Day by Day: Refining Writing Workshop Through 180 Days of Reflective Practice

When Stenhouse Publishers recently contacted me to be a part of their new blog tour, I was thrilled to find out the authors of the new book were Stacey Shubitz and Ruth Ayres because I am a big fan of their blog! Their ideas are simply yet thought provoking as they focus on what they are thinking about and learning daily as teachers of young writers.

Reading their new book:  Day by Day:  Refining Writing Workshop Through 180 Days of Reflective Practice did not disappoint.  It incorporates their same easy to follow style of writing in a format that makes it possible for teachers to pick up and use those lessons the next day as well as learn to improve on their lessons based on the reflections Stacey and Ruth have made following each lesson.  

One of my favorite things about the book is that so many of the lessons include strategies for writing that really double as strategies for differentiation.  One such strategy is the Plan Box.  Before students even left the gathering area from the lesson for work session, they were to draw a plan box which basically consisted of the steps they needed to complete when returning to their desk.  This helped students stay on task and helped students internalize mini goals for that day.

In the book, Ruth and Stacey have this quote from my favorite fiction author, Jodi Picoult:
I think we have stories because they help us understand who we are. 

Often I have felt like that is an important, yet challenge goal of Writers' Workshop.  Kids may be egocentric but they don't really understand who they are.  Ruth and Stacey have a great strategy they call collecting bits of life called ephemera.  Ephemera is artifacts from your life.  Ticket stubs, doodle notes, drawings, candy wrappers...basically anything that represents who you are as a person.  After reading about ephemera I have been noticing the little artifacts of my life.  So many things that I have been tossing in the trash could be "seeds" for new writing ideas.  I love that strategy!

There are so many things in the book that I have underlined and highlighted to try in a lesson, but you can preview the book online yourself here.  This is a must read book for writing teachers that will be a great resource for you to return to year after year as you plan for your young writers. 

In planning for my interview with Ruth I wanted to find out what the readers of my blog wanted to know about Writers' Workshop.  I solicited questions from a few of my colleagues here at Chets Creek Elementary where I work and our friends at International School of Bangkok.  Ruth was kind enough to agree to meet with me "virtually" on skype to answer these questions.  (We had a little weather delay as a snow storm scrapped our first meeting time!  Sorry for the delay in posting!) I enjoyed chatting with her and getting to know her better as well as hearing her thoughts in person.  I hope you will enjoy this as well.

A Conversation with Ruth Ayres from Melanie Holtsman on Vimeo.

Check out the previous stops on the Blog Tour:
A Year of Reading
Raising Readers and Writers
Write Brained Teacher


My Life as a Writer

I never really considered myself a writer.  I struggle with it even now, staring at the same sentence for five minutes, erasing what I just wrote and staring into space trying to gather my thoughts.  I think it is because of the way I think.  I'm not a sequential thinker.  If you know me well enough for me to just randomly tell you what I'm thinking you might think I'm ADD.  My thoughts and ideas jump all over the place.  If I need to follow a thought or idea through I really need to make myself a list and keep myself on task for it to get done.  And that is probably why I'm not a fluent writer.  I don't write down a plan.  I try to muddle though my thoughts in the post and many times end up thinking my writing sounds just like chit chat.  I know that may be okay, but the chit chat has to stay on topic!

My life as a writer has had a complete metamorphosis in the last several years.  Basically, the only writing I do on paper is a to-do list for the day.  It keeps me focused, sitting on my desk next to my elbow.  I have tried to replace it with online to-do lists.  They just don't cut it for me.  Other than that, my writing is done on this blog, on twitter, on my ipad, in email and on facebook. 

It has occurred to me that my children probably wouldn't even recognize my handwriting if they had to identify it.  That really bothers me, because I treasure the letters I have from my grandmother and father who have since passed away.  I would recognize their script anywhere and it brings comfort to me to get out those old letters from time to time.  I really need to sit down and take the time to put pen to paper. 

What is your Life as a Writer like?

Catch up with other posts in the Fall Blog Challenge.


The Small Moment that Made a World of Difference

Photo by hira3 on flickr
There are many small moments with my kids that I wish I could capture and remember for posterity.  I don't mean the award ceremonies, dance recitals and birthdays, although those are really special memories.  I mean the really small moments.  Where they ask questions or share ideas.  Or just surprise you with what they do.

Recently, my son looked across the kitchen table at me and said, "Mommy, do people on the other side of the world stand upside down?" I just had to laugh. 

His class just finished studying the author, Mem Fox and learning about Australia.  They even skyped a teacher from Australia!  I remember specifically talking to him about how it was midnight for her and we just finished breakfast.  I guess there is still room for misconception in there, but I'm struggling a little with how to make him understand. 

Any suggestions?


