Sunday, December 9, 2012

The One and Only Katherine Applegate..

 It all started this past summer, as I was tweeting about recent books I had read: The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate and One for the Murphys, by Lynda Mullaly Hunt The conversation continued as you can see below, and I was thrilled to schedule Katherine Applegate for a visit.

Fast forward to Friday, December 7th, a fantastic day for 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders at my school,  as they got to meet Katherine Applegate, author of the wonderful book we read for the Global Read Aloud, The One and Only Ivan.
We were so excited to get our autographs!

I think that I was the biggest kid of all! I love authors of great books like Ivan.

Katherine did a wonderful job telling the story of the real Ivan.

I loved the way she invited students to be writers and think like Ivan.

One of my favorite slides: showing the number of crumpled drafts it takes to write something worth sharing!

So many questions to answer!

Hands were flying up everywhere with great questions about what was fact vs. fiction in Ivan.

I am so thrilled that our students had this opportunity to meet an author whose book they adored! Katherine validated the notion that writing is very challenging work and encouraged our young writers to keep working hard on the craft of writing. Thank you, Katherine, for taking your precious time and spending a Friday afternoon with  us!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Over + Explain Everything= Powerful Writing Practice

It's always been an interest of mine to help my students develop their writing voices. While many of my 4th graders seem to learn from the fabulous authors they read, others struggle to transfer their strong vocabulary and oral language skills to their writing. I've been playing with the app, Over, as a way to use images to generate vivid sentences. 

Using Over, students can select an image already provided, use one of their own, or choose a Creative Commons image to use as a prompt for writing rich and vivid sentence. The image below was one of the images in Over's image bank. I added the text, choosing the font and color, as well as the alignment to emphasize my words.

 Here are the steps to a fun lesson using this app along with Explain Everything, a screencasting app.

First, students use an image to brainstorm verbs. Of course you can use this idea with any part of speech. I chose verbs since my students seem to get in a rut with verb use. 

Second, students brainstorm modifiers for those verbs. These can be adverbs and/or phrases. 

Finally, students can add vivid adjectives and play with creative sentences using Explain Everything to record themselves saying the sentences aloud. This takes some of the burden off always having to write, giving students who might have big creative ideas but who struggle with producing their ideas, an opportunity to further refine and develop their voices. It also gets students in the habit of reading their writing aloud to hear its powerful cadence.

Here are some sentences I might use to model for my students:
I plunged fearlessly into the sparkling frigid water.
Do you float easily or plunge like an anchor to the bottom of the deep lake?
I floated effortlessly as my friends frolicked in the cool clear water. 

How do you use visual literacy to inspire your young writers? I would love to hear your great ideas! 

Friday, November 16, 2012

I May Not Blog Often, But I Try..

I've been hearing a lot of noise in my Twitter stream about teachers blogging.
"Teachers really should blog more."
"They need to share the great learning going on in their classrooms."
"They need to comment on others' blogs." 
"They need to connect more!"

I even hear my own voice whispering those very things and eventually the roar: 

Why haven't you posted in over a month? 
At blogger awards times and such, people often step it up, eager to be recognized by their esteemed peers. There's nothing wrong with wanting a bit of recognition in a field where much of the attention given to us is critical.

But I blog for other reasons.  Yes, I am human and the attention can feel nice, but actually, I blog when I have a hope that my story will inspire, or energize, or simply help a teacher who is just downright exhausted and ready to throw in the towel. Maybe I will be that glimmer of hope. OK, so what's the issue then?

I don't know about you, but when I go through a blogging drought, I find myself wondering. Why don't I write more about my students and what we are doing? Here are a few of the reasons, though some might just view them as "excuses."

