A Few of My Favorite “Techie” Things

There are so many websites and apps these days, it is hard to keep up with them all!  There are some that come and go quickly and others that stick around for the long haul.  My favorite type of tech tools are ones that are used for creation purposes, easy to use, and can easily be shared globally.  I have a few that I use consistently each year because they have all of those qualities.

The first tool is Storybird.  Storybird is a FREE website where students choose artwork for the pages of a book and then write a story based on those pictures.  Here is my Storybird book called Dreams.  As you can see a simple story can have a big message.  The creativity, critical thinking, decision making, and writing are all a part of the process to create a thought provoking story.  Adding on top of that, the opportunity to share their story with the world, a real live audience, takes it to the next level.  I set the stories as public and I have my students share their stories on their blog.  One more thing I LOVE – parents can purchase the book as a hardcover or softcover.  Not only is this tool amazing for writing instruction, students enjoy reading each other’s books – along with the hundreds of thousands of books written by children and authors around the world!  So EXCITING 🙂

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Speaking of reading…another website I find my students engaged in often is Newsela.  Newsela is a website FILLED with non-fiction articles.  The articles can be changed to several different Lexiles so every article can be enjoyed by your struggling reader to your strongest reader with the click of a button.  Teachers can assign specific articles and levels to their students or students can choose on their own what they’d like to read.   Newsela also offers text marking tools, quizzes at the end of articles, and open-ended questions for students to answer.  Articles are categorized by subjects such as “Money”, “Kids”, “Art”, and “Science” to name a few.  Newsela has recently updated their site with Text Sets.  Text Sets are a group of articles related to a specific topic.  You can create your own Text Set for a topic you are covering in your classroom or use someone else’s Text Set that has already been created (and tweak it to make it perfect for your classroom needs).  I have used Newsela in two ways this school year.  Each week students are required to read an article of their choice.  Then students create a Google Slide with the title of the article, four detailed facts (as bullets) that support the main idea, and their opinion or thoughts on the article.  Students have also written a blog post (bitly.com/5Gblog) about an article they read and commented on each other’s posts.  I plan on assigning more of those posts in the future.

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News-o-matic is an app that has non-fiction news stories written by children for children.  We were fortunate enough to have a trial period at the end of last year with this app and my students LOVED it!  They loved reading the stories so much, that several of them had their parents buy the app for their personal devices at home.  The stories include fun visuals, video clips, maps showing where the story takes place, puzzles and much more!  Unfortunately, it is an expensive app so we don’t have it this year. However, it is definitely worth looking into for your classroom!

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The last tool is a fun way for students to create a summary of ANYTHING…Tellagami is an app that allows your students to choose a background, create a personalized Gami, and either type in what the Gami says or record themselves saying what they want their Gami to say.  Once the 30 second video is created, students can email it to themselves and use the link to put their video into their blog post.  In the past, students have used this tool to give a quick summary of an object they took a picture of and use it as the background.  For example, a summary of a book, a description of a plant cell, a historical photo, or an explanation of a piece of art they created in art class.

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There are so many wonderful tech tools to enhance instruction in the classroom and unleash your student’s creativity out into the world.  Allowing yourself the time to explore new tools and take the risk of trying something new and unfamiliar in your classroom can lead you to find some of YOUR favorite “techie” things.  So go ahead….Give one of these a try!

Now that is Positively Techie 😉

#TeachSmall

My favorite communication tool Remind wants to hear from teachers about the small things they do to make a big impact on students.

#TeachSmall Movement

Below is my story, feel free to share your story in the comments below or on your own platform…Be sure to use #TeachSmall.

My story isn’t about how the small things I do make an impact on my students.  I’d rather share about the teacher who inspires me everyday to be the best at what I do.  The small things she did, has shaped me to be the teacher I strive to be everyday, because I want to be THAT special teacher for my students too.

Mrs. Glynn was my fourth grade teacher.  The things I remember most about her is that she was young, athletic, had long blonde hair, and drove the coolest car in the parking lot.  I loved her from day one.  She was so  beautiful, nice, caring, and fun.  I knew since I was born I wanted to be a teacher, but when I got to fourth grade – I wanted to be just like her.  I don’t have a lot of memories from my childhood, but this one particular moment I will never forget.  The details are foggy, but I know the way she made me feel is something that has stuck with me my whole life.  Some 35 years later – when I think of this moment – love fills my heart for my fourth grade teacher.

