“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!

Creating a Technology-Integrated Lesson Plan


As part of my journey to integrate technology into my classroom, I am beginning to think about specific lessons and how I can bring meaningful technology to student learning.  By meaningful technology, I mean not just having the students do a webquest, play a computer game, or any other canned activity: I want them to experience creating something original, and possibly interactive, with technology.  In this way, the students will gain important skills in technology while learning the traditional subjects they need to know. AND, most importantly, virtually every student I’ve ever had LOVES anything to do with technology, so this will be a great way to engage reluctant, disruptive, or underachieving students.

For this project, I decided to focus on Ancient Rome for a 5th grade classroom. Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) deviates from the state Standards of Learning in history and social sciences and uses their own Program of Studies (POS) instead. I decided to use:

SS.G5 – Standard 8: Demonstrate Understanding of Classical Rome History and Geography

Benchmark 8.c

Explain achievements of Classical Rome and how they affect modern society.

This subject has a lot of potential for students to research and create projects about ancient Rome that they can share with one another. One idea that I am thinking of, is to have students work in small groups to produce podcasts from places of importance in ancient Rome such as the Forum, the Colosseum, or Hadrian’s Wall. The group reporting from the colosseum could describe an event like a sportscaster, while the group doing Hadrian’s Wall might act like war correspondents. Others might treat the podcast like an informative radio show or a group of students could write up an interview of a person from ancient Rome. of course the whole class will get to listen to all the podcasts.

Another idea I have, is to have students create a blog or a facebook page of a Roman person. This could be a famous Roman such as Julius Caesar, Augustus, or Constantine, or they could imagine being a Roman slave, noblewoman, or tradesman.  Based on facts they find out in their research, they will make postings about daily life and the goings-on of their character.

Taking this project in another direction, small groups of students could write, make costumes, and design sets for short plays depicting the Roman myths. They would make videos of their productions; learning about camera work, and video editing. Perhaps a local video artist could talk to the class about lighting, filming from interesting angles, and how to incorporate music into the videos.

A last idea I have,  is to incorporate visual art and technology by having students draw one of the famous pieces of architecture or an invention from ancient Rome and use ipads to create a site that you can access with a QR code  (thank you to Meagan Posey for this fun idea!) The students create a museum of their works and each student can go around the exhibit learning about the subject of each artwork by holding their ipad over the QR code and reading the information written by their peers.

These are some initial ideas of things I want to learn to do in my classroom.  I am open to more ideas from my readers as I begin to work on my project!

Giving Reluctant Students a Voice


I loved the article Giving Reluctant Students a Voice. It is something I struggled with while student teaching in 4th grade. The class had an unusually large number of students with anxiety disorders and students who were meek. Some who did participate spoke in such soft voices that I couldn’t hear what they were saying. I would have to walk very close to them, ask them to tell me what they wanted to say, and then repeat it in a loud enough voice for the rest of the class to benefit from the comment! Needless to say, this interrupted the flow of discussions and generally frustrated me.

Some methods that I have used to combat the phenomenon of students being unwilling to participate are: surprising (and sometimes embarrassing) students by calling on them completely unexpectedly, pulling their names randomly from a cup of craft sticks, calling on students in some predictable order, or having students write answers on individual white boards – they hold up their board when they have the answer and the teacher doesn’t go to the next question until everyone has answered. Each of these methods works to a certain extent, but none really supports a student who is anxious, embarrassed, or slower to formulate answers.

Recently, I took a professional development seminar on using Googledocs in the classroom. One use for Googledocs is to set up a class discussion board as a way to give voice to those students who are reluctant to speak up in class. I’m excited to try this in my classroom. The article provides good parameters to use when setting up your discussion board such as using numbers for the students to keep comments anonymous, constructively criticizing an idea but not a person, keeping comments relatively short, and commenting on other people’s posts so it is really a discussion.

One interesting aspect of this is that discussion boards make me, personally, really nervous!! Ironically, I am confident voicing opinions and ideas verbally, but, when faced with a discussion board, I become very anxious that I won’t be able to type fast enough to keep up with the discussion. I also worry that I will have other technical difficulties and won’t get credit for participating! For this reason, I liked that the article suggested using a discussion board in conjunction with traditional, in-class discussions. As educators, we want to provide as many different forums as possible for all types of students to participate comfortably. I think using on-line discussion boards is a great way to reach students who are nervous or apathetic about speaking up in class.