Blog Tour Coming

My latest professional read is Day by Day: Refining Writing Workshop Through 180 Days of Reflective Practice and I'm proud to announce that Ruth Ayres and Stacey Shubitz will be stopping by here on their upcoming blog tour!  I can't wait to talk with them!  Here are the stops on the tour:

Dec. 6 – A Year of Reading
Dec. 7 – Raising Readers and Writers
Dec. 8 – Write Brained Teacher
Dec. 9 – HERE !

There's still time to drop by Stenhouse Publishers to preview the book online or purchase your own copy.  I'd love to have some thoughts and questions of yours to add to my own.  Happy Reading!  And Writing!


What Book Made the Biggest Impact on your Life?

I have always been a good reader.  I loved school, enjoyed going to the library and would rather draw or write than play outside most of the time.  I knew I wanted to be a teacher when I grew up from the first time I helped a little boy sitting next to me in first grade.  But my passion for reading didn't develop until the fifth grade.

In fifth grade I learned about the presidents, was a school patrol and I fell in love with reading. Everyday after lunch we put our metal lunchboxes away and settled in our desks to hear our teacher read aloud from a chapter book.  The one that I remember the best is:  Where the Red Fern Grows  by: Wilson Rawls 

I was a ten year old kid living in the suburbs. Having no schema for this story's setting caused me to really use my imagination.  I was transported to the Ozarks of Oklahoma, with a little boy saving his money penny by penny to have enough to buy two coonhound pups for companionship and to help him "treeing" raccoons.  And even though I had nothing in common with the character in this story, I felt like I was there with him in his tragedies and triumphs.  I hung on every word as my teacher read this story aloud.  I dreaded the moment she would close the pages for the day.  Tears leaked from my eyes as the story ended and I furiously wiped my face before my classmates would notice.  I hated the story to end.

This book impacted my life the most because from that day on I always had a book ready to read.  I tried to read all the Newbery award winning books, the entire Little House on the Prairie series and any books written by Judy Blume.  I chose the specialty of reading/language arts as a teacher and enjoyed transporting my students to that place that my teacher had taken me, surrounded by the magical words of a story.  I have grown up to be an avid reader myself.  I surround my own kids with books and even though my 14 year old thinks she has outgrown read alouds, I hear her slip into the room while I'm reading to my 7 year olds. 

Other bloggers sharing their posts from the fall blog challenge can be found here :)


My Life as a Mathematician

Photo by DaveKav on flickr
To be completely honest, math was not my best subject in school.  I managed through high school because I was a good student and I had a teacher that was willing to give extra time and help me, but in college it was another story.  I took College Algebra my first semester and failed it.  Waited another year and then failed it again.  I finally ended up taking it my last semester of school (for the fourth time) and passing it with a C.  Tutoring made only a marginal difference.  I finally passed and understood what I was doing when I had a teacher that really taught me the how and why of algebra. She cared about whether I understood the material or not.  She made me feel like it was okay to ask questions.  I have never been more excited in my life to receive a C! 

Today I know that my foundational problem was number sense.  I am not able to figure sums in my head with confidence, or estimate reasonably.  Directions, distance and elapsed time take me twice as long as others.  I am beyond thrilled that I can calculate tip percentages and sale prices on my iphone.  (I used to use a piece of paper.) And yet, the holes in my math knowledge continue to haunt me. 

My 14 year old daughter struggles with math more than I did at her age.  This year, she is taking Algebra for the first time.  My life as a mathematician now has become...relearning Algebra!  But there is a big difference between then and now. 

Now, I'm not alone.

I have sent messages out on twitter to get help from my PLN and immediately had some great resources and tutorials that helped us struggle through her homework assignments.  And thankfully, her teacher has agreed to hold morning tutoring sessions this year.  This has made a big difference in my daughter's comfort in asking questions and getting help in class.  She now spends most of our evening homework time teaching me. 

So my life as a mathematician is all about learning right now.  So maybe I won't have to use my iphone apps to "figure" everything out all the time anymore. 


My "Class" Poll

I wanted to add a class poll to the Fall Blog Challenge for the specific purpose of showing that doesn't need to be difficult.  You don't need to struggle over what to post about on your blog.  You can simply share the individual results of a question you posed to the class, such as their favorite part of an activity, what they learned in a lesson or their opinion about something.  Kids also like to read what their friends wrote or answered. 

That being said, I think there is an aspect of this that could be interesting to the edublogger as well.  You might be surprised if you ask a question to the folks around you.  I know I was. 

