Ancient Rome for Third Graders – Unit Plan


A few weeks ago I brainstormed plans for a unit on ancient Rome for third grade. Over the past few weeks I have been working on fleshing out the plan and on incorporating technology into it. Here is a new version of the mind map which represents the final plan.  Image


And here is the link to the unit!  This is the first unit I’ve planned which is not based on children’s literature! Usually I read to the students at the beginning of every lesson, but I’ve found that with power points,  pod casts,  and videos, the students can see much better than when they are all straining to see the pictures of a small book.  Also, I found that this unit requires almost no materials!  Normally, I have my students do a lot of art projects in social studies and I have to gather up loads of craft supplies and paper. This unit is almost paper-free!  Plus, students are learning important technology skills while they learn about ancient Rome.  I can’t wait to use this unit plan!


Podcast From Sportscenter Rome!


This is a podcast I made as a sample for students to look at. Their assignment is to create a podcast from one of the ancient sites in Rome – it could be a famous building or someplace like a Roman Villa. Students will work in groups of four to write a script, find pictures, manipulate those pictures, and add audio.

Comments on Sugata Mitra’s Ted Talk, Build a School in the Cloud


Today I watched a few Ted Talks and I was really struck by Sugata Mitre’s talk, Build a School in the Cloud.  He is an amusing speaker and has great insight into education.  He also has a uniquely Indian perspective. In giving a brief history of education, he described how our present day school system was developed by the last British Empire.  The Victorians created a “global computer” called the Bureaucratic Administrative Machine (!) to keep their empire running.  School produced parts for the machine and each part needed to be identical. Each part needed to be able to read, write, and compute (add, subtract, multiply, and divide).  Mitre explained that the world no longer needs identical individuals who will be part of a global human computer. We need to ask ourselves what present day schooling is going to prepare people for.  What do today’s students need to know how to do?

Mitre did an incredible experiment. His university shared a wall with a slum. He cut a hole in the wall and set up a computer for the children to use without giving them any instructions or guidance. Incredibly, they figured out how to use it by experimenting and collaborating.  He began to set up computers in very poor areas around India and would leave them with complex scientific problems for children to figure out.  He had the computers set to communicate in English, not the children’s native language. Again and again, the children mastered difficult scientific concepts through collaboration and working with the shared computer.

From these experiments, Mitre developed his idea of  “building a school in the cloud,” a place where children can explore and learn from one another. His idea includes the use of technology to level the playing field between rich and poor.  He coined the term SOLE, which stands for Self Organized Learning Environment. This environment is made up of  broadband +collaboration + encouragement.  In this learning environment, the teacher sits back and lets the students learn. The teacher asks “big” questions for the students to figure out and offers encouragement.  Sample questions for 9 year olds might be: What happens to the air we breathe?, or, How did the world start and how will it end?

Mitre envisions helping children all over the world to tap into their wonder and their ability to work together;  schools where children go on “intellectual adventures” that are driven by the Big Questions. I am intrigued by his ideas and was fascinated by his experiments with giving very economically deprived children access to computers equipped with complex scientific information and a question to answer. The children’s curiosity and perseverance were astounding.  Seeing this talk made me feel that we don’t give young children enough of a challenge and we don’t trust them to persevere.  hole-in-the-wall-computers_imagewith-borderI highly recommend listening to some talks by Sugata Mitre.

I’m Flipping Out!


I’ve been doing some reading about the flipped classroom lately and I must say, I’m intrigued.  The idea behind the flipped classroom is to make better use of student time, and better use of teachers as facilitators of educational experiences, rather than as lecturers.  Instead of taking up precious class time with a lecture, students view the lecture as homework and use class time to work on labs, solve math problems, create a reader’s theater or other collaborative project.  This would have really changed my experience with math. I always understood the lectures and demonstrations as the teacher was doing them, but when I would get home and try to complete the homework independently, I wouldn’t remember the steps. In the flipped classroom, students work on what would previously have been homework in class, so the teacher is there to immediately answer questions and offer support.  In general, I like the idea of the flipped classroom.  I do have some concerns, however.

For one thing, good lectures and direct instruction doesn’t consist of a robotic teacher reading from a prescribed script. Dynamic direct instruction involves a teacher who is reacting to student’s interests and needs. An effective teacher senses when students are lost and will immediately react by clarifying information, explaining in a new way, or providing examples.  I don’t think we can replace all lectures or direct instruction with videos.

Another concern I have with the flipped classroom is that students don’t have time to watch 3 or 4 lectures per night. This is why I was happy to read some new ideas about best practices for the flipped classroom on  This blog gave me ideas about ways to use the idea of the flipped classroom more effectively, to get the most out of all methods of teaching.

I liked the idea mentioned in the blog about using the flipped classroom to differentiate instruction. For example, if you have students with different math needs, these students could watch different math videos and have different work in class without the teacher having to spend time teaching four or five different lessons to small groups. Instead, each student would watch his video and all the students would be working on different problem sets in class as the teacher rotated around the room helping anyone who was stuck.  In this way, differentiation can become much more manageable.

Another suggestion that I thought made the flipped classroom more palatable to parents and teachers, is to have the students watch the video during class time, while the teacher works with small groups. If a video is fifteen minutes long, there could be three rotations of activities with one being to watch the video. In this way, the teacher can be present and available for the students who are working on projects or other assignments, instead of being tied up with direct instruction.

Rather than my initial visualization of the flipped classroom being a complete flip of lecture and working on assignments, I’m glad that there are ways to flip some instruction to free up the teacher to work with small groups or support the class as they complete math problems.  I know I’ll be using more videos to support instruction in my classroom to free me up to give more students  the individual attention they need.