We were sitting on the bleachers in the gym.  I was upset about something (I can’t remember – something about home or possibly girl drama). Mrs. Glynn sat beside me because she noticed something was wrong.  She looked me in the eyes and basically told me everything was going to be okay.  I don’t remember the conversation, I just remember how I felt in that moment.   She showed me that I was important, that I mattered, that she cared about me.  It is an amazing feeling to know that someone you look up to so much thinks you are important.  I make it a point everyday to show my students that they are important, that they matter, that I care about them.  I want them to know I will always be there for them even when they walk out my classroom door on the last day of school.

Mrs. Glynn, thank you for simply being you.  I think about you ALL the time – I will never forget you!

-Nancy

Putting the FLEX in your Flexible Classroom

We’ve all been there…. at the long, full day institute.  Rows upon rows of uncomfortable chairs face the front of the room.  By 10:00 AM you start feeling tired, achy, your back hurts and so does your bum from sitting so long.  Your mind starts thinking about the next five hours you’ll have to sit and you have lost focus.  Sound familiar?  Whether it was an institute, a graduate class, or an after school meeting….we’ve all had the experience of feeling so uncomfortable that it distracts us in some way.  So, think about it…How do you think your students feel? EVERY DAY?!?  Their growing, changing bodies, their energy filled selves, all bottled up and forced to sit in a HARD, plastic chair for the whole day!

I started to think about all of this and realized my classroom just wasn’t set up with my students in mind or with the way I wanted to teach in mind.  My classroom wasn’t completely traditional.  I at least had the desks arranged in pods and had a comfy reading area with bean bag chairs and pillows.  But, it wasn’t good enough, the chairs were so hard and heavy.  The desks were filled with student materials so every time we wanted to make more space for a project or change the desks around to work in larger groups, we had to use a lot of muscle.  It was loud, took time away from learning, and was inconvenient.  I knew I had to make a change.  So at the end of the school year, I made it my goal to create a fun, flexible, comfortable learning environment for my students in the fall.  I had the whole summer to figure out how I would do it, how I would manage the possible chaos in my class, and how to explain to parents why I created a space that looks and works like no other class in the school.

I love a good challenge ;))

My first step was finding comfortable furniture on NO budget from school and little budget from my pocket.  As I searched online for classroom furniture I realized it would cost a small fortune to get a fraction of the cool, new, innovative pieces that are out there.  Then I remembered I heard of a site for teachers to post items they would like for their classroom and random people or companies donate money so the items can be purchased, the site is called DonorsChoose.org.  I logged on and created my project “Flexible Learning Space for Innovative Learning“.  Within two weeks, my project of $1,300 was FULLY funded!  I was completely shocked!  I was going to get four Runtz chairs, four desks that could be adjusted to standing height and had no storage (super lightweight) and a lightweight rectangular table.  WOW!!! I really couldn’t believe my project got funded at all let alone so fast!  My dream of a flexible classroom was getting close to reality, but I still needed more variety for my students to choose from.  So I did what I do best, I started “garbage picking” from what other teachers didn’t want anymore.

Our custodian laughs at me because he knows I am the biggest “garbage picker” at our school.  So over the summer, I scanned the halls for the unwanted items.  Someone else’s trash could be my treasure.  For instance, my new favorite table of all time was out in the hall to be moved to the basement.  I took the adjustable legs completely off and added tennis balls so the floor wouldn’t get scratched.  I now have a space for students who like to work on the floor.  That colorful bin in the background was also a hallway find 🙂  along with two long, thin rectangular tables, a low shelf that I use as a bench, a super cute tiny round table, and a wire shelf to store the students bins.  So far I haven’t spent a dime and I already have a ton of choice for my students.  Things really were starting to come together!



Things I did spend money on were the red cushions for the hard chairs and the floor for my low table (Walmart – 4 for $8), the long body pillow for the counter seat (Target $10), and the rainbow chairs from Five Below ( a big favorite at $5 each – not the best quality, already starting to split at the seams).  I recently bought a pretty patterned contact paper to cover the round table and the bench and garden knee pads from Target in their clearance section for $2.50 each.  (I think the kids will be more comfortable kneeling or sitting on them.) You can see in the pictures I also have stools and swivel chairs on wheels.  My students truely have a wide variety of seating choice, which I wanted.

Using DonorsChoose was so easy and my students love the Runtz chairs so much, we decided to try again to get a donor for more comfortable chairs. “New Flexible Classroom Seeking Comfortable Chairs”  I even had a student go home and write a letter to help our cause:

Why Runtz chairs make a better learning environment 

Hello my name is…..  I am a student in Mrs Gadzala’s fifth grade class at….. I was very excited when we were donated Runtz chairs and built them.