I used my faculty as my "class" and asked the question:  If you could buy any one piece of technology, what would it be?  Here's what they told me:
S.Phillips - ipad
J.Johnson - macbook
L.Perez - laptop
D.Barber - huge flat screen TV
N.Thomas - laptop
L.Sambito - ipad
D.Cothern - ipad
M.Ellis - ipad
JJ.Brown - ipad
V.Cole - ipad
B.Ciupak - ipad
First Grade
P.Wallace - smartboard w/tablet and ipad
T.Chant - smartboard
T.Ruark - smartboard
R.Roberts - smartboard
M.Mallon - ipad
C.Dillard - ipad for me, smartboard for kids
D.Harbour - electronic reader for me, smartboard for kids
D.Timmons - for tech to work!
Second Grade
R.Bridges - smartboard
H.Correia - laptop
L.Metzger- ipad
K.Morris - ipod docking station
J.Shaffer - headphones
D.Rossignol - headphones
K.Nelson - laptops for students
L.Morgan - iphone4 or ipad
W.Lankford - kindle
C.Walag - ipad
L.Thomson - flip video
C.McLeod - digital DVD recorder
B.Roberts - ipad
Third Grade
L.Patterson - new pool that can convert into a patio with push of a button
L.Hoffmann - smartboard
K.Symons - ipad
R.Timmons - student response system
M.Ross - ipad with camera
A.Russell - digital video camera
C.Constande - ipad
T.Sani - ipad
M.Corbett - smartboard
D.Evanko - flatscreen LCD TV
C.Tsengas - ipad
C.Chascin - kindle
Fourth Grade
J.Nash - student response system
C.Montero - smartboard
B.O'Connor - smartboard
J.Montisano - smartboard
A.Phillips - multimedia speakers
R.Pinchot - smartboard
M.Launey - whiteboard and laptop
Fifth Grade
K.Shannon - Google TV by Sony
T.Ruark - 4G cellphone
T.Lehane - laptops 4 kids
S.Rabe - iphone
C.Swidorsky - macbook
L.Werch - external hard drive
ResourceJ.Snead - large format photo printer
K.Cherney - 30 flip videos or ipod
D.Tamburrino - ipod docking station
N.Hall - flip video
R.Robinson - GPS for wife
J.Plank -smartboard
J.Gannam - laptop
S.Shall - macbook pro
B.McCall - ipad
And for me, I've been wanting a good pair of multimedia speakers and a microphone :)

I wasn't surprised that so many wanted ipads.  I looooove mine.  But I was surprised that so many wanted a smartboard.  Especially since I'm not a big fan of smartboards, and neither are the few teachers I know that have them.  It surprised me for sure.

What would you buy?

Check out the other posts from the fall blog challenge in the right sidebar of my blog!


My Life as a Reader

Many years ago, I heard Lucy Calkins speak about teaching reading.  There were many things she said that day that impacted my teaching in so many ways.  One of the things she said was: Share your life as a reader.  Let kids hear about your reading habits.  They need to know it's not just a subject, but a part of everyone's life. I also think that sharing a little bit of the "personal you" with you students helps them feel more comfortable with sharing their own thoughts with you.  

I am a zealous reader.  If I don't have a book to read and a book waiting to be read...then something is very wrong.  I love learning new things, meeting new characters, reading a new author's craft, settling in to a familiar writing style and escaping to a different time and place.  If I find an author I like, I try to read all of their books. I'm such a snob about new authors because I don't want to waste my precious time on a book I won't like, so I only read books that have been recommended to me.  I even keep a digital book log in Google docs, by author, to keep track of books I've read so that I don't accidentally reread them years later (I am the only one stupid enough to do that? ) But it's very handy when I'm at the store or library.  I simply pull up my docs account on my iphone to check to see what books I haven't read by a specific author. 

People ask me all the time, "How in the world do you find time to read?"  I like to use a phrase that I learned from Lucy Calkins. I make time by carving out time for reading in my day.  If I look at my busy day that starts at 5 am and ends after my 3 kids' extra curricular activities and their homework then I wouldn't find the time.  But I start by always keeping a book with me.  I read while I'm drying my hair, sitting in the car line after school, at the waiting room during appts. with the kids, while waiting for a training to start and then maybe for 15 minutes in a quick bath before bed.  (My favorite reading spot!)

My life as a reader has changed in one signifigant way this year:  the iPad!  Once I read a book on my iPad, I was hooked!  It's easy to keep in my purse, I always have the next book ready and waiting to read.  I. Just. Love. It.  But I do have one confession to make, after reading about 5 books in a row on the iPad, a friend loaned me a book she had bought.  I opened up that paper book after several weeks of reading and realised... Acckkk!  I could barely read the words.  I had been using the larger font feature on the iPad and turning up the brightness on the backlighting.  Ahhh, I guess it's time for glasses. 

Check out posts by others participating the the Fall Blog Challenge 2010 on the right sidebar of my blog :)


Are You Ready for a Challenge?