Review of Mobile Apps For Reluctant Readers, “I’m so Excited!”


This evening I discovered Edreach, a website that compiles podcasts about education. I ended up listening to a podcast that reviewed apps especially for reluctant readers.  In my experience, most reluctant readers LOVE computers and electronic gadgets, so what better way to get them reading and interacting with books?  Basically, my mind was blown!  I had no idea this stuff was out there!  At my school, the “listening center” is just that, the kids put in a CD or a cassette tape (remember those?) and proceed to hold a book, trying to flip the pages at the right time. The narrators of Mobile Reach, David, Jennie, and Sue, described a much more engaging and versatile experience.

They first reviewed Subtext, an app that allows kids to read e-books and interact within a text!  A group of students can participate in an e-discussion. For example, a teacher can highlight part of a text and comment on it.  Students can add their own ideas. A student could write, “I thought that part was scary” and another student or the teacher could reply, “I think it might be foreshadowing.”  Subtext is a perfect app for classroom book clubs.  This possibility of exchange makes reading a social activity which may add to the appeal for reluctant readers.

Another app that sounds amazing for young readers is Collins Big Cat Books, available on itunes.  These books assist in language acquisition and reading fluency.  A child can choose and listen to a book being read to him, or the child can read aloud and then listen to their own voice so they can hear their own level of fluency. Their are little games embedded in the stories such as finding a mouse on every page or touching different parts of the screen to add sound affects.

Similarly, Toystory is an e-book app that allows students to be read to, or to read and record their own voices.  There are movie clips sprinkled throughout so it’s part movie – part book, which would appeal to most students and will probably spark the interest of reluctant readers.

One app that sounds fascinating is The Fantastic Flying Books of Morris Lessmore.  Sue described this app as “an award-winning short film that is an interactive narrative experience.”  I don’t know what that means but you can bet I’m going to find out and share it with my students!  Morris Lessmore has a visual table of contents and during the interactive narrative experience students play the piano and play with food!

An app that has applications for high school teachers as well as teachers of younger children is iannotate. This app allows educators to record text, to highlight a skill that students are working on,  or to circle vocabulary words. In this way, teachers can “talk to the text” and literally write on it. This app could have important applications for history, science, or foreign language teachers.

Edmodo allows students and teachers to create a chatroom, book talks, and class discussions. The beauty of it is that it is all done through writing and, theoretically, your classroom will maintain an atmosphere of calm and quiet!

Tales2go is an award-winning mobile audio book publisher that manages multiple users at once. This is important because we all have to share technology at school and this app can remember what different users were reading!

Remember Reading A-Z? A lot of us are still using it, but now there’s a paperless version called RAZ-kids which provides e-books and is compatible with the common core. RAZ-books also has quizzes and a parent component.

Another oldie-but-goodie is Starfall. Their app is appropriate for kindergarten through first or second grade. It teaches basics such as days of the week, months of the year, phonics, and phonemic awareness in an engaging way.

Tumblebooks is another classic but there are different versions. Tumblecloudreader has chapter books and is also interactive. Tumblebooks reads in five different languages including Mandarin Chinese, just in case you need that!

The last one I will mention is scholasticstoria which is the app associated with Scholastic. They offer e-books with a share feature so it’s another good app for book clubs or guided reading. One feature that sounds great is that the teacher can create bookshelves of “just right” books for each student!  Also, and this is a little creepy, when kids look up words, it shows up on the teacher’s dashboard so she can see what words they had trouble with.

O.K., I know I promised scholasticstoria would be the last app I mentioned, but I just looked up Popout! The Tale of Peter Rabbit which features the familiar and beautiful art of Beatrix Potter. It is said to be “one of the most revolutionary digital books ever created” so I wanted to let everyone know about it!

There are so many wonderful apps to motivate all students, including your reluctant readers. There are apps and ibooks available in all genres and reading levels and the great thing about these apps is that they engage students with literature in exciting and creative ways.




Using a Mind Map to Organize Lesson Plans and Some Other Stuff


New-Mind-Map_2g1t3x47This is a mind map I made using It was a quick way for me to outline what I need to cover for my Ancient Rome unit for 3rd grade.  After watching students in my classes use mind maps to organize their thoughts, I felt I should try it myself.  As usual, it’s not as easy as it looks!  The random format may be less formal than an official outline, but it takes thought to organize  the mind map from big ideas down to specific details.

When we teach creatively, I think we underestimate the amount of effort that students need to put into their assignments. Last fall I took an undergraduate class called Human Growth and Development. I was so annoyed that the professor taught by having us do a series of group research projects that we presented to the class. Our presentations took the place of lectures. The professor was using all the best practices I have become familiar with in elementary education!  Honestly, I felt put on the spot:  I didn’t want to meet with strangers outside of class to work on projects and I didn’t have a lot of creative energy after a long day at work. I really just wanted to read a textbook, memorize the theories of Piaget and Erikson, and take a traditional test. I try to keep this in mind when planning for my students; it is necessary to find a balance between direct instruction and having them generate all the learning experiences. For some students, the added creativity can actually be more demanding and stressful than sitting back and acting like a sponge!!

Digital Storytelling!


Follow this link to see my first digital story telling project:

This is another tech. activity that I learned to do with my students. Younger kids can re-tell a fairy tale or other familiar story while older students could even tackle nonfiction. For example, third graders could find images and write a script to tell the story of the water cycle or the life cycle of a ladybug. Sixth graders could re-tell the story of a famous battle or other event in history. As you can tell, I’m pretty excited about the possibilities!