Category Archives: Technology

Tools or toys? Ensuring that our young tigers learn to use digital access safely and responsibly

Parents of students I serve know that I harness the instructional power of digital tools. Sometimes heavily. With safety and security being on everyone’s minds these days, now is a good time to review what, why, and how digital access can and should be used in any classroom.

First and foremost, digital safety and responsibility is taught and instilled. When students log in, they are entering a new environment. We wouldn’t take our children to the store and say “see you in an hour”. We wouldn’t drop them off at the park and say “have fun while I run an errand”. Therefore we shouldn’t let them log in without ensuring we see their screens and monitor their use. They are 8-10 and will make mistakes. They are curious and will open a tab or initiate a search. It is our jobs as teachers and parents to be there when those moments happen. Of course we work to reduce them, but they can and will happen. Therefore, we teach children that navigating the Internet is just like going out into the real world. There are wonderful things to discover, but safety and security is always number one.

We are prepared to monitor. In my classroom, my children learn quickly that I will check their history, their digital footprint, and I will hold them accountable. Something as simple as giving into the temptation of a “game” will cost them access in my room because I stress that my devices are tools and are privileges. I am prepared to reinforce a consequence for using a Chromebook in an “off task” way just as I would take away a pencil if it were used in a way other than to write. This is a non-negotiable.

What do I have my students use digital tools for? Well where do I start? First are productivity tools like gSuite applications to demonstrate learning and “create” products for others to learn from us. While fancy fonts and flashy images are fun, it is always about the quality of content. We use digital tools to access up-to-date and current information. This then leads to the WHY? As we read, we come across words we don’t know and honestly a quick online search of a definition is much faster and efficient than grabbing a dictionary. We look up a word in question and get back to the discussion or task at hand. Often a discussion leads us to wanting to know more about a related topic, so we search that too. It is about adopting the mindset that our Chromebooks, iPads, whatever are TOOLS. The reality is that we want our learning energy to be focused on thinking and problem solving; on collaborating and communicating. Digital tools help us get the information we need and share the thinking we have in ways that transcend how we learned as children.

Now how to ensure… well it is easy to let a device pull us off task. I fall victim myself. So I teach children about self-regulating and monitoring. At least once an hour I am asking… is that an on task choice? Children can get distracted with a chromebook or a piece of paper. There really is no difference. What is different is they can hide their “distractions” easier when online, so I make it clear that I can and will access their screens anytime. Until they earn some trust, I have them sit where I can see their screens. It is that simple. Once they earn trust, I still walk around the room and take their Chromebook for inspection. They learn quickly that a misstep carries a big consequence.

This leads me to my attitudes on “controls”. I am 100% in support of filters to help with safe searching. Even with these filters inevitably my curious learners might get a hit on something we didn’t expect that may not be fully age appropriate and so I teach them how to navigate away. I see no difference between steering a child away from a bulletin board or ad in public that I do not feel is “kid-appropriate”. Our kids are going to experience and see content we wish they wouldn’t so we have to teach them to responsibly navigate away from it. I want to shelter my students but I also know that they are going to need life skills to know how to cope or handle something when I am not there to do it for them.

Then there are the “temptations”. When I was in school, we passed notes. Our curious kids today can send a doc to each other or an email. Same curiosities and ways to be “off task”… the tools and delivery have changed. When I was in school we made up games to distract ourselves in class. Ever sit in class and play tic-tac-toe with a classmate on paper? Well today we can open a new tab and play a math game.  Again, same desire to lose focus but different way to do it. So is the answer taking the device or blocking sites? I don’t think so. I think we teach kids to self-regulate and monitor; recognize they are letting themselves get distracted and how to get back on track. This too is a life skill…

So with letting our kids harness the power of digital tools, we also have to help them be responsible and we have to monitor for safety. It is really that simple. It takes time, energy, and effort on our part but in doing so we are helping our children learn to be the learners and citizens they need to be. For parents of students I serve, know that I am doing everything I can to ensure your children are using devices responsibly and safely when they are with me but also to instill those lessons for life.


Book Club/novel for 4th grade starting…

Fourth graders got their first novel for the year on Friday, Ella Enchanted. Before I passed out the books and explained the expectations, I talked to the children about setting goals.  In gifted reading, I present opportunities for the self-directed learner. I recognize that I have a range of students so I reinforce that many things are options.  I went over the following rubric that I use for classifying levels of “self-directedness”:

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I tell the children that #1 or “rocks” do not belong in the GREEN ROOM. However if they are a #2, that is ok because I recognize that not all children have a strength in ELA or enjoy reading to the same extent. HOWEVER, the “minimum” for me will be challenging.  Next I gave a copy of this rubric to each child and told them to set a goal for themselves for our book club work. Where do they feel the most comfortable? What might they want to strive for? I collected these and then went into the expectations.

