Tech Tuesday

Finds and Thoughts about Tech Integration

Genius Hour


I’ve always been a believer in Choice Time. We’re always telling kids what they should be doing at school, and it’s important for them to have some space to pursue their own interests. Making the time for that can be extremely challenging, however, due to curriculum demands. When I was a classroom teacher, my compromise was devoting one Language Arts block per week to academic choice within that subject. I especially encouraged students to plan and form partnerships to accomplish their own projects that often would continue from week to week. The result: kids no longer just looked forward to Fridays because it was the last school day before the weekend. My experience was that Choice Time ignited enthusiasm into even the most reluctant learners.

This year, some colleagues and I are taking a project based learning course. This endeavor has given us the opportunity to explore a concept that reminds me of Choice Time:  “Genius Hour”. Essentially, Genius Hour lets kids explore “passion” projects during their school week. The topics do not have to be tied to their curriculum. Plus, failure is an option. Learn more about Genius Hour here.  CNN also wrote a very good article that you may want to read.

Our version of Genius Hour is bringing two classroom together each Friday afternoon to explore out of the box thinking, creativity and team work. Our goal is for students to build the muscle this fall to be able to undertake their own projects mid-winter and spring 2015. An important part of our preparation is student reflection. One of the classroom teachers and I have been working on the power of metacognition and its impact on student performance (for our Educator Evaluation). Therefore, a Genius Hour blog that  chronicles the students’ journey has been created. Please take a moment to listen and watch the student posts that were created with iPad Minis and two apps, thus far: PicPlayPost and Explain Everything. I have written about the tremendous possibilities with these two apps as a part of the learning process in the past (Game Changer and PicPlayPost Palooza).

Your feedback is greatly appreciated!

Chromebooks – A New Adventure


Yesterday I was greeted with one of Steven W. Anderson‘s “Awesome” tweets:

‘Good Morning! Don’t wait for everything to be right to make your move. Take a chance and see what happens! Be awesome today!’

This tweet really spoke to me… and our new adventures with Chromebooks.

I fully admit that I am an Apple person -both professionally and personally- so it really raises a few eyebrows and turns a few heads when I tell people that we are piloting a cart of HP Chromebook 14s this year at our elementary school.

And my response even when the learning curve feels particularly steep: “It’s not about the device; it’s about the learning.” (I first read similar words/ideas on Sylvia Tolisano’s blog a few years back, and they stuck with me.)

What do we want kids to learn in the core curriculum? Figure that out, and then choose your device to meet those objectives.

That’s exactly why we are trying to diversify at school with AirBooks, iPad Minis and Chromebooks – oh, my!

From a management/set-up point of view, it’s been tough. It’s a whole new world of setting permissions and having Chromebooks behave the way that we want them. Often forgetting these devices are not laptops! Going Google also has added a new layer.

New possibilities, new decisions; No where near perfection. But that’s OK. We ask students to take risks every day. It’s my turn. I’m sure that I will be filling this blog with lots of trials and tribulations with hopefully some great integration examples.

In the spirit of sharing, here are a few ideas/resources and scenarios that I’ve had to troubleshoot thus far:

1) The class isn’t ready to dive into their Google accounts… so I guess we won’t use the Chromebooks.

Knowing that our Google log-ins are quite lengthy, it will take a while for our third graders to get the knack for logging in. Therefore, I want us to be little kid user-friendly” with the Chromebooks by setting them up with a “public session“. Essentially, a log-in box appears on the main screen for students to click on and gain quick access to the Chrome Browser. (I named our public session “student” to mirror our student account on the laptops.) Why do I like this option versus just having students browse as a guest? I have discovered that you can not set a home page for guest. That essentially means the user has to start typing in an address or do a search. Not really desirable with young students. A public session lets us set a home page (just like our laptops’ browsers) that will be familiar and safe for students as they navigate through links on that page to the desired destination.

2) It says that the network is not available… what’s going on?

One of the first things I now show students when we get an orientation on the Chromebooks is how to choose a WiFi signal (AirPort). Coverage is definitely something that I will be discussing with tech support as these devices seem to require a much stronger signal. I have found that by empowering students to troubleshoot the switching of AirPorts has helped enormously with the flow of their work  (and keeping my sanity).

3) Do your prep.

Not all websites will work on Chromebooks due to plug-ins. Make sure to check out the desired site ahead of time on the device. It will save you a lot of  time and frustration. This also is an area I have to do some more investigating to see if policies can be set up in management… <An hour later>… OK: I did a little looking around Admin Console and noticed that you had to enable plug-ins. Looks like some sites that I didn’t think worked are now in business… see it’s a work in progress!