Later that day I got my hands on it and started working on it. I loved the chair so much and realized how much better I could work when I was on the Runtz chair and not on a uncomfortable desk chair. It may be a little hard to set up but it is amazing to see what you can get done once you have a Runtz chair. So if you are willing to donate to my class, we would be delighted.

Having any student go above and beyond puts a smile on your face and makes your heart melt a little bit 🙂

Here are a few other organizations that will donate to teachers:

Here is a fun video I put together for part of my “thank you” package for my donors from DonorsChoose that showcases the delivery of the Runtz Chairs.  (We are still waiting for the standing desks.)

Our Flexible Classroom thanks to Donors Choose!

Classroom Cribs Challenge Video
You can also hit your local garage sales and I’ve heard college kids get rid of furniture at the end of the school year. So, don’t be afraid to “garbage pick” and think outside the box!!

I’ve got my flexible space, but how do I keep order in a classroom of 22 ten year olds when they are given complete control of where they want to sit at any given time of day?  I had a plan set up from day one.  First, I told the students my expectations for the space we were about to call our classroom community.  I explained my vision for this space and our roles in this space.  I asked them what they wanted to accomplish this year in this space and then we came up with guidelines to follow in order to have a successful year:


I created a continuos chart for the Runtz Chairs (aka Bum Drops – they look like gum drops you can sit on – the students made it up :)) and for the bean bag chairs.  This stops any arguments over who gets to sit on them.  When the other classes come in, they know to look on the chart to see if they get one of the “fun” chairs.  The other spaces and chairs are available for anyone to choose.  I have four students who chose in the beginning of the year to house their things in a desk and on most days sit at the desk.  That is okay, because that is how they learn best.  The other students have a bin to house their materials and can choose to sit on the floor, counter, a stool, swivel seat, in a group, all alone, by the window, or in the corner.  I explained to the students the importance of making the right choice for them.  I said and repeat often, “You are the only one who knows what the right choice for you is, choose wisely so you can accomplish all that you want this year.”  To my surprise, they actually do make great choices!  Sure, they may sit by their friends, but sometimes they don’t.  I have never had a more focused, engaged, and QUIET class than I do this year.  I read research that a flexible space works, but I wasn’t positive I could pull it off.  I wasn’t positive my students would take on the responsibility I was giving them of making good choices and they are!  It is so cool to see 🙂  I have to be honest here.  I do have the other fifth grade classes in my room for a short period of time three times a week.  The other two classes are a bit more squirrelly and need reminders about making better choices, but in time I believe they will “get it” too.
As far as having to explain to parents the benefits of my classroom?  I had this blog post from edutopia ready to share (the video is worth watching) But, I didn’t need to.  The reaction and enthusiasm of the students explained it all to the parents.  Here is a letter from one parent and I have gotten similar comments from others:

“I think the classroom looks fantastic; visually and functionally! My daughter is a new student to this school (we moved from out of state days before school started) and the main thing she came home talking about the first few days of school was your flexible classroom. She likes the freedom and choice. She loves the responsibility of figuring out a seat and what works for you. She thinks the classroom looks fabulous and she felt very mature being able to move around the class responsibly.  

I think this type of set up is great for kids with extra energy and that need to move while learning. While my daughter is not a kid who has to “move to learn”….I have seen great benefits for both types of children. My daughter told me that she loves her classroom and school and thinks the seating makes her and her classmates excited to learn. She loves the variety. She said her classroom is awesome!”

I knew taking a risk to create a flexible classroom for my students was the right thing to do.  I didn’t know the flexible space would have this much of a positive impact on my students and their learning.  I couldn’t be more happy with the turn out or more proud of my students for making such great choices each and every day.

If you are still unsure you want a fully flexible classroom space, I suggest taking baby steps to get you started.  Start with a corner in your room and expand from there.  Think about your students and the environment they will be most happy, focused, and engaged in.  Ask them what type of environment they want to learn in.  Check out my fifth grader’s blog posts on the type of environment they learn best in.

Creating a learning environment that is innovative and gives students comfort, choice, and the sense of responsibility….

Now that is positively techie!

Putting MORE Flex in Your Flexible Classroom!

Breaking Down the Walls

It is a beautiful Saturday afternoon and I am sitting on my front porch.  I have a beautiful view of one of the best parks in my town and it is bustling with children playing, tennis players grunting, and people walking the track.   I am feeling pretty darn happy and well, lucky…  First of all, I completed my Masters Degree in Educational Technology this summer so I have a lot more time on my hands to enjoy afternoons like this:))  Second, I am quickly approaching a school year that I will be spending a good portion of my day doing what I LOVE… working with students on projects and integrating technology into all subject areas.  Last but not least, I was fortunate enough to present some sessions at our district’s professional development technology day.