Are you a steady blogger?  Always coming up with more ideas than you can possibly write about, zapping out regular posts to your readers? 

Well, I'm not. 

And when I do have an idea for a post, it never seems to get written.  Other things bog me down, or it seems that I let them.  And I'm always feeling guilty that I'm not a better role model for those I coach.  I know that if you provide regular content and read and comment on other blogs, you build your readership.  And that's what I want to model for others.  So I decided that I need to ramp up my blogging with a challenge.  A challenge to myself to blog regularly and a challenge to the teachers I coach to think about different topics to blog about and to provide posts that they maybe hadn't thought about writing about on their blog. 

So here's the challenge:  Write one blog post a week for 10 of the next 11 weeks.  Tag your post with "fallblogchallenge2010" and I will link back to your posts here as well.  I would love an email so that I know you're joining our challenge.  Here are the topics you can use, feel free to modify them to suit your needs.  I felt like these are things, as a reader, that I would love to know about any educator.

Are you ready to dig in your heels and accept this challenge?  I'm committing myself to being a better blogger and hope you'll join me.  If we're all in this together we'll be stronger bloggers and blog readers in the end!


Let's Get It Started!

Ready to get your students started working with technology?  Just like any new class year or procedure, you have to start with rituals and routines. 

This week I had the pleasure of working with some classes on the rituals and routines of using laptops.  After having some "aha" moments and tweaking as I went, I thought it might be worth sharing what I learned. 

Prepare the kids in advance with a lesson where you chart some basic expectations for getting out the laptops or entering the room where the laptops are located.  If they have to get them out, how will they carry them?  If they have to share, who goes first?  If you're in a lab situation, do they have assigned seats?  One thing that is unique to a technology lesson is that sometimes students will have to look at the screen and sometimes you want them to look at you.  How will you get their attention?  What do you want them to do to show you that you have their attention?  Put your hands up, hands on head, hands under legs...  Simple things but they make all the difference in a smooth lesson and positive experience for you and the students. 

I tried having students sit in front of their computers and follow along with me once and in another class we had them sit on the floor and went over procedures with a document camera.  I think the document camera worked better.  They were focused and motivated about learning so they could get their hands on the equipment.  We went over things like: power button, trackpad, left and right click, using the shift key (why you need it) and enter.  We played a quick oral game while they looked at the keyboard from the document camera.  I told them to say "shift" or "no shift" and called out things like:  capital M, question mark, dollar sign, comma. 

Once it's time for the students to put what they learned into practice you have to tell them what to do to access the internet.  Our pc laptops currently have internet explorer and firefox installed on them.  Our technology lab has macbooks with firefox and safari installed.  Tell the students which one to use, because later when you're giving instructions about opening another tab or a new window it is easier to have the same directions for all. 

For each class I wanted to have some kind of quick activity for them to do online to practice with the trackpad and for a fun ending to the lesson.  What I learned there is to check to make sure what you chose isn't blocked on the student wireless network!  I found a great science game with drag and drop labels on a diagram but it was blocked to the kids due to high school content.  Ugh!  Fortunately we were still able to do a quick keyboarding practice website they enjoyed a lot.  I think keyboarding is a great way to start and as we move into projects and activities they'll have these practice sites to return to if they finish early.  Here are some favorites:  Keyboard Climber, Keyboarding Games, Free Typing Game, Computer Lab Kids and Powertyping

I would love to hear some more ideas about what to do with kids the first few times they come to the computer.  Please share yours!


Make Me a Story

You know if you read a professional book during your summer break, it better be good!  I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to read Make Me a Story: Teaching Writing Through Digital Storytelling by: Lisa C. Miller.   This book met me right where I needed some help.

I have been very familiar with digital storytelling and have toyed with it in my work the last two years, but never felt like I could use it meaningfully with students.  I have used and enjoyed Photostory, Voicethread, Windows Movie Maker and imovie but trying to get students to really use digital storytelling has been a challenge due to the lack of computers for student use.

This year, we have the exciting prospect of three laptop carts to be used in classrooms and I'm looking forward to supporting some deep and meaningful instruction with theses new tools.  Lisa's book, Make Me a Story, was a great refresher for me on Photostory.  She gives step by step instructions with screenshots.  Perfect for the digital storytelling newbie or for a teacher to share with her students. The book also includes a CD with student examples of completed projects.  A great tool for your instruction!

Finding a way to use digital storytelling in a Reading/Writing/ Language Arts class is a natural fit for me.  In planning for other content areas, such as Science, Social Studies and Math, I have been floundering for purpose.  Everytime I think of a project it seems like an unecessary "addition" to the work that is already being done by the teacher.  In Make Me a Story, Lisa used a list provided by The Center for Digital Storytelling in California to state the elements that can make up a good digital story.