Any advice or thoughts from others who have been on this journey?



Knowing that teachers do not have a lot of time to read these days… I will get straight to it:

FlipQuiz looks like a very simple, free tool to give a try. (Think Jeopardy board.) It’s a perfect solution to engage students in a review quiz using our classroom mounted projectors.

The quiz even could even be about your students or classroom. Have each student submit a question about him/herself to you to create a community quiz. That may be a nice, fun way to wrap up the year during the last few days of school.

Just a thought. I’d love hear yours.

Two Things that Caught My Eye Recently



Looking for a new way for your kids to express their learning?
How about making a video BrainPOP style using the iPads Minis?
Here’s a great example made by first graders using the Puppet Pals app:


Teachers can communicate with parents (and possibly students) in a convenient, fast way using Class Messenger. This educational service is endorsed by Scholastic and free to use. It also is very flexible as it can be accessed via desktop computer or mobile device. It may be something to look into and get set up for next school year.

As always, I’d love to hear what you think!


Concrete Poetry and so much more


A few weeks back an app went FREE and caught my eye: Path on – Swipe to Type.

Immediately, I saw a good elementary school use: concrete poetry. And the app’s so easy…

  • Snap a picture.
  • Draw some lines.
  • Type your text (and it will follow the line path).
  • Choose a font and effect. (In fact, there are so many fonts and styles to please just about everyone and to make sure that the words are easy to read for an audience.)
  • Share.

I must note the one drawback so far: no spell check.

Here are some student poetry examples by third and fifth graders:



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2014-04-01 09.20.21

Of course, this app becomes even more powerful when you stretch your imagination of going beyond just a still photo.

Since a Path on – Swipe to Type can be saved to the Camera Roll, the image may be used in many other apps and multimedia ways. Here are three quick ideas:

Here is an example of a “book” (PDF) made with Keynote and Path on – Swipe to Type images during a Colonial Academic Choice. (I also love how hands-on this project was with student made props!)

Path on – Swipe to Type‘s slogan: Give your pictures a thousand words- whatever and wherever you want!

I couldn’t agree more.

The creation, critical thinking and communication possibilities are endless.

Google Docs Story Builder Experimentation


Last week, I read a blog post about Google Docs Story Builder. The idea of writing a story about characters writing/collaborating on a story intrigued me and made me wonder if elementary age students would be able to utilize it?

The first experiment:

A third grade class was learning about opinion writing. They had read the book I Wanna Iguana and had brainstormed ideas of how to express one’s opinion on a topic backed up by reasons. (At this age level, it is called opinion writing, which develops into persuasive writing in upper grade levels.) The teacher had assigned the topic of whether or not students should have extra recess. Students had drafted planning sheets, detailing who the audience would be (the teacher), reasons why they should have extra recess (because, of course, that was the opinion of every student!) and how their opinion would benefit the audience (teacher).

It was decided that the third graders using their notes would work in pairs to write a Google Docs Story. There would be two characters: Student and Teacher. Student would be writing a letter to Teacher about having extra recess. Teacher would be interacting, refuting and encouraging more details as the letter is written. (This is in similar fashion to I Wanna Iguana,  that tells the tale of a boy and his mother exchanging letters about the boy’s desire to have a pet with the mother’s counter points.)

Here is an example that I created for the extra recess writing activity.

While the third graders were enthusiastic about this writing exercise, their results were not as polished or complete as one would have hoped. They only had a 45 minute block to get directions and work on the task. In my opinion, that was not enough time. I could see that when students finally were getting an understanding of the writing, they had to stop to learn how to acquire the address of their story and submit it to me. (I’ll explain my collection method later.) Of course, the next time that these students use the tool less time would have to be devoted to directions. Therefore, a initial, shorter assignment to get them acquainted with the tool would have been a better choice. I also found that the concept was a little challenging for third graders to wrap their minds around. I honestly don’t think some of them understood we’re writing about people writing. Perhaps, this topic would have been better as a second or third use of the tool or maybe, this is too abstract for this grade level where some students are still not fluent with reading and writing? I definitely need to think more and consult with teachers about how to scaffold for third grade.

The second experiment:

A fifth grade class had learned about triangular trade and the Middle Passage during their colonial studies. The teacher wanted to see if students comprehended the material, and it was decided to have them use Google Docs Story Builder in pairs with the following scenario:

You are to imagine that for 15 minutes a captured West African has the opportunity to talk with his captor, the slave runner. The West African can speak freely about anything that is on his mind, including the HORRIBLE conditions he must endure on this journey. The captor will respond appropriately to his captive. Ultimately the West African will find out WHY it is so important for him to get to the West Indies.