I co-presented a session with one of my amazing friends – who in my opinion (and many others) is a complete stitch!  Not only is she caring and compassionate towards her students, she is one of the hardest working teachers I know,  one who is always willing to take risks and try new things, she is also extremely entertaining!  I had a GREAT time preparing our presentation together and an even better time presenting with her.  Please follow her on Twitter @JenPierson1.  Our presentation was about creating a “Global Classroom”.  We talked about Author Skype, Mystery Skype, Blogging, Twitter, and something new we are both trying this year, The Global Read Aloud.   Click on the links to find out more about these programs to help you create a global classroom.  Here is a link to our presentation with a bunch of info, links to resources, and some funny teacher ecards from someecards.com :)) I will talk about these topics in more detail as the year goes on!

The next two sessions I talked about student blogging.  I have a strong passion for student blogging in the classroom.  I started blogging with my students in January of 2014.  Right away I could see the amazing changes in my students as writers.  They were more motivated, engaged, and actually tried to produce better writing!  I attribute all of those positive changes to the fact that they were writing for an authentic audience.   Now, students aren’t just writing for a grade, me, or their parents.  They are writing for their peers and if you do enough “PR” for your student’s blogs, the whole world!  Each year I set new goals to add more to my student’s blogging experience.  This year, I am going to connect with other classes through Quadblogging.com.  This is a service that connects you with three other classes from around the world and you each take turns commenting on each other’s posts.  I am really excited to start this and will keep you posted!!  This will definitely show my students there actually IS an audience out in the real world who wants to read their writing.  I really am excited!!!!  Other ways I have ensured an authentic audience would “find” my student blogs is through Twitter.  If you use #comments4kids and include a link to your blog, there is a good possibility, but no guarantee that your students will receive comments. I have used this hashtag on numerous occasions and finally had a connection at the beginning of the school year.  A group of college students were assigned by their professor to make comments on my student’s blogs.  The smiles and excitement my students felt was priceless!  I have also found authors on Twitter, Facebook, and through email and invited them to read book review posts my students have written.  I had two students last year whose author actually shared their iMovie book trailer on their own website!  Now that truly motivated the rest of the class to write more and more!!  I highly recommend you try blogging with your students.  Here is a link to my presentation with loads of ideas for blogging in all subject areas and a ton of resources.  Also, check out my iTunes U course called “Blogging in the Classroom” for a step by step guide to get you started blogging in your own classroom.  There are permission slips, rubrics, and links to all of the resources I have used to get me started!!

I always felt a little guilty, asking my students to blog and share with the world their ideas when I wasn’t doing the same.  It feels great knowing I can model and share my experiences with my students this year and I hope to motivate them more than ever through my example.

Now that is Positively Techie…

Back to School Tools

It is that time of year again, one of my favorite times of the year….Back to School time!  The things that make this a favorite time for me are setting up my classroom, planning new and exciting things for the upcoming year, a classroom full of new students, and of course – new school supplies!! :))  There are two tools I pull out of my toolbox at the beginning of the year that I can’t live without, Remind and Planbook.

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I found Remind two years ago when I was the “Cheer Mom” for my daughter’s cheer team.  I was in charge of communicating with the parents on game time, location, snacks, etc…  I was looking for a way to text all the parents at once because there were many times the location of the game was changed last minute or a practice was cancelled due to inclement weather.  I didn’t want to input all their numbers in my phone (I was busy with a new school year, new grade level, and four kids at home :))  I found this amazing website and app called Remind101.  Remind *new name* is a free service that allows teachers to communicate with parents and students safely through text messages. Teachers never see the parents/student’s phone numbers and vise versa.  I can send messages through the app on my phone or iPad or I can send the message from my computer.  I can even schedule messages to be sent at a later time!  I use Remind with only my parents as my students are too young to use the service (must be 13 years old or older).  It is super easy for parents to sign up.  In my back to school communications I send a page that looks like this: invite 2 .  As you can see, all it takes for a parent to sign-up is a quick text message or email (if that is their preferred method).  The name suggests that you would use this to simply remind parents of upcoming events, but you’d be mistaken.  The possibilities are endless – it is really up to the individual teacher as to how much or little they want to use the service.  I used Remind to remind parents of upcoming events as well as a way for me to share with parents what is happening in my classroom.  Below are a few of the messages I sent last year so you can get an idea of how I used it:

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If you Google “Ways to use Remind” a ton of sites pop up with a variety of ideas for Kindergarten teachers through college professors.  Here are a few links to some:

This is from the Remind Blog.