* an interesting question to answer
* impact
* a clear point of view
* economy
* the power of a student's voice
* art that helps tell the story
* the sound track

She has adapted this list to fit elementary students, with explanations of each point in her book.  This is the road map I needed for content area digital storytelling!  I can see using these elements to do a story explaining a math problem, explain a clear point of view on an event from history or use impact to demonstrate understanding of a science experiment or concept.  I can't wait to dive in and give it a try!

I had the pleasure to speak with Lisa Miller about her new book, so I took that opportunity to record a podcast (I've been wanting to try one for a while!)   We had a great conversation about meeting the needs of diverse learners while doing digital storytelling, class management and why you should give digital storytelling a try.  I hope you'll give it a listen and I hope you'll order a copy Make Me a Story to use with your lesson plans this year.  It's a great guide for all levels of digital storytelling learners!


Denver, CO - ISTE, Here We Come!

My principal and I arrived in the Mile High City tonight excited and ready to attend ISTE 10 and our first Leadership Bootcamp!  What a surprise to find Florida weather like ours that turns into jacket weather as the sun goes down.  Who knew?  We hope you'll follow us and learn along to with us too.  I'll be blogging all conference sessions on our Professional Development blog:  LIVE from the Creek  Hope to see you there!


What We Learned from Philippe Cousteau

Today we had the opportunity to listen to Philippe Cousteau in a webinar about the effects of the Gulf oil spill, presented to students through Discovery Education Network

Discovery Education sent an email out yesterday letting us know that over 60,000 educators had registered to attend!  They were unable to host that many in the webinar, so we were fortunate to get in and DEN was awesome enough to get the whole thing archived quickly for others here

Philippe explained, in terms that students could easily understand, what has happened with the oil spill in the Gulf.  He explained that even though oil drilling technology has progressed over the years, the technology for cleaning up oil spills has not progressed.  They are guessing at what would work each time a new "stop the spill" strategy is tried.   He showed them images of wildlife affected by the oil spill as well as video footage where he went diving in the oil. 

One of the most powerful moments in the webinar was when Philippe told the students that they should see from this that we need scientists and technology to find solutions to protect our environment. He told them that everything they do can make a difference if they protect our earth's resources.  You could have heard a pin drop in the room.  The students were totally engaged in every word he was saying.  The teacher standing next to me looked at me and we both stood there with tears in our eyes.  Hearing this message from Philippe Cousteau was so dynamic. 
Philippe left the students with a call to action:
* Stay informed
* Join the Water Planet Challenge
* Become advocates for environment
* Reduce dependency on oil
When the webinar was over we ended by showing the live video feed of the oil spill.  I think seeing the actual motion and force of the oil coming out as opposed to photos made the students really see the impact of this spill.  I asked the teachers involved in attending the webinar to share with me their students thoughts.  One teacher even sent me their class' wallwisher!  Here are some of the students' statements that I thought were very meaningful:

* I learned that this disaster is the worst  natural disaster in the U.S.
* I can help the environment by using public transportation and reusable grocery bags.
* What I learned was scary.  It looks like it will come to our beach.  (Jacksonville, FL)
* I will use reusable water bottles and ride my bike a lot more.
* I'm so sad that animals are dying from this.

Many, many of the students thanked Discovery Education for teaching them all about this, as well as Philippe Cousteau.  I think it made a huge impact with many.  For teachers interested in teaching their students about this, there are also follow up activities offered by Discovery Education Network here



In my school district, every other Wednesday we have an hour and a half at the end of the day for professional development .  This year, we have had two of the training days with technology break out sessions that teachers could choose their learning with tools such as Windows Movie Maker, Voicethread, Microsoft Excel, imovie and Google Calendar.  This week was our last early release training day of the year, so we decided to kick it up a notch.

Last year at NECC, I heard the term speedgeeking mentioned in passing but was never able to find out how it was implemented in practice.  Through my PLN, I was able to see examples implemented by Kim Cofino and Karen Ditzler, but my Technology Team and I found a way to do it Chets Creek style...

A few days before the event I put a flyer in the teachers' mailboxes inviting them to a "Speedgeeking Event" with the following cheeky phrases listed on the flyer:
       *  Have you had trouble finding Web 2.0 tools that are technologically compatible with your needs?
       *  Fast, fun, safe, comfortable way to discover technology tools
       *  FIVE fun tools in one afternoon
       *  Confidential feedback given to the technology instead of awkward personal contact
       *  You may find the technology that changes you life!!!!