I’m Following “Edudemic: Educational Technology Tips for Students and Teachers”


Until about 24 hours ago, I thought integrating technology into the classroom meant making a powerpoint to illustrate a lecture or finding a math game for my students to play to practice a new skill. That is so 5 years ago!  The problem is, now that I know there are other things out there, I don’t know what they are or how to find them. Luckily, I became aware of the blog Edudemic that is filled with ideas, including ways to use social media in a positive way in the classroom!

I printed out a Bloom’s “Padogogy Wheel”  which gives lots of ideas for ipad apps which relate to each section of Bloom’s taxonomy.  This is so exciting because, for a person who knows nothing about ipads, it provides a jumping off point. It organizes apps according to where they would fit in Bloom’s taxonomy so, you can use SonicPpics to apply knowledge or students can use MindMash to analyze ideas. One of the apps that sounds really interesting to me is Bump where you can share content such as music, photos, apps, or social network information by gently bumping your device into another device running the same app. I’m not sure, but I’m wondering if students could take identities from a period in history and create a fictitious social network with this app. I’d love to see Cleopatra’s facebook page!

Comments on “Digital Media: New Learners of the 21st Century”


Digital Media: New Learners of the 21st Century (PBS)

I just finished watching the PBS video Digital Media: New Learners of the 21st Century and I’m so inspired to engage students by using technology!  Before I saw this video, I had a narrow idea of how to use technology in the classroom. I have become adept at showing YouTube videos to my students, making  Powerpoints to highlight direct instruction, or finding games to help students practice math, but this video opened a whole new world to me in terms of how we can change education through technology.

Digital Media showcased 5 different learning environments around the country where instructors are using computers, iPhones, GPS technology, and recording/photographic technology to create incredible learning experiences for young learners. The first segment,  takes the viewer inside Quest to Learn, School for Digital Kids in New York City. I wish my own children, both techies, could have gone to this elementary school.  At Quest to Learn, children learn through gaming: both playing and designing video games.

Although one of the teachers explained that educators at Quest to Learn follow the New York State standards “to the letter” and that the school uses rigorous assessments, a narrator explained that it is possible to make such a rich learning environment that assessing and learning become synthesized.  An example of this is in games where you can’t get to the next level until you accomplish all the learning in the current level and completion of the game becomes as the assessment.

One aspect of this segment that really hit home for me was the double standard that exists around technology. The child who stays up all night reading a book is rewarded and recognized as having dedication and intellect whereas the child who puts the same amount of effort into solving a video game is a source of concern to parents and educators. Often these children are accused of having an addiction. I am guilty of this in my parenting. I value activities such as playing outside, painting, or reading a book, while I don’t appreciate my children’s creativity or intellectual efforts on the computer. I have worried that they are addicted to the computer and that they are being too passive when in reality my daughter writes extensively on several blogs and my son also has several blogs and  does a great deal of computer graphic design.  Hearing the narrator discuss this double standard really changed my view on my children’s endeavors and in how I approach technology in the classroom.

Another aspect of  making technology a valued component of classroom learning is going much deeper  than simplistic or violent  games where the object is to shoot aliens or something similar. In education, children can learn “classic” information and actually process that information and produce something creative with that information using technology. For example, one class at Quest to Learn was reading Aesop’s fables. They chose a fable to work with and they were creating characters and sets to translate the fable into a live 3-D game environment. I believe this is a perfect example of taking something ancient and translating it into something meaningful for the 21st century.

Education is profoundly changing to meet the needs of our current and future society. The point was brought up in the video that it is not possible to teach children everything they will need to know for the rest of their lives anymore. We need to teach problem solving, where to find and analyze information, and how to adapt to new ideas and technologies. I love this quote from the video attributed to John Dewey, the early 20th century philosopher and education reformer: “If we teach today’s students the way we taught them yesterday, then we rob them of tomorrow.” This quote is even more relevant in the quickly evolving world of the 21st century than it was when John Dewey verbalized this idea.