The teacher and I demonstrated how to set up two characters, West African and Slave Runner, and briefly started to type in a “conversation” so students could see how the tool works. Also, I want to note that when we loaded the Builder, we watched the examples that Google had playing automatically. It was interesting to see how more in tune the fifth graders were to the clever stories. They were laughing at the irony and jokes! Therefore, it did not surprise me that they jumped right into their writing task. Often the room was very quiet as each partner had assumed one of the characters, and their conversations were unfolding within the stories. When students did speak out loud to each other, I overhead some great planning and editing points being exchanged.

We had told them that they should not get bogged down in spelling as long as their message was clear. Just like the third graders they only had 45 minutes. When I interrupted to show how to copy and paste the address for the story into a Google Form that I had created, the majority were almost at the end of their stories. Furthermore, students were able to wrap things up rather quickly in the time frame.

Here are two student samples from that session:

Middle Passage Conversation 1

Middle Passage Conversation 2

I sent the form results to the classroom teacher as soon as they left the lab, and she was able to show the movies to the whole class on that same day as a follow up, making a nice discussion/review of the topic. (The teacher later reported to me that students couldn’t wait to share this work at home with families, too.) Now, that the students had this experience under their belts, the teacher made Google Docs Stories one of the academic choices for an end of the Colonial unit. I can’t wait to see if/how students make several of these stories to demonstrate their knowledge of a colony.

This tool certainly opens the doors to creativity. I also like the fact that there only can be 10 exchanges between characters in the story. This aspect really makes students choose their words and points carefully while digging into some deeper thinking about a topic. Older students certainly are ready for more complex, clever interactions between characters while younger students may need a more concrete approach. In my opinion, the tool can be used with the elementary age level as long as a good block of time is allotted for younger students to complete the task in the required one session. Please note that teachers will need a way to collect the story addresses as well as display/share the results.

A special thanks to Mrs. Kelly and Mrs. Pentedemos for being lab rats!

Still on the fence? Check out this awesome literature example by Ms. Guild!

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts about Google Docs Story Builder.

PicPlayPost Palooza


In the last few months, when I have consulted with teachers, I have found myself recommending over and over again the same app… and it seems like it’s been a non-stop party of great projects.

So what’s the app?

PicPlayPost is its name, and it’s very simple to use. You pick a frame of up to 6 spaces and plug-in pictures and/or videos. Then the frame or media collage can be exported and shared to your outlet of choice, such as a blog or webpage. While the end product can be impressive, the real power is in the process and preparations that students undertake. Essentially, students have to pull together items on a topic, making a synthesis of learning.

What do I like about this app, or better yet, the idea of media collages?

  • Non-subject specific: PicPlayPost or the concept of a media collage works with any topic.
  •  Paper and glue are not obsolete: Students can be very hands on using this technology. Students can make or find props to snap pictures of to include in the media collage. That means students still can build models and dioramas and/or color their own posters by hand if desired. There still is a lot of value in the old school creation process, and I know that many teachers do not want to abandon manual tasks. These pieces also can be a great home component to a media collage as the pieces come in on a specific due date, get photographed and then go right on back home (instead of taking up non-existent classroom space).
  • Planning is key: Making a media collage requires planning on the student’s part. Important choices have to be made in what will be displayed. Students develop decision-making skills as well as organizational and time management skills in order to assemble the overall product. PicPlayPost does not help students make the pieces of the collage; it is just a shell to share them. A lot of thought, energy and creativity have to go into how a student will show his/her knowledge on a subject. Research has to be completed; scripts drafted; reading practiced; and props designed all before even using a camera.
  •  The camera is the BIG tool: The app does not require anything more than simply using the built-in camera of the iPad (Mini). The camera roll is accessible within PicPlayPost, so if you can get what ever you have made to the camera roll, you can put it into your media collage. That opens the door to being able to use other apps (iMovie, Tellagami, Funny Movie Maker, Explain Everything) to create pictures and videos that are sent to the camera roll and then able to be inserted into the media collage.
  • Communication matters: Students still have to explain their learning with a media collage but through pictures and video. This medium is a nice change from the traditional report, which quite honestly, is not very exciting for an audience outside of teachers. Students are working on speaking clearly with expression as well as developing reading fluency.

At the bottom, please take a moment to visit each of these media collage projects that have been created at Abbot over the past few months. Some have been shared previously, but the last four are new!

Final thought: If a picture is worth a thousand words, then how much is a media collage?

