Sunday, October 17, 2010

Don't Stop Questioning!

While scrolling through my very full Google Reader I came across another David Warlick post that made me stop and think.  10+ Ways to Promote a Learning Culture in Your School.  I loved #7 "Plant around the school and especially in the library curious questions that might spark a desire in learners (How many steps does a centipede have to take to travel a foot?  Who was the youngest person to sail around the world?)."  

Our 5th and 6th grade teachers decided to stop giving homework this year.  Yes you read that correctly.  There were many reasons that went in to the decision.  Anyway, instead of homework I've been talking to students and parents about ways to promote learning outside of school and for students during times when they want to ask the famous question "I'm done what do I do now?"

For my students: 
In their writer's notebooks they created a page that listed their curiosities.  I was intrigued to watch the process.  Some students finished a whole page of ideas while others couldn't even think of five things they were curious about.  

I plan to incorporate #9 from Warlick's list:  devote one classroom bulletin board to what they are learning, related or unrelated to the classroom.  I plan not only to display my own learning but ask that the students have a spot  in the room to display what they learn as well.

For parents, I sent an email with the following information:  
1.  Practice math facts!  or other Math Skills!  There are a TON of fun websites to help students do this. 

2.  Reading
     *  Find a magazine your child likes and give him/her a subscription
     *  Encourage curiosity!  Talk to your student about things they wonder about and encourage them to learn more-- I would love for  them to learn something on their own and then come in and teach the class!
     *  Read a book WITH them.
     *  Encourage them to visit online sites: , , ,  NOTE:  Please check out the sites listed BEFORE suggesting them to your child to make sure YOU feel they are appropriate.

3.  Science
      *  Perform experiments together or encourage them to foster their curiosity of the world.  They can always come in and share what they learned.
      *  Visit science websites geared for kids: , , ,   NOTE:  Please check out the sites listed BEFORE suggesting them to your child to make sure YOU feel they are appropriate.


1.  Visit the Denver Art Museum
2.  Visit the Museum of Nature and Science
3.  Visit the Children's Museum
4.  Go for a hike and talk about the things you see on the trail (rocks, plants, animals...)
5.  Take a class at the Home Depot with your child (or sign him/her up for one)
6.  Make a stop motion video
7.  Take pictures and then have fun editing them in (or another image editing site)
8.  Make cookies together and take them to a Senior Citizens center
9.  Go on a picnic together and plan the meal using the Food Guide Pyramid
10. Challenge your child or family using some Minute to Win it games:
11. Challenge your child to build something out of household materials  (example:  using 20 toothpicks and 20 marshmallows build the sturdiest bridge possible)

The possibilities are limitless!  The key is to promote CREATIVITY!!

What do you do in your classroom and life to promote and foster curiosity?


Sunday, July 4, 2010

Taking Less From the Technology Tool Buffet

I just read David Warlicks blog post about ISTE.  I love his comment "There were those who pursued new tools and their mastery. And then there were those who wished to walk away from the presentations and conversations with new insights, better understandings, new stories, more philosophical backing, and a richer and more practical vision of contemporary education."  I think it would be very easy to attend a conference of that size and try to take it all in.  The first day I certainly did just that.  

On day 2 and 3, I chose to S-L-O-Wdown!  I realized that I WAS using many of the tools and resources I heard about in the sessions.  However, I totally agree with Lee Kolbert's response from the above blog: "I think there are lots of people in the same boat where we’ve hit a point where we have some great tools, now let’s slow down and figure out some authentic, compelling reason to use them; if there are any. And let’s stop spending more money on items we’re not using. It’s like the buffet where there are so many good things to eat so you take a little of everything. Now that I’ve tasted the items, I’m ready to fill my plate with just what was really good and make a substantial meal of it."  

I hope to go into this year and use fewer tools and focus on the ones that I know can get me to the authenticity and deeper level of understanding I want my students to have when they are in my classroom!!

QUESTION:  If you had to choose only three tools/sites to use in your classroom, what would your top three picks be?

Friday, July 2, 2010

Video Conferencing

I was lucky to connect with another 5th grade teacher within my district last year.  We planned for a group of students in both classrooms to read the same book.  They were required to blog about the book using our district Google Apps domain.  Along with the blogging, I wanted to try video conferencing between the two groups as another way for students to connect around the same book.

Our district uses PolyCom as its supported video conferencing program.  I was only able to use it once but found it pretty self explanatory and easy to use.  The students enjoyed being able to see the faces of the other class and discuss ideas and understandings about the book.  I realize after this first effort that I'd put a little more structure around what I wanted the students to discuss and give them the discussion points prior to the conference.  

One early idea I had was to connect my students to their penpals in NY.  The district rep, Steve, who I worked with said that someone outside Jeffco could easily be given a guest log in for PolyCom!! 

Jefferson County Poly Com

QUESTION:  How could video conferencing help enhance your instruction?  Could you connect to a scientist at the Denver or San Diego Zoo?  Perhaps your favorite author would be willing to connect with your class?  What about learning from a scientist who is doing research in Antarctica around climate change?