  • Blogging takes quite a bit of time when done to a standard I am comfortable with. A great deal of my teacher time is dedicated to planning, learning, working with students, and giving meaningful feedback. The time left is reserved for recharging, refueling, and this year, in particular, a heartfelt commitment to exercise and health. I really am in awe of those who are with students every day and still have time to blog several times a week. 
  • I blog several times per week on a class blog for my parent community, sharing what we are learning. This is a private blog, per my school's policy about photos, etc.This writing takes a good deal of time, and often I simply have nothing much left in me.
  • My students blog! This is fabulous, and I really enjoy sharing their blogs with others. Leaving quality comments and moderating posts and comments is wonderful, yet takes time as well.
  • Confidentiality is so important. Writing a story about the classroom, without going into detail describing students, their actions, comments, etc, is very tricky! When I blog I must be careful that no one knows who I am really writing about. This is a challenge, especially in a small school community. 
  • Teachers are in the spotlight. When I blog, I can't help but feel a need to convey honesty with twist of strength and confidence. Yes, we can share our vulnerabilities with our trusted peers, but frankly, we can put ourselves under intense scrutiny if we write openly about challenges with students. Maybe I am just too careful in this arena, but I have witnessed the diminished credibility of a colleague who was honest and revealed her struggles.
  • Blogging is lower on my current priorities list. Being completely present with students day in and day out is my main agenda. Connecting and collaborating with other educators on Twitter is another big priority.
Don't get me wrong! I want and hope to find a way to write more regularly. I have the utmost respect for teacher bloggers who seem to blog often. Perhaps I even have a bit of "blogger envy."  I would love to know if I have touched a familiar nerve in anyone out there or if they have advice for some of the challenges I mentioned.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

4 Powerful Minutes

Promoting a positive and engaging environment is something I work on and reflect upon continuously every school year.  I keep my eyes and ears open for "teachable" moments, when I can connect my students to an inspiring story, music, art, or video, that relates to something we are learning.

Because we are currently reading The One and Only Ivan in the Global Read Aloud, yesterday seemed like a great time to show this beautiful 4 minute clip about a man reunited with a gorilla,  after being back in the wild for 5 years.

Afterward, glossy eyed students, who would usually be popping up to run to lunch recess, sat and commented on the beauty of this film. They noticed the closeness of the man and the gorillas, the vulnerability of him and the risk if the gorilla had been aggressive. They talked of their own connections to pets and animals. And, they noticed the tears in my eyes: "Are you crying, Mrs. Young?" "Oh, I always cry a little at beautiful stories like this." With a smile, they file out the door for recess. 
Often we say we don't have time for these connections. Four minutes? I think we can make time for moments that will make an impression for life. When was the last time you seized those minutes before lunch or the end of the day to do something meaningful? Were you surprised at the outcome?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Don't Worry...Take Deep Breaths..

I'm one of those people who is always making up new lyrics to songs. Sometimes zany, sometimes unrepeatable for a myriad of reasons, it's something that just comes naturally to me. You can imagine, then, the heaven I was in when I went to a session this summer on creating parodies for learning with Diane Main at ISTE12, a tech conference in San Diego. She showed us how to use Garageband to create new versions of popular songs.

I am in the process of writing songs for 4th grade as well as creating an app that will allow students and teachers to take original lyrics, line by line, and create new lyrics that match the rhythm and rhyme of the song.

If you're a Bob Marley fan like I am, you'll know this song, Three Little Birds.

 One night, as I thought about the importance of teaching kids to breathe deeply and learn some ideas of mindfulness, this song came to me. Of course, it's a work in progress and I will probably let my students help me out with the lyrics!

Three Little Breaths lyrics

Don't worry, take deep breaths
Cause every little breath's gonna turn out right
Singin': Don't worry, take deep breaths
'Cause every little breath's gonna turn out right!"

Woke up this morning
Started with mindfulness
3 big deep breaths
to start my day right
Calming my mind
Helping me to focus more
Sayin': This day is gonna be aw-awe-some.  

Don't worry, take deep breaths
Cause every little breath's gonna turn out right
Singin': Don't worry, take deep breaths
'Cause every little breath's gonna turn out right!"

When I record it, I will definitely share. Thanks, Diane Main, for the inspiration!

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Wisdom of Students

Here we were on Friday, Day Two, of 4th grade, and the words: "Classroom Expectations" loomed on the schedule. Ugh... As a teacher, I feel like I am supposed to enjoy this topic, to ensure that "control" and appropriate behavior happens in my classroom and around the school campus. Although I do believe in the importance of clear expectations, I feel uncomfortable with the traditional notion of classroom management as a way to "control behavior." I want my students to make wise choices, learn when they make "less than wise" choices, and understand the connections between their actions and their learning. Not always an easy feat in 4th grade, yet their wisdom, once again, was about to blow me away.