Ancient Civilizations

MA Regions

Wampanoag Models

Folktale Comparisons

Zoo of Wildlife


The Museum

Free to Use or Share Continued


OK, so you’ve found a picture that is labeled as Free to Use or Share via an Advanced Google Image Search. (See this previous post for a refresher or to get caught up.)

It’s now time for an investigation. Is the image really free to use or share? Google makes no guarantees. Therefore, you have to go back to the source.

How can you do that easily with students?

Click on the image in your Google Image Search. A preview window will open with some options. Choose the Visit page button.

Screen Shot 2014-03-01 at 2.56.46 PM

Once on the page, there should be information about the image’s licensing. If the image really is free to use or share, it most likely is licensed under Creative Commons. (You may have to click on the image again on the page to be taken to this specific information.)

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Read the terms of the license. (On this blog post, please click on my screenshot to get a better view.) It will tell you what you are free to do. If it states you can share the image, a student can use the image in a project that is printed or posted online. If it states that you can remix the image, a student can use the image in a project and even make some changes to the original image if desired. The license also will tell you what the conditions are for sharing, remixing, etc. (It is important to note that you may see some information regarding commercial use. Most likely this is something that we do not have to worry about with a school project.) If the license states attribution is necessary, the student needs to give credit to the author. Another condition that is often requested is “share alike” which means that the author wants you to pass on the same license to any changes you have made to work. In other words, let others know that they are free to use and share the image as well. Finally, when you go to investigate, some images may be listed as in the Public Domain which means you are free to use them for any circumstance without even giving credit.

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After reading the license if an image turns out to be free to use or share, what is your or the student’s responsibility in regards to giving credit on a project?

A formal citation really is intended for a Works Cited List at the end of a paper. Instead, a student should attribute the work below the image (or as close as possible unless it is neater to use a slide at the end of a presentation). Sometimes that information in its correct formatting is on the page where the student has found the work and can be copied and pasted quickly by clicking on a clearly labeled link, such as “Use this file”.

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This is what opens:

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The result:


Photo by and (c)2007 Derek Ramsey (Ram-Man). Co-attribution must be given to the Chanticleer Garden. Both parties have shared, contractual copyright control. (Self-photographed) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

OR using the given code (with some minor size adjustments) it could look like this with an attribution that works on mouse hover: (Please try!)

Unidentified White Daisy Top View 1849px

Then again, other times, a student has to click around a little and do more investigation, gathering the author’s name on his/her own and trying to figure out how to type that information out into a correct format.

I’m sure elementary teachers out there are shaking their heads at me right about now thinking that this all seems a bit  lengthy, complex and way too in depth for their age level. And depending on the medium of the project, I agree.

I don’t want to be over zealous with expectations. I think it’s important to remember that we are teaching young students good habits, and modifications may be necessary to meet the age level of the student. I recall the librarian that I work with saying that when doing research with young students often the beginning expectation is to have the students write down some of the book titles (or websites) that they used. It can be very difficult for young students who have consulted a lot of sources to keep all of that information organized. It’s hard for the supervising adults to stay on top of that information for an entire class. Students over the course of the primary and elementary grades will work themselves up to keep track of all sources with more details that include authors, copyrights and publishers. Therefore, I think that our practice of copying and pasting the specific URL for the image’s location on the Internet is appropriate attribution. Especially, if we are not modifying the image, and only want to include the image in a school related project.

The student either could use the “File URL” from the information given on the image’s page, or at the original Google Images Search/Preview, choose View Image.

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Once the image opens full size alone, hold down the Control key + Click (Mac) or Right Click (PC) on the full size image that will open in your web browser to get the following menu:

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Choose “Copy Image Location”. This method has been what we have been using at Abbot.

The result in the project:



(Note: I’m still not sure what wording should precede the address. Source? Attribution?)

Now, that we have made it through that scenario, we still have to consider what would happen if the image really was not free to use or share.

If a license cannot be identified or the license clearly states that attribution is not enough, the picture should NOT be used by the student. (Of course, an alternate would be contacting the author directly and asking permission. This activity could be a wonderful learning experience, and yes, sometimes permission is granted to students. However, that may not be an extended activity that you want your students to undertake.)

That’s the digital citizenship lesson that we need to be instilling.

I know that this will bring up the next logical question: With these conditions, what if students can’t find the images they need?

Well, I have been doing a bit of trolling, and lots of other people have had the same concern.

My recommendations:

Creative Commons Image Search

Larry Ferlazzo’s The Best Online Sources for Images

Also, a good read that helped me: The Educator’s Guide to Copyright, Fair Use, and Creative Commons

If you made it this far in the blog post, thanks for reading, and I’d love to chat more about this topic. Any suggestions are welcomed.