If you have any ideas please share them in the comments section!

The Possibilities with Discovery Education

Discovery Education is a resource that is openly available in my school district.  During ISTE, we stopped at the booth and chatted about some unknown features available.  

Teachers have the ability to create a class group in DE.  Students can then log in at any time to view videos, take quizzes or complete assignments.  

Last spring, we were able to tap into this when our 5th grade Growing and Changing unit was revised.  The district folks made the required videos available on DE.  During our parent meeting we didn't want to spend hours watching the videos so we provided a code that parents could use to preview the videos on their own time.  

I can see value in this tool.  Teachers could require students to watch a video prior to a lesson being taught.  This would save the time spent viewing a video during class and allow for more time to be spent on collaboration and discussion within the face to face classroom environment.  While there will always be students who can't pre-watch a video, there are ways to accommodate them.  Another tool within DE is one where teachers can choose a picture with a prompt and have students write about this.  

So my recommendation is to explore Discovery Education and see how these tools can help change they way you teach.  I believe they could provide some of those extra minutes we're always trying to find!

QUESTION:  How would instruction change if students previewed movies or articles prior to a teacher's lesson?  Could it truly provide more time for face to face interactions, discussions & collaborations?  How would you deal with the student(s) who don't have Internet access?  

Thursday, July 1, 2010

I Went to ISTE 2010 for $2

I am fortunate to be in an Innovative Tech Group in my district.  One of the perks of this group is they paid for us to attend ISTE 2010!!  I had a great thought to ride the bus instead of drive-- fine if you don't need to take the Colfax bus.  I realized that I need to make myself take the RTD more just to get out of my box.  I wrangled a few bus passes and poof-- my $2.00 trip to ISTE.

This was my first ISTE conference.  I was certainly overwhelmed most of the time but it was a good overwhelmingness that I let wash over me and I took in all that I could before crashing at the end of the day from mental overload!  I will for sure be heading to Philly next summer for the ISTE 2011 conference.  

My Take-Aways:

1.  I attended many sessions and listened in on many conversations.  I was for the most part a lurker!  I needed to lurk this year to build my confidence and get my feet wet amongst some amazing educators.  I spotted several people I follow on Twitter and felt like I was spotting a movie star!  Karl Fisch, Ben Wilkoff, Paula White....  What I realized as I lurked was...... I could hold my own with these people!  I have worked hard especially this past year to grow professionally.  I am proud that I have done just that.  Which makes me all to happy to keep growing and learning.

2.  One focus of next year for me will be around flattening my classroom a bit.  I am in the planning stages with the amazing Paula White from VA around collaborating with her students using a FabLab (  I want my students to get outside their own little boxes and be in awe of the world around them.  I want them to be curious about something and feel ok to investigate it.  I want them to think, really and truly think.

3.  I attended Bernajean Porter's session- "Where's the Beef?"  I have to admit that some projects I did with my students last year were complete failures.  Some were pretty good.  A small handful were great.  I want to focus on 'the beef' with my digital projects.  I am one of the only tech-savy teachers in my building so I end up having to take many students from ground zero in their technology skills.  While I enjoy a challenge, I'd love to have students walk in my room with a few more basic skills.  Anyway, back to 'the beef'. I plan to work smarter in my assignment designs so that I get the beef and the students still find it challenging and rewarding!  One thing I know is my students will be pushed this year to think and go beyond just the facts with their thinking.

So those are initial thoughts that I wanted to get outta my brain.  More will be coming as I digest my notes and start checking out all the sites and tools I learned about.  

I love that is summer and I have TIME to learn and grow more before my students and I start another adventure in August!

My Too Be Read Book List

Not only do I enjoy reading thought provoking blogs, there are a few books I want to read.  I heard several mentioned at the ISTE conference that I haven't had time to look into but I'll include them here for your perusement.

  • Cognitive Surplus- Clay Shirky- Currently Reading This one
  • Here Comes Everybody- Clay Shirky
  • Drive- Daniel Pink (I own this if anyone wants to borrow let me know)
  • Paul Hawken- Blessed Unrest
  • Ecological Intelligence- Dale Coleman
  • Tribes- Seth Godin
  • The Digital Writing Workshop- Troy Hicks, Penny Kittle
  • Teaching the New Writing- Anne Herrington, Charles moran
  • The Element- Sir Ken Robinson (I own this if anyone wants to borrow let me know)
  • Never Work Harder Than Your Students- Robyn Jackson
  • Catching Up or Leading the Way- Yong Zhao
  • Writing in the 21st Century- Kathleen Yancey
If you have a current read you think I should check out, please let me know!

    The Power of my Google Reader

    I was thankful to show a few of my fellow staff members the power of our districts Google Apps last year.  One of the sessions in our online course talks about RSS.  I love my Google Reader and spend each morning perusing through some amazing posts from people whose thinking I've come to treasure, value and quite honestly NEED to keep me thinking, growing and learning!

    Here's are just SOME of the blogs I follow:

    Who do you follow?  If you have a great suggestion please let me know!  I'm always looking for great thinkers!