First, they must read the assigned chapters each week. There will be 3; a total of approximately 20 pages. I do not expect the reading load to be demanding. This is necessary for even a level 1. Then they will have a pre-discussion Google form with questions to complete. This can be completed during the week in class (at home is NOT required but is certainly helpful!) If they have not completed this by Friday of the discussion they will get 10 minutes in class to work on it, submitting whatever they have when time is up. Reading the chapters and completing the pre-discussion questions on the Google form are level 2 expectations.

Ideally each child will strive for a “3”. For this they will do the Google form and have some thoughts on the discussion guide prompts/questions written down. They get ONE paper copy of the discussion guide. (The guide will also be available in our Google Classroom).

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A student wanting to work for a “4” has a bonus option: a discussion “break”. A Google document will have quotes from the weekly chapters pulled out for deeper thinking. Students are encouraged to comment on the quotes for higher level thinking emphasis.

I encourage parents to let their child take ownership of this. Parents may want their child to strive for a “4” but that may not be the goal their child has set. I would hate for a child to start wanting to avoid the reading because they are being asked to do more than they are willing to invest.

These elements factor into “preparedness” for discussion. Each Friday the children will get into random groups to discuss the chapters for about 20 minutes and discussions will be recorded for reflection opportunities. After the discussion, they will complete an “exit ticket” which is an essay response to a question. The essay question is to be done in class ONLY; no work done on it outside of class will be counted. The purpose is to help the children have practice with typed response questions so that they can build stamina and fluency. This will come in handy when they take the state tests in the spring. In this way, I’m giving them higher level comprehension while practicing these skills. I shared an 8 point rubric with 4 different categories that will be scored: Screen Shot 2016-09-16 at 3.21.16 PM.png
The goal is to build each of these areas… not to get 8 points each time!  If a student runs out of time to finish a response, they will just put NF (for not finished) on it and turn it in! This lets me know they felt they wanted to add more but ran out of time.

Starting the year with solid routines

As a teacher, the best thing I can do each year is take time to teach solid classroom routines. I teach them carefully and with purpose. What might seem like a slow start is really a map to great success! This allows me to let the kids take charge and run the room themselves… a true STUDENT CENTERED classroom!

I am so excited to finally start seeing students Mon. Aug 24th! Yet already schedule bumps will impact us… 4th graders will be MAP testing Aug. 24-28th and 3rd graders Aug. 31-Sept. 4.  These weeks I will most likely only get to see students 3 days.  Still we work around it!

One of the first “routines” I will teach 3rd graders is how to annotate text, or leave “reading tracks“. The progression of the 3rd grade routine will take time so that I can ensure children fully understand and know what to do and what is expected. Since most of my 4th graders were with me last year, we will start off with our 4th grade expectations (new friends ease in at their own pace… I have plenty of help from classmates!) 4th graders will hopefully be working mostly with Chromebooks so that we can go paper-less. Not only does this let the children learn, develop, and strengthen 21st century skills of communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity, but selfishly I can provide more efficient, timely, and focused student feedback this way! Using your Chromebook to show what you know will be emphasized.

Classroom management… well for me it is simple. We do what is expected. Period. I don’t believe in rewards for doing what you should do. When is the last time a police officer pulled someone over and praised him/her for going the speed limit? Have you been rewarded for stopping at a red light? We do what is expected for the safety and well-being of the community. My classroom is no different. For more than 10 years now, I have found that I do not need any behavioral systems because I teach what is expected, we practice it, we reinforce it and above all I hold students ACCOUNTABLE; if we make mistakes, we use them as learning opportunities so that we can do what is right the next time. Therefore we don’t have “rules”. We go over what is expected and the “nuts and bolts” of what holds our learning environment together/keeps it running smoothly.

In order to keep my sanity and 75+ students organized, I separate my day into “groups”. I will see two 4th grade groups and two 3rd grade groups (currently with no more than 17 kids in a group).  In a few weeks, I’ll be adding a smaller “Tiger Time” enrichment group (8:40-9:15). The children will learn their “group” color: Blue (4th 9:15-10:15), Green (3rd 10:15-11:15), Red (4th 1-2), and Yellow (3rd 2-3). Then they will each get a “number”.

Finally, for students and families, I make my “lesson plans” accessible using an online planbook. While my plans are never all-inclusive (as I can have multiple objectives and activities running in a single day) and my plans are always subject to change, those who are interested can check for a general idea of what is happening in the GREEN ROOM. Some parents have found it useful as a way to touch base with their child (since many are reluctant to give more than 1 word responses when asked how school was!) You can find this link and many others in my GREEN ROOM resources webmix. These tools help me keep our classroom “transparent”… if you can’t be there in person, we welcome you to join us “virtually”!