As I asked my students what "classroom expectations" means, a student crinkled up her face and sheepishly answered, "The rules?" Perfect, I thought! They used the "r" word so I won't have to. I asked my students what happens inside of them when they hear the word, "rules," and although no one spoke, many frowned, squirmed, and let me know that it was not a positive connotation. I wrote the word on the board and wrapped a circle around it, and ended with a big red slash.  "Don't get me wrong," I said, jokingly, "This does not mean that we can run around school acting all crazy!"Laughs erupted along with a bit of craziness prompted by my silly statement.  I paused a moment for them to transform back to students. We decided that we would use, "expectations," and we would agree upon behaviors that would help us work together and learn best in the classroom.

Now, for the fun! Students met in small groups, working for ten minutes to positively phrase all of the expectations they could think of.  It can be tough for them to break the "Don't.. " and the, "No..." statements, but they used positive statements for the most part.  The photos speak for themselves: students are wise! They know exactly how to run a classroom.

I love the focus on kindness from this group!

I love that they said, "Listen to the person who is presenting" and not just, "to the teacher!"

Love it: be fairly quiet and use a nice way of talking!

Talking and listening are a big focus!

"Try" to pay attention. Hope it won't be too hard!

Respect your this!
 Of course, the student groups then presented their ideas to the class. Because the presentations took a bit of time, and students needed a change of topic, we opted to do the final step on Tuesday, since Monday is a holiday!

So, tomorrow we will find the common themes and summarize them into one expectation for each big idea. Hopefully, we will have 5 or so guiding expectations for our fabulous year in 4th grade! Students will work together to decide who will write the sentences in "large neat handwriting" for the bulletin board, and who will illustrate each expectation as well.  Finally, students will add their own photos and signatures to the board, confirming their agreement and participation in developing a positive classroom culture.

This all might seem like a lot of time dedicated to setting expectations. What do you think? What process do you go through to develop and share your classroom expectations with students? Please share so that we can learn together!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Ready for the First Day! 8 Things I Hope to Remember..

A view of our new furniture!

Another view of the classroom.

Tomorrow is the first day of school and I am excited, nervous, and happy, but most of all, feeling that "butterfly-stomach" anticipation of a new beginning with my incoming 4th graders.

As  I try not to let my mind rest on, "Oh my gosh, what did I forget to do," I am taking this opportunity to remind myself of my intentions for tomorrow.

  1. First, and foremost, I want my students to feel the warmth of the classroom environment. I want them to sense the welcome, to know that the space belongs to them.
  2. I want to be calm and present with each student as I learn his/her name. 
  3. Even though the beginning of school comes packed with discussions about classroom expectations, I want to allow room for spontaneity and playfulness as we go about our day.
  4. Daily reflection will become a part of our routines, with exit ticket type survey questions as a way for me to check in on the class and determine if any individual needs more attention from me. 
  5. Making mistakes, celebrating them, and learning from them will become commonplace as I model my own silly mistakes on the first few days. 
  6. Developing a class culture that promotes authenticity and risk-taking in learning will take time. I need to allow time for a daily class meeting to build rapport and trust, encourage collaboration, and help students refine their voices.
  7. Students will be more anxious than I am! I need to validate the range of feelings that returning to school can evoke.
  8. Parents will want to know what is going on in class. I intend to blog about our learning more often this year and share the great insights of our students.
What is first and foremost in  your mind as you begin the school year? 

Monday, July 16, 2012

My Interview with a Hero: Author Lynda Mullaly Hunt Talks about One for the Murphy's

Photo from

(note: this post was cross-posted on The Nerdy Book Club Blog but contains a few variations, namely the interview posted in segments) 

You may know that I have a variety of interests related to my work with children and families. One of my passions is celebrating the strength and resilience of those who overcome difficult situations. It's no surprise, then, that I fell in love with the book One for the Murphys and the character of Carley. I had the chance of a lifetime when Lynda Mullaly Hunt agreed to talk with me on Skype last week! 

Here's my story:

It's not every day you read a book that reaches inside, grabs your heart, and takes it on a journey through laughter, tears, and hopeful moments of reflection. One for the Murphy's inspired me to think back on my time as a foster care social worker and classroom teacher and consider the incredible strengths and resilience of children I've met, and the families who became "their heroes." Carley's honest voice also touched the child inside of me who had a difficult time fitting in, validating my own trials and tribulations of growing up.
After I finished One for the Murphy's, I tweeted to Lynda Mullaly Hunt, expressing my gratitude for this marvelous book. She kindly replied to my expression of being "authorstruck!"