When teachers arrived in the media center for an overview of the event we were playing the theme music from Love Boat to set the mood.  We handed each person one of an assortment of five color cards so we could sort them into five groups.  The plan was to send each group to one of five classrooms in a row where they would rotate through the sessions.  I gave two minutes for transitions and ten minutes for each session.  I asked the presenters (my Technology Team) to follow this guideline:  two minutes - name tool and tell what it is used for, three minutes - show quick examples of the tool, three minutes - create a product with the tool to demonstrate steps and two minutes - questions and sharing how they feel they could use the tool.  One of our team members, Maria Mallon, manned the intercom system with intermission messages such as, "Match maker, match maker, make me a match!  Time to move to the next session..."  "Don't call me, I'll call you.  Time to move on to the next session."  It was a nice comic relief and seemed to really get everyone quiet at transition time to start moving. 

At the end of the event, teachers were asked to go check their email for a link to google form provided for feedback on each tool and the event in general.  I wanted to keep the feedback in the form of our "theme" so I listed questions this way:

Do you think this is a tool you would use in the future?
___Maybe, if the chemistry is right
___Only on a double date (if someone helped me)
___No way

The open comment area at the end of the form made it clear to me this training was an overwhelming success.  They enjoyed the new training format, learning about the new web 2.0 tools and had fun with the playfulness of the theme.  Our leadership team is already thinking about how we can infuse more fun themes into our trainings and how to change some of our typical trainings into more fast-paced learning. 
Here are the tools my Tech Team shared during speedgeeking:

Flixtime - Cheryl Chascin and KK Cherney shared this fun tool that makes video slideshows.  It has the ability to use images, video and text. It creates a product similar to Animoto, but has the added feature of text.

Time Toast - Melissa Ross shared this useful timeline tool.  If you look at this example of the Gulf Coast oil spill timeline you will immediately begin to see the usefulness of this tool with your students.  2nd graders used it this year to make a timeline of their own life. 

Jing - Toni Chant and Lauren Morgan shared this valuable tool that can snap a picture of your computer screen, record online actions on your computer and can be shared instantly through email or shared links.  Look at Toni's example jing on how to log in to your wiki at wikispaces.

Wallwisher - Rachel Bridges and Dorry Lopez-Sinclair shared this unique tool that can post a virtual wall with sticky notes.  So much like the actual charts we use in a classroom, this tool extends learning to home and our global audience.  Check out the wallwisher that Mrs. Bridges' and Mrs. Correia's class did on the facts they learned about frogs.

Fotobabble - was the tool that I shared.  It is a really fun tool where you can take an image and upload audio that goes with that image.  Look at some examples of how these kindergarteners used it as a visual for their poetry reading.

If you have a similar type of event we'd love to hear ideas about how to make this and future trainings better and more engaging.  Feedback encouraged!


Skype in the Classroom

We have been asking to be able to use skype as a tool in our classrooms for many years. If you're not familiar with skype, it's a free software application that allows it's users to make audio and or video calls online. Our district has not had the bandwidth or security features they needed to feel comfortable to release this to us.  With all of the budget cuts in education, it has complicated the problem even more.  So we were thrilled to learn recently that we could begin testing skype on our system.

Our first opportunity to skype came with an administrative leadership team meeting.  One of our team members had to stay home with a sick child and we were able to skype her into the meeting so that we were still able to complete her portion of our agenda. What a simple solution!  In the past, we would have had to have an additional meeting or add more items to the next agenda. 

To get started on skyping in the classroom, I read Sylvia Tolisano's post about skyping Around the World with 80 schools. I signed up immediately to make my contact information available to other schools looking to participate in this project.  Before I had time to even think about what we wanted to do first, I received an email from a teacher in PA.  Her class was participating in the project and wanted to set up a time to meet with a third grade class at our school. I videotaped our meeting so that the class could share it on their blog with their parents:

Skype with PA from Melanie Holtsman on Vimeo.

The kids loved this virtual meeting and I learned a lot of things I never even considered when using skype personally.  Here are the things I need to fix before skyping with a class again:

     * Get an external mic.  I never thought about the fact that the kids couldn't all get close enough to the computer for the other class to hear them.  I should have had an external mic ready.
     * Bring in my webcam that is not attached to the computer to use.  The other teacher had her webcam placed up high so we could see a large portion of the class.  I'm not sure how much of us she could see with the limitations of the webcam on our laptop.
     * Have a place ready for the laptop that reaches all the cords and locations it needs to be.  This hadn't occured to me when I went into the 3rd grade class and I ended up using books to prop it up.  Which worked, but...

The kids on our side were adorable to watch.  They waited for each word the other class said and ooohed and ahhhed at their answers.  It surprised me when they got so tickled to hear students' names from the other class that were the same in their class.  They thought that was so cool that kids in other places had their name.  They were very interested to hear that we didn't have the same exact subjects and resources in school. 