Cheers to a spectacular year!!

A “passion project” of my own…

I tell the children I work with that I am passionate about learning. There are things that “light a fire” inside of me and drive me to want to discover, explore, research, and investigate. As adults, we conduct informal research all the time… when we plan a vacation, we search for travel related information. When we see a doctor and receive a “diagnosis”, we hunt for more info about it. We read labels on the products we buy; we choose service providers carefully. What ever our pursuit, we are essentially doing research.

While research can be necessary and important, it can also be for fun. For this reason, I invite my students to do their own “passion projects”. Learn more about any topic that you find interesting and want to know more about. Passion is what drives us to learn!  Setting up a fantasy football team? That’s a passion project! Collecting dolls and creatively displaying them? Passion project! Reading a book about something you are curious about… passion project.

This summer I explored many of my passions; they all pretty much happened to be centered around teaching but still I did research, investigated, experimented, and discovered some new and exciting things.  While I had many pursuits, my main “passion project” was learning more about Google Apps for Education (GAfE) and obtaining my Level 1 Google Certification.  Through this process I worked through 13 self-paced units and then took a 2 hour online “test”.  What excites me the most about this however is what changes it lets me bring into our classroom!

While 3rd graders will get off to a “paper-pencil” start to instill structure and routine, my 4th graders are going to jump in to a more “digital” and blended classroom. With our own Chromebooks we have regular access to GAfE.  Here are some of the highlights that I will share with students when I start seeing them regularly: Using Your Chromebook to “Show what you have learned” , 4th Grade Expectations, and  Sample Stations with Google Apps.

Stay tuned to learn more about how the 4th graders and I are going to use Google Keep as a tool to set personal goals, create personal checklists, and self-monitor time on task!

Digital Reading-Summer reading

My first big goal for the new school year is to integrate more digital reading skills into the classroom (for more information about my thinking on this topic check out my blog post at:

But then I stumbled across some great resources and decided to start now! Here are two great ways to get kids reading digitally this summer!

Instagram… who knew?!

I follow a great blog by a teacher with some amazing ideas: Hello Literacy (Jen Jones). She posted 7 Fun, Free, Easy Semi-Hidden Ways to keep kids reading in the summer. I was intrigued by her suggested Instagram follows. Now I am hooked!
Screen Shot 2015-06-25 at 3.17.50 PM I created an account and followed them all! This is very much like the dive-ins I had students participate in during the school year. We would examine an image, write about what we notice and what we can infer. The beautiful photos shared here are perfect for the same engagement OR to enjoy reading the informative captions provided. For a more creative engagement, let your child enjoy a photo or image and create the caption for it.


I admit that I saw this a few months ago but didn’t have a chance to really check it out. This morning as I scrolled through my Twitter feed I saw “today’s wonder” in a tweet.  WHY DIDN’T I EXPLORE THIS SITE SOONER!!!!  The daily wonder starts with questions…perfect for getting kids to activate their schema and think about the topic. Then the text is a great short read with vocabulary highlighted (definitions pop up when cursor is moved over the word). For less fluent readers, there is a “listen” option that reads aloud highlighting the information as it is read.  Then there are interactive elements like video clips, “test your knowledge” quiz, word challenge and more.  Short, fact filled, and engaging! Also very addicting!

So get started enjoying some digital reading with these great resources NOW!


Reflection on a successful year!

So I just realized that it has been a while since I last updated… Shows how busy we have been!

In May we got into Virtual Field Trips. These projects allowed the children to explore and discover; not only were they learning about topics of interest, but also learning and practicing some new technology skills. This year we experimented with a green screen for creating videos.  While the “quality” isn’t superior (we learned a few things along the way…), the children were able to process their learning by sharing with others.  Check out our efforts at:

Of course we cannot forget that our class is first and foremost about reading. We learn many other things, but being readers and thinkers is top priority.

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Multimedia producers

I have been teaching the children that they are “consumers” of information but can and should also be producers. Simply put, we learn best by “doing” or creating:

Cone of Learning

When children process what they learn and create something new to share with others, they are most active in their learning. I’ve always had students “showing and telling” in different formats but technology provides outlets that are highly engaging. Of course the act of creating or process contributes more to the learning than a finished product, so even if my students do not develop a polished presentation or top notch piece of work, the process of creating alone worked their brain at the highest levels.

So to facilitate the process further, we obtained a Mac Book for student production use (especially with GarageBand and iMovie) and then I supplemented with some special tools: Green screen, photography lighting, and video camera.  So far 4th graders are putting these tools to use as we figure out the best ways to use the tools.  3rd graders have been exploring other production options.

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