After more conversation with Lynda on Twitter, and recalling a prior unrelated request from Colby Sharp to guest post on the Nerdy Book Club Blog, I had a brainstorm: What if I asked Lynda to do an interview on Skype? I mustered up my nerve and sent her a DM (direct message) on Twitter. In the blink of an eye it seemed, she responded, yes! 
Since friends recommended that I split up the interview into segments, something I didn't realize was easy to do with Tubechop , I reposted here with the interview broken up into topics for easier viewing.
Introduction: Meeting Lynda!

How Carley called to Linda as a 12 year old girl.

What Linda thinks of foster parents.

Getting Personal: Lynda's own experience of strength and resilience that added so much to her authentic voice 

Fictional characters who inspired Lynda as a kid  

Carley's counting and coping techniques 

  Lynda the lyricist and the power of music  

How will Carley cope? 

Getting to know Toni, loving the Red Sox, and fitting in


Will we hear from Carley again? 

Lynda's message to Carley

As you can tell from the smile pasted on my face during the interview, I had an incredible time talking with Lynda. She is truly a hero in her willingness to share such a powerful and hopeful story.

Thank you Lynda, for sharing your time, and for letting me delve into the heart and soul of your fabulous book.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

ISTE12 Reflections: Lessons Shared Through Pictures

For my second ISTE12 post, I thought it would be fun to try a new tool: jux, a picture, slideshow site, so here it is:

ISTE12: Reaching New Levels of Learning Together 

How will you try something new and "take the stairs' to becoming a better educator?

Friday, June 29, 2012

ISTE12: Reflections from Tuesday 6/26

Sorry for the delayed post. I don't like writing on the run, and it takes me awhile to complete my thoughts. SO: with that, I share with you my first reflective post about ISTE12, written on Tuesday evening:

So here I am on Tuesday night, back earlyish from EdTech Karaoke night, one of the biggest parties of #ISTE12. Why did I leave when others were still outside clamoring to get in? Perhaps it was just that: people were crowding, clamoring, and ready to party, while I was perfectly satisfied with the rich conversations I'd been having with so many wonderful educators I have met through Twitter.  It was time to go back to the hotel, let the spinning wheels settle, and recharge my introvert self. 

I wanted to take a few moments, though, to share some of my top 10 highlights so far from my time at ISTE12.

1) Everyone says it, and I can't deny it: having face to face conversations with people you already have a shared history with through daily tweets, is one of the most interesting and rewarding experiences ever. I have probably met over 100 people that I chat with regularly, and talking face to face and sharing our stories has been priceless.  As I told Jackie Gerstein, it's like starting on page 100 of a book when you meet someone face to face after talking regularly online!
Ok, ok, so it's not the best picture of me, but it captures an important time, getting to know my Twitter hero and now good friend, Jackie, (@jackiegerstein) who I met just briefly last year at ISTE11.

Hanging out with the fabulous @joannjacobs68 was a highlight for sure!
I love the look of pure joy as Marialice (@mbfxc), Lisa (@teachingwthsoul) and Susan (@s_bearden) chat.

At SocialEdcon, with @joannjacobs68, @jackiegerstein,@janwells,@plnaugle

 Highlight #2:
2) Co-facilitating a session with Jackie Gerstein, one of my Twitter heroes, at SocialEDCon the unconference on Saturday, 6/23, before the official conference began on Sunday. Although I was a bit nervous about submitting an idea for a discussion, (but thanks to Jackie Gerstein who strongly encouraged me, I did!)  I was thrilled when 30 or so people pulled up chairs into the circle where we shared ideas about how we can use technology to actually facilitate social and emotional learning skills.  You can read more about this on this site where we added resources and invited others to share. You can also read the tweets on this Storify by Jackie Gerstein.  Keep your eyes open for an upcoming Edutopia blog post where I wrote about this powerful session! 

One of the best parts of this session was that no one left! People were looking at each other, actively listening to the powerful stories. An #eduwin for sure! Thanks Lisa Dabbs for tweeting this picture!

3) The parties were great! Yes, even me, former shy girl, said that! Although I did not stay out very late at any of them, I had a great time at the Edubros party, the Edtech startup party, the Google party, and finally, Edtech Karaoke.  I loved getting the chance to say hi to people I had missed during the day. 