If you watch the video, you'll know that with just this one exposure, the kids were able to see the possibilities for how skype connects us to the world.  They are ready to skype other classes and scientists that can answer their questions!  The possibilities are endless.  I can't wait...


Graduating to Nintendo DSI

A little over a year ago, my 6 year old twins got Nintendo DS games.  I never really knew much about videogames, so what they could do with them surprised me

I think my husband is reliving his childhood through the twins because he is constantly buying them new games before they even ask!  Recently, he decided they needed to trade up for the latest version Nintendos (which I must say, they knew nothing about...).  So he took them up to Game Stop, our favorite used videogame store, and traded the Nintendo DS machines in for Nintendo DSIs.

My son and daughter were immediately able to figure out how to work the camera in the DSIs.  They've watched mommy taking a lot of photos lately and couldn't wait to have command of their own picture taking.  They cracked me up taking pictures of their toys:
A special blankie:
Things in stores that they want to buy:
And using the camera edit features in the game:
It wasn't 24 hours before I had to tell my son not to surprise people in the bathroom and take their picture.  He was so proud of himself for the capture that only promise of consequences got that rule to sink in.

Of course, all of the games that they use and love from their old Nintendos still work with DSI, but I really need some help with what I should be showing them to do.  I put parent controls on downloads and wifi.  I have no idea what to download and can't really find any good ideas online.  I can absolutely think of what to let my kids do on a computer, but the screen is so small on the game that most of the websites they love won't work properly on a DSI.  Can you help me?  Any suggestions?


Can I Have a Copy of that Picture?

When I first started blogging, I think one of the most exciting things for me was having the ability to share all the photos I took in my classroom.  I knew that my students' parents would enjoy seeing them as much as I had enjoyed capturing those moments.  I was a slideshow master, embedding them in blog posts whenever I could.  Parents would sometimes ask me for a copy of one of the photos and I would have to get their email and remember to send it to them when I had a moment.  Not a huge chore, until you have a big class event and everyone wants you to email them a photo. 

There have also been several times over the years where a parent forgot their camera at a special event, or missed the shot they wanted.  I always pointed them to the other parents standing around taking photos, but I'm sure they felt unsure approaching others parents they didn't know. 

Over the last few years many teachers have asked me, "Isn't there a place online where my parents and I can upload all of our class photos together so everyone can share?"  My answer was no for a few reasons.  First, in order to use photos from a class everyone in the photo has to have a digital release (per our district).  Second, in the interest of proactive safety, I encourage teachers not to post photos of students posed standing alone (which is a very popular shot among teachers) and instead have them use candid shots or group shots of class activities.  Third, if you have a "pool" of photos for your class you won't be able to control if the other parents follow the first and second reasons... 

This year, a few teachers have tried creating accounts with stores like Walgreens and giving all of the parents the username and password to upload and download from the account without publishing them online.  This is a good way around our problems, but not very efficient.  Parents would have to know to keep checking the account and some parents may not want to use Walgreens for their photo needs. 

Late this fall, I was excited to come across a solution to our problem on my favorite photo website, Shutterfly. They have a service for photo sharing called shared sites

Shutterfly shared sites allows you to upload your photos in the privacy of your account, create albums to organize your photos by event or however you like and then share the photos or albums you choose to share.  To try shared sites, I created a site at Christmas time for my family.  I picked which photos I wanted to be accessible when pulling up the site and used that unique url to send out with my Christmas cards.  Shared sites can be made public or private.  For this purpose, the site was public so that my family members didn't have to log in to view my photos.  Not only were my relatives able to see which photos I put on the card, but they could peruse my summer vacation photos and whatever else they wanted to flip through!

After the holidays, I approached my child's teachers and shared that I thought this would be a great way to share classroom photos with the parents and for parents to share with each other.  One of the teachers immediately got excited because she already used shutterfly for her photos.  She went back to her classroom and created a private share site that day!  It can be done in less than 10 minutes, by clicking "create a site" under share and it will walk you though the steps to make your site using your photos in shutterfly.

Our class site is private. That way parents can upload whatever photos they wish to share.  When the site is created, parents can be emailed an invitation to join the site and members can either order prints on shutterfly or just as easily download photos to a flash drive.  I really like that feature, because I don't print all of my photos.  Everytime there is an update to the site, members receive an email to view the new photos there. 

It really is as easy as it sounds and we haven't really found any downsides! Do you have a favorite way to share photos in your classroom privately?


Getting Started with Twitter

The first year we focused on technology in our professional development of our faculty, we highlighted web 2.o tools. This year, we've tried to design more opportunities for teachers to build a PLN and learn what will help them grow personally with technology use. Recently, I sent out a Google form survey to my staff to try to determine what they would like to be offered as small sessions after school. I had several teachers say they wanted to know more about twitter.

