts for an oral presentation in front of a “green screen”  The video of each group overlayed onto the backgrounds the students requested gave the total “green screen” effect. All the students enjoyed viewing the final productions.  

The libraries in the New Kent County Elementary Schools are always very busy places. The Librarians, Ms.Noctor and Ms.Prough, keep the students actively engaged in learning as well as browsing and checking out books. That is a huge amount of work in a 50 minute period! Great Job Ladies!

These projects assist our children in the development of creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration.  These 4C’s are the cornerstone for the 21st century skills our students need to succeed. This summer you can foster these skills by encouraging children to be curious about the world around them. Take them to the library to conduct research and help them use mobile apps or computer software to publish that curated information. Share this with relatives and friends to give the students an authentic audience that will help them gain confidence in self-directed learning.  Allow them to explore platforms like Animoto, Prezi, or Mozilla popcorn maker to put a presentation all together.

Make this a summer filled with curiosity and wonder!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Spring Cleaning

Organization, Organization, OrganizationApril blog .jpg

We have been using Google Drive for awhile now and it is time to get organized!!
Spend a little time this spring to organize the emails and documents into folders to be ready for more projects next year. Google can help save some time in your day:

Create documents in google drive- this is the first step. Google Drive will automatically save it. No more clicking save or forgetting to click save before the thunderstorm!
  • When you are creating that document there is going to be something you will need to reference or learn about. Forget “Googling” for it in a separate tab, highlight the item, navigate to “tools” at the top of the document and select “Research”. Instantly link to what you are looking for from the information in the panel that pops up on the right. Make a change in a google doc linked to your website (for example that classroom newsletter) and it will update on the website, there is no need to get into two places.  
  • Selecting “share” documents and collaborate or comment on documents in real time.This is great for checking student work (formative assessment) or doing team lessons. No more emails back and forth. Plus the history of revisions feature allows you to change your mind.
  • Load all your pictures from an activity into a Google Presentation for a quick slide show/video on your website.
  • Create a form for parents to fill out that will populate a Google spreadsheet automatically.
  • Add Doctopus to a spreadsheet and have your students add their work to a project folder seamlessly.
  • Add tasks to your calendar that will keep you on track.
Create Folders - this is a critical step in organization. The folder can contain any source of documents such as word, pdf, pictures, video, or Share whole folders or individual folder documents.
  • In Google Drive use  the “more” button that appears at the top bar above the word “title” by checking the box next to that document. You can see the details of that document, star it and of course delete it.
  • In Gmail checkmark the box next to an email, find the “more” button at the top bar and create a folder or tag for the email. Move all emails of that type into the folder by selecting “filter messages like these” or “nest” them in seperate folders under one main folder.Create one folder in Gmail called “Action” to alert you to act on these items first.
  • Drag and Drop items to folders or archive them- clear the inbox!
  • Try Google keyboard shortcuts
More Sorting Tips:
  • Color code the folder in Google Drive by right clicking on the folder and select a color.
  • Explore Gmail Settings -Color code the emails in Gmail by going into your settings  and selecting more than one type of star. Also in Gmail settings add an automatic signature instead of typing that in every time!
  • Use the search box in Google Drive or Gmail to find what you need by name, tag, star, or folder
  • Install the google Drive app on your mobile device- Add items to folders immediately.

More Organization:
In My December blog post I mentioned a few favorite things for organizing, here are more idea’s:
If you want students involved consider creating a classroom wiki - Wikispaces allows educators to create a classroom wiki for free. Students can log in to the URL provided by their teacher with a username and pre-set password. Wiki’s are a great tool for adding and sharing items for any project. It is a private site that is easy to access for students and teachers. There is also an assessment feature that will show the teacher a students progress on an assignment.

IFTTT- this one is a must try. “If This Then That” is a recipe creator that you can use to organize all the tweets, emails, rss feeds, photo’s and social media notifications without you doing a thing. Have you ever wondered how all these people send out so much information all the time? This is how they do it. If you have an ios device it will even automatically set your lights through the Philips Hue bulb!

APPS: These apps work with Google Drive and are mobile.

super Organization - I wish my shelves looked like this!color coding.jpg

Photo by Juhan Sonin