I finally got to meet Julie Hembree! (@mrs_hembree) at Karaoke!
George Couros and the real-deal Erin Klein who I got to see often at the conference :-)
Julie, JoAnn, Sandy, Jan, and Paula
At the Google party with @Janwells, @teachingwthsoul, @plnaugle and @edutopiabetty

4) Hanging out with inspiring prolific teacher bloggers like Erin Klein of Kleinspiration, and young entrepreneurs like the co-founder of Kidblogs, Matt Hardy, who was a teacher and brought his expertise into building a platform made for teachers was inspirational. I can't believe I didn't get a picture with Matt!  Also, I got to see my buddies from Remind101, ClassDojo, and Educreations. Wow! They even hosted one of the best social gatherings at #ISTE12 with their start-up party. 
Sam( aka Sammypinksocks)  from @classdojo with Diane Main (@Dowbiggin)

Angela Watson, Lisa Dabbs, and Erin Klein deep in conversation.     

5) Getting a #temt walk in with the fabulous Jerry, @cybraryman1 and the crew below, kayaking with Jackie Gerstein, and finally Zumba with Jackie and Betty Ray from Edutopia at a Zumbathon fundraiser Jackie set up. I can't even tell you how important and wonderful it was to "move it" after sitting in sessions. 
Erin Klein, Eric Simons, Randy Dabbs, Lisa Dabbs, Joann Jacobs, Sara Hunter, Jerry Blumengarten and me!

Woohoo! There's @edutopiabetty, @jackiegerstein and I with the fabulous Jackie Camborde.
Thank you, Jackie, for talking me into this beautiful morning of kayaking fun!

6) Doing a spontaneous  #eduwin podcast with Dennis Grice. I love interviewing and being interviewed, but it was even better unplanned because I didn't have time to get nervous. You can listen here.

7) Blinging my badge. Thanks to Kevin Honeycutt and his wonderful crew, there was a fun booth in the exhibit hall where you could add fun and decorative items to your badge. I even won a free t-shirt after tweeting my badge! 

8) Taking spontaneous opportunities to go to lunch with new friends. On Sunday, just before the Keynote, I met Zoe Brannigan-Pipe and Lisa Neale and before I knew it Lisa Dabbs, Jackie Gerstein and I were heading off to eat a late lunch with them.  What a treat to share time with wonderful people! 

9) Walking into sessions and knowing someone there! I walked into Evernote this morning and there was Karen McMillan, @Mcteach, about to sit by Linda Yollis, @Lindayollis, who I had been waiting to meet. What a privilege to sit with them and Lisa Dabbs, @teachingwthsoul for the session. 
Karen, Lisa, Me, Linda

10) Getting over my shy side and reaching out. I spent a bit of time in the Newbie Lounge welcoming new ISTE peeps as well as time in the Social Butterfly lounge talking about chats with my friend and awesome mentor to new teachers, Lisa Dabbs, @teachingwthsoul.  I also agreed to be on a panel for an unplugged session on Weds. with Paula Naugle, JoAnn Jacobs and Jan Wells. 

As I post this, days later, I know there are many other highlights from ISTE12 to share. What were yours? 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Not Advice.. Previews to #ISTE12

So just after I posted this screencast, I realized that I forgot an important Sunday evening event, which you can read all about here! Don't miss it!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Our Fantastic Toontastic Session with Andy Russell!

On Wednesday, we had the wonderful opportunity to meet and learn from Andy Russell, one of the co-founders of Toontastic. Not only did Andy want to meet and talk with our students about their experiences using Toontastic, but he also wanted to impart a very important message to 4th graders: It's never too early to develop your ideas and turn them into something special. Andy emphasized that you don't have to wait until you go to college to develop and refine your big ideas. He shared that 70% of the process of developing an app or any piece of software can be mapped out using paper prototyping. Andy even showed us the early paper prototypes of Toontastic and how he used them to test his ideas with users.
The first Toontastic stage

So cool to see the first paper prototypes of Toontastic! 

Now to add the screen frame to test how it all fits.
Andy also took ideas from the group to create a brainstorm of a game, which he then showed us how to mock-up using Keynote.  The students were highly engaged and very inspired about how they could take their own ideas and test them out with a prototype.

Taking our ideas for our chicken-wolf game!

Using Keynote to make our first game mock-up

After the talk, Andy, and his partner, researcher and cognitive psychologist Alicia Chang, observed the students using the app. It will be interesting for them to study how our kids' Toontastic storytelling changed over the course of 3 test sessions.

Yesterday, we wrote thank you emails to Andy and Alicia, and from those emails, I can tell that our kids had a wonderful, inspiring experience!