This is from a blog called Instructional Fluency.

Here is a link from TeacherCast for a few ways District Admins can use Remind.

I highly recommend giving Remind a try.  Parents LOVE this form of communication as they are as connected to their phones as much as the students are!  No longer can a student say “Nothing” when asked by a parent what they did in school that day…

Here is a link to the Remind site so you can learn more and sign up!

Planbook is the next tool I pull out of the toolbox and can’t live without!  Even though I am considered pretty “techie”, I am still a bit old fashioned and LOVE reading actual paper books, writing to do lists down on paper, and well before last school year – writing out my lesson plans with paper and pencil.  I stumbled upon a website that provided a digital plan book called…Planbook.com :))  It cost $12 per year so last year I figured I would give it a shot.  I was a little nervous at first because I was taking a risk and going out of my comfort zone…teachers can understand the special bond they have with their lesson plan books.  In the past, I would meticulously make my lesson plan pages on the computer, color coded subject areas and all.  I would then print them out, hole punch them, and add them to my binder.  My beloved flairs would come next as I would mark down (color coded of course ) days off of school, meetings after school, All School Meetings, etc.  Last, I would get my pencils sharpened and start planning!  By week three – my plan book had erase marks, arrows, and wasn’t so “perfect” looking as it was on the first day of school, but that was okay – that is what happens every year because as we all know – plans change.

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So, I started the year using this digital plan book and it took a couple weeks for me to get comfortable.  One of the first benefits I realized was that as the schedules changed last minute, I could easily change my schedule without having to reprint a bunch of pages and rewrite upcoming events on the new sheets…It was easy AND a huge time saver!  I still wasn’t 100% sold.  I missed my pencils.  I stuck with it and I am not kidding you – after two weeks I was completely sold and had no idea how I lived without this tool!  I had my plan book at the tip of my fingers, on my phone, iPad, and computer.  I could update my plans wherever/whenever I needed to.  Those arrows I was talking about on my paper plan book…not a problem.  If you don’t get to a lesson or need an extra day you just need to click the “bump” button and all following lessons for that subject get bumped to the next day.  Do you turn your lesson plans in to your principal or share plans with a co-teacher?  Not a problem, you can easily share your plans with pretty much anyone!  Do you need to show what Common Core Standards your lesson correlates with?  Not a problem, Planbook has all CCS you can attach to your lessons.  Have a link to a video or website to show students during a lesson? Not a problem, no need to have a bunch of windows open on your desktop – you can have live links in your plans with Planbook.  Oh and there are a bunch more NEW features – my favorite – the Google+ integration.  The list of features goes on and on… I urge you to check it out for yourself and give it the good old college try.  After all, we want our students to be risk takers, so shouldn’t we lead by example?

Now that is Positively Techie…

Why I LOVE to Share…

I have been presenting tech ideas to teachers in my building for the past couple of years.  These presentations were small lunch sessions consisting of how to use specific apps, integrate technology into the classroom, and other technology uses.  I recently gave my first presentation (on student blogging) to a group of teachers outside of my building.  This is something I have always wanted to do, but never felt confident enough to go for it.  I am so glad I did!   It was amazing!  The energy I felt as I presented was electrifying.  It felt natural, easy, and comfortable.  It was exactly what I should be doing and I want to do it more.

I am a reflective person, I like to reflect and think about how I can make things different/better.  As I reflected on my first “real” presentation, I was excited to think about all the teachers who will be starting their school year trying new things (like student blogging) and making their student’s educational experience that much better, because of me!  Then I thought, how can I reach even MORE educators?  (Because reaching more educators = reaching more students)  Of course blogging came to mind :))  Thoughts keep rushing through my mind: “Why would anyone read my blog?, What do I have to share that isn’t already out there?, Will this blog really make a difference in the way we educate our students?”.   And the thoughts keep coming, but the challenge I face and the risk I am taking to put myself out there feels – right.

I have a busy school year planned ahead of me.  I teach 5th grade and this will be my second year with 1:1 iPads in my classroom.  I will have a new innovative, flexible classroom space that I am super excited about,  I am trying new Global activities as well as continuing with ones I’ve used in the past, and I am planning on giving more presentations.  I will use this space to share all of the ideas, risks, fun, failures, and accomplishments I encounter this year in hopes to inspire educators to become innovative in their own classroom.

Now that is Positively Techie…