I started the session showing this video. My favorite line from it is "real life happens between blog posts and emails." That really is what twitter is to me. Take a look:

Many of the teachers I met with had concerns about privacy. Recently, there have been news articles about supposed crimes committed against people that have posted they are leaving home, thereby notifying criminals it would be a good time to rob their home. Personally, I think that is a stretch. The fact is that if someone knew my name they would be able to Google me and find out where I work. Obviously, I would be at that place of work Monday through Friday all day because I am a teacher. I share my thoughts with folks when they ask, but really it's all about personal comfort level. I would rather be transparent and informed than hidden and in the dark. I think everyone has to make a personal choice. I find it a valuable tool in my professional and personal learning journey!

If you choose to venture into the land of twitter, here's how I think it's best to get started:

* Set up your account by chosing a name that is a username that is easy for others to remember. Many people use their first name and last initial, or last name and first initial, just last name or nickname. Try not to use lots of numbers or a really long name, if you can.

* Make sure you set up your bio profile right away or people may not follow you block or may even block you thinking you are an anonymous spammer. Look at bios of others to summarize yourself the best you can.

* Find a twitter mentor, someone who is already embedded in the twitter process who can help include you in discussions and will be able to answer questions if they come up. I didn't have someone like this when I started but I spent a good bit of time stalking (yes, stalking!) on twitter before I joined. Just watching how the interactions were done and the tone of conversations.

* Find like-minded educators to follow. Twitter 4 Teachers is a great resource that has grouped teachers by subject or specialty area. Click on the persons name and that will take you to their twitter page. If you are logged in, all you have to do is click the follow button.

Once you have an account, set up your profile, tweeted a little yourself and have added some tweeps to follow, I've noticed that some people don't go any farther because they think they have nothing to say. What I would say to you is... give it time. The value grows with the time invested and the relationships you develop there. You begin to notice what others are sharing and it shows you what types of things you could be sharing. Spend time responding to others' posts by replying to them. Place the @ symbol plus their twitter name immediately after it and they will be able to see it later if they aren't online at that time by clicking the replies button on their home page. You should do the same everytime you login to see if someone had replied to you.

One of the ladies in my session asked me, "How do you keep up with this?" My simple answer is that I don't. I follow a lot of people and when I check in I don't go back and read every thing that has happened since I was on last. I check my replies and scan through the recent postings and dive in! :) Twitter is the #1 tool that I use for personal and professional development and it is well worth a try. Do you have any twitter tips to share?


What the 365 Photo Project Taught Me

A few years ago, I started hearing about the 365 photo project on twitter. I googled it to find out it was a simple project with the challenge of taking one photo every day for a year. The people who had completed the project the year before talked about how much it taught them about taking pictures.

I thought joining the project would be a great way for me to tell the story of a year in the life of this educator and mother of 4 with a crazy, hectic life. I also thought it would help me stay disciplined about taking regular photographs instead of binging on holidays, so I dove in and gave it a try. I did pretty well for about half of the year and then I let circumstances in life get in the way for a few weeks and I found it too hard to catch up. I should have just picked up from there, but I gave up in frustration.

Here is what I learned during that time:
* Always keep your camera with you at all times. Everywhere. No excuses. (You never know when that perfect moment will happen.)
* Get that "film" frame of mind out of your head and don't be afraid to take tons of pictures. You can delete all you want later.
* Take a picture, then change your angle or position on the same subject to take the next picture.
* Find a close up shot to try out on the big picture you are taking.
* Looking at other people's photos on flickr will teach you about how to take better pictures yourself.
* It's ok to take the posed shots, but look for the image with the story (the surprised at having your name called for an award instead of posing holding the award).

Here are the results of my 200 + photos in my first attempt at a 365 set:

Even though I gave up on the project a little over mid-way through, I didn't give up on photography. I continued to follow my flickr contacts. learning from them by what they were doing. I purchased my first DSLR camera, a Nikon D60....which I have since sold and traded up to a D5000. I began to get brave enough to ask other educators questions about photography. Thanks to Ben and Ken I started turning off the "auto" setting and began learning about shutter speed and aperture. Photography is definitely a passion now.

Everyone doesn't have the same experience with this project. But the one thing I notice throughout other group members photos is that they learn to look for the image that tells the story. It doesn't have to be a fancy camera to capture it. Many group members use their iphone camera to take their photos. But if you watch their images over time, they change from staged photos to photos of moments in time. The photos that catch everyone's eye. The photos that tell a story. Aren't we all suckers for a good story?

My friend Dean tells his story well. He put his 365 photos together in video form. Even though I have never met his family, or been with him at his job or house, I feel like I really have peeked into what 2009 was like for him. Grab a soda and snack, click here and be inspired.

Join me on this 365/2010 journey!