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 http://www.edutopia.org.  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 bubbl.us. 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!

“Worst Photoshop Ever” and Reaction to Someone Else’s Blog!



My husband said,”That is the worst photoshop ever!” as he walked past my computer.  He was referring to my first attempt at manipulating an image I got from the internet.  I did this for my Technology and Computers in the Classroom course. The purpose of the assignment was to become familiar with pixlr and to think of ways we could use it in the classroom. The professor suggested we have students make a postcard from an image about the period in history we were studying. He also encouraged us to do a fast and sloppy job, in part to help students realize that they don’t have to be perfect.  I found a picture of Roman soldiers in full battle regalia, added my head to one of them, and put in a speech bubble saying, “I’d rather be playing Angry Birds.” I noticed that working with the image made me think about it more than if I just copy/pasted it into a power point. It also made me feel much more invested in it, like it was my own creation rather than an impersonal image I chose from the web.The part that interested me was that our professor said we should basically never have students pull images from the web and use them without manipulating them in some way.

Every year, to introduce Virginia history in fourth grade, all the fourth graders at my school make a promotional travel brochure for a region of Virginia.  They have text telling about the highlights of their region and the kids add photos of the beach, mountains, stone bridge, etc. The small pixlr assignment in my tech. class got me to thinking how uncreative and superficial it is to have kids use images without processing them in some way.

A few days after completing the “worst photoshop ever”,  I read a blog by Shelley Wright called The Nuts and Bolts of 21st Century Teaching.  Ms. Wright is a 10th grade teacher who has taught about the Holocaust for several years.  She realized that in pulling together lectures and material to teach, she always does a lot more research, and consequently learns a lot more, than her students. She decided to teach the Holocaust using project based learning.  She gave the students the framework of creating a museum about the Holocaust, but then she became a facilitator instead of a lecturer.  At points, the students became stuck; they knew how to research, but they didn’t know how organize the material and how  to initiate the creation of the museum.  With Ms. Wright facilitating conversations, the class decided to show three faces of the Nazis: The propaganda face, the reality, which is the face of the Jewish people and other people who were persecuted by the Nazis, and the Nuremburg Trials and aftermath of the Holocaust.  Ms. Wright found that students were incredibly empowered by the experience of creating a museum which they conceptualized from start to finish.

An important aspect of this type of learning, whether it involves manipulating a video or image from the web, or processing information about a period in history to make a museum,  is that each group of students will come up with a different approach and will create a completely different result, but will engage with history in a way that is important to them. I’m willing to bet that students who conceptualize and build a museum together will remember more about the Holocaust than students who listen passively to lectures and take a test.

I’m excited about approaching teaching in a new way: as a facilitator coaching students to do meaningful projects and to incorporate  images or videos that they create or  process in an active, personal way.

Why Primary Teachers Need to be Trained to Work With Gifted Children


In my county, gifted students aren’t officially identified until February of second grade. Following identification, they don’t start an accelerated program until third grade. This is too late for gifted children to reap the full benefits of acceleration, but that’s another story. Today I am talking about how gifted children are viewed by their very first teachers. The dirty secret of educators of our youngest children is that they disdain precocious learners and often don’t know how to meet the needs of the academically gifted student.

I’ve been an instructional assistant in a mixed age kindergarten/first grade classroom for the past 9 years. I’ve worked with teachers of varied personalities and a wide range of experience and almost all, myself included, have had difficulty working with profoundly gifted children. I’ve thought a lot about why we are often irritated with gifted children. Why all the eye rolling??

One aspect of very young intellectually gifted children that many primary teachers don’t understand is their uneven development. Profoundly gifted children can often read fluently, or do high-level math, yet may not have  completely mastered toilet training or cannot hold scissors and cut the correct way. This is a source of frustration to many teachers. It is a challenge to prepare academic work to challenge the mind of such a student while still teaching him or her the basics such as how to use materials and get along with classmates. Teachers need more training in the uneven development of very young gifted students and how to meet their needs. These unique minds need to be challenged while their immature bodies catch up.

There are specific personality traits, unique to gifted children, that teachers should be aware of. Not only are the gifted intellectually advanced, there is often an intensity and energy about them that can mimic ADHD.  In researching the psychology of gifted children, I have learned about the Overexcitabilities Questionnaire. There are 5 categories of Overexcitabilities developed from Dabrowski’s (1964) concept of development potential. The questionnaire is a way to identify and look at traits that many academically gifted or highly creative people possess. These areas are:  Psychomotor, Sensual, Emotional, Intellectual, and Imaginational. People with these traits are highly sensitive and may be impatient or have a low frustration threshold.

Some of the time, parents create a situation where they are so officious about their child’s giftedness that, as a teacher, you want to prove them wrong. When faced with these pushy parents, the natural reaction of many teachers is to find and highlight the child’s mistakes and immaturities, and to say sarcastically to colleagues, “Guess what my gifted student did today??”

Gifted children can be the most challenging students. However, they can be an asset in the classroom and can be a joy to work with. Training is desperately needed for the teachers of our youngest gifted students so they can be treated with kindness and helped to blossom socially, emotionally, and intellectually.

What Good is Twitter??


ED554 Technology and computers in the classroom

Do you think Twitter is a superficial app. only good for following the various goings on of celebrities who continually get pregnant/go into rehab/smash a car/assault someone in a drunken frenzy, etc., etc.??  So did I until I was forced to join the tweeting masses last week for a technology class I’m taking.  How could this possibly advance my teaching?  Well, it turns out there is more to Twitter than Stephen Colbert.

When you first join, search for people and organizations in your field of interest; in my case, education. When I initially did this, I began to receive a lot of tweets about higher education, which didn’t pertain to me. I narrowed my search to elementary education, arts integration, and elementary gifted education, my particular areas of interest. I chose several teachers to start following after previewing their tweets, most of which are re-tweets. What I didn’t realize about twitter was that most tweets contain a link to some other page or resource. This is really the meat of Twitter because it allows you to see an astounding number of resources in a short time, all in one place.

If you’re like me, you are interested in a number of organizations and teaching resources but don’t have a lot of time to log on to each one and keep up. I am finding that Twitter is the perfect way to do that. For example, I am very interested in the education department of several of the Smithsonian Museums, including the zoo. Last year, while I was planning a unit on migratory birds, I found that the National Zoo has loads of teaching resources on-line. They had activities related to beak adaptations, migration maps, interactive computer games, and more. I really wanted to remember to check the website for new science ideas every few weeks, but never found time. However, since I began to follow the National Zoo on Twitter, suddenly I don’t have to remember to go to their website; they frequently send me updates and interesting tidbits to share with my class. Voila!

AND, with Twitter I can easily follow a particular animal at a zoo anywhere in the world. Students love this and come up and ask me, “How is Bob?”, which is what they named the butterfly we were following on The Journey North this past spring. Twitter truly is a real time global network.

One last thought:

This morning when I checked my Twitter account, I was annoyed to find a strange a tweet from Laertes9, “Ophelia – my dove, where’s my dad? And why is he so cold?” I thought  my account had been infiltrated by a creep. I investigated “unfollowing” Laertes9 and soon realized that the tweets came from a teacher I am following.  There were other tweets from Claudius the Dove, Fortinbras, Polonious, and Gertrude because@danikabarker is teaching Hamlet and is having her students use Storify to create social media for all the characters!! I am so excited because I want to learn to use Storify, and this will be a free demonstration of its use in a classroom!