Added 3/11/14: Copyright and Fair Use Animation : A simple video that is easy enough for students to understand!

Free to Use or Share


Everyone wants to put a picture on his/her project. Of course, this is not as simple as dragging and dropping. At the elementary level, we want to encourage good habits of digital citizenship; however, sometimes it seems like a lot of steps for young kids to get an appropriate image that is free and clear for them to use.

If we are in a Microsoft Office program, such as Word or PowerPoint, kids are steered toward the online clip art gallery (which seems to get trickier and trickier for Mac users… there’s a whole rant that I won’t get into…). Unfortunately, not all programs are linked into their own galleries, and that leaves us with some options that are not always so appealing or friendly to young users.

Google Images is the big one. Sure, we turn on SafeSearch filtering, and kids are taught to choose their search terms carefully. They also are told not to scroll within results as the best choices usually are in the first few rows. They even are taught how to obtain the specific address of the image (not Google!) to cite the source on the project. Yet, what we are not teaching them is that we are NOT obtaining permission during this process.

The message that they need to hear/learn is “Just because it’s on the Internet doesn’t mean it’s mine to take and put in my project.”

Yes, education does have some latitude with copyright (Fair Use), especially if something is only being used within the walls of the classroom. Our ability to break through those walls by posting our projects to a potential world wide audience is putting us into a whole new grey area. Since bad habits are hard to break, I’d rather start the students in the right direction with their responsibilities in a digital world.

So if you come to the computer lab and ask me to help your students put an online image onto a project, I am going to show them how to use the Advanced Search of Google. (There also is an Advanced Image Search, but it’s not a link from the home page of Google, and I like them to know that they always can get where they need to go from the home page.)

On the Google home page, in the lower right hand corner, there is a Settings link. When you click on it, this is what you see:

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When you choose Advanced Search, you are taken to a page that lets you set all kinds of parameters. (If you’ve never seen all of the parameters, you will want to do some exploring here!) As far as finding images that we can use, the Usage Rights filter needs to be selected. For most student projects, “free to use or share” is sufficient. See below:

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Normally, when you do a Google Image Search, the images are not filtered by license. Unfortunately, that means that the vast majority of the images in the results probably are not permissible to use. This is a very hard concept to grasp at any age because as we all know, it’s so easy to drag/drop or copy/paste. By using the filter, we are taking a step in the right direction of finding images that are “OK” for us to use in projects.

Of course, I wish it all ended here… and it really was this simple.

You still should do your due diligence and make sure that the images are truly “free to use or share”. Google claims that it doesn’t check the licenses on images and can not be held responsible. And then there’s the whole need for a citation or attribution… and what’s the right way to do that? I’m going to leave that information to be continued in a future post.

For now, let’s plant the seed for finding images that are free to use or share.

Explain Everything – It’s Not Just for Math


In my last post, I highlighted another example of how Explain Everthing can make student thinking visible in math. I realized that so far I’ve only shown math integration. Yet, like its name implies, Explain Everything is not just for math. I wanted to take a moment this week to share how the app was used during an English Language Arts lesson with some third graders.

A teacher wanted students to respond to their reading so she asked them to pick their favorite fable and explain why as well as go on to talk about their favorite character. This most certainly could have been a short essay on paper or a group discussion. Instead the teacher chose for the students to complete the task in Explain Everything.

Below is the teacher’s simple example. Please double click.

Why use the app? The tool assisted those students who would have been hindered by the multi-step process of writing. For many students, thinking of what to answer and then trying to figure out the spelling of the words and mechanics of the sentences to express those thoughts can be very challenging. The result often is students losing the original ideas altogether or editing the answer to only something that s/he feels confident in how to write which may not answer the original questions adequately. Therefore, the teacher may not receive a true picture of the student’s comprehension. While it is important for students to learn how to articulate their thoughts in writing, a screencasting app can help students learn valuable verbal communication skills. Of course, one can point out that communication skills can be encouraged and fostered through a group discussion. However, that brings up another issue: for many students attending to each other and staying focused in a group also can be challenging, making it difficult for a teacher to assess individual student comprehension. If students struggle with putting thoughts on paper and attending to group discussions, the recording of a book response in Explain Everything may be a triumph. Further more, the end result is a video (or data) that can be archived, shared and used for future instruction.

I can think of another application for this app in ELA. Students often are asked to answer questions and supply evidence from text. This articulation and evidence collection easily could be documented with the iPad’s camera and Explain Everything app.

Do you have any more ELA ideas? Please share.

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