Monday, February 29, 2016

Reflections On: Connected From The Start PART 2: Blogging

Connected From the Start

At this year's Greater Edmonton Teachers' Convention I went to see Kathy Cassidy's session called "Connected From the Start" which is also the name of her book, which covers the same topics. 

Like many teachers who use technology in class, Kathy uses a wide variety of technology devices and applications. It is important to note that her classroom has one-to-one iPads. Her session had three main sections: Skype, Blogging and Twitter. I am going to review each section in a separate blog post.

Part Two: Blogging

Like Kathy, I have blogged with my students for a number of years. Unlike her, I have used laptops, netbooks and Chromebooks, not iPads. I do not have one-to-one access but I do have regular access to technology.

Kathy's top choices for student blogs are: Edublogs, Kidblog and Easyblog. All have a financial cost to someone. I liked how she reminded participants that storage costs money and that is what you pay for.   


She blogs with her students (using iPads) on the Edublog platform which uses Wordpress.  She pointed out that Wordpress can be somewhat cumbersome to someone new to blogging. It is also important to note that the free account does not have Student & Class Management options. The "Pro" account costs $39.95 USD a year. 


I have used Kidblog over the past two years. Last year I used a free account, but that option is no longer available. They do have a one month free trial. The "Premium" account costs $36 USD year. Kathy felt the Kidblog platform is less complicated than the Wordpress-based EduBlogs platform. Div1 Edtech in EPSB posts on blogging:


Kathy also demoed EasyBlog which is available for iPads only. It is VERY slick! If you wanted to start blogging with students as young as kindergarten, then this is the platform to do it (if you have iPads)! There is no cost to teachers but all the data is lost at the end of each year (unlike EduBlogs or KidBlog). Parents can choose to purchase the data at the end of the year. If you want to do blogging in primary classroom with only one iPad Easyblog makes it... easy.

Other Blogging Platforms

Kathy mentioned ePals as another blogging platform teachers could try. That's how I cut my teeth on connecting my classroom globally and blogging with students almost a decade ago. I moved away from ePals when EPSB moved to GAFE. Since I have used it, ePals has been taken over by Cricket Media.There is no cost to ePals.

I often get emails asking for suggestions for free blogging platforms that are suitable for younger students. I usually suggest Blogger as we have it as a part of our GAFE suite in EPSB. I do not find Blogger the best choice for teachers wanting to start blogging with younger students but it is the best FREE option I can suggest. However, Seesaw has just launched a blogging platform that is available for use on iPads and Android tablets as well as via the web (from what I can tell). I have only done some preliminary research but I believe it is free. Check out Richard Byrne's blog post for more information. 

Parent Permission

Kathy shared that her division uses a form that informs parents and requests their consent for students working online. She also brings parents in to her grade one class and shows parents examples of what she wants to do with student work online. As a result, she has not had parents who have not provided consent. 

She uses blogging as well as Skype and Twitter as a way to show younger students how to be on-line and show what you learn. She does post pictures of students but she never links a student's name to their image. She reminds students and parents not to use full names (so no last names) when blogging. She will even delete parent comments* when the parent uses a full name/last name in connection with a student. (*The class will read the comment as a class and discuss why it has to be deleted. Then she contacts the parent and explains that is was shared in class and gently reminds them to not use identifying names when commenting in the future).

She provided some good options for those families who are concerned about their child's work being public. You could provide that child with a pseudonym and/or never post that child's image. This became a bit of a discussion during the session. 

I shared that one workaround I have used is that I have a form specific for my classroom when parents have been uncomfortable with signing the EPSB FOIP form. I explain to parents in person or via email that without the FOIP form signed their children will sit off camera for Google Hangouts as I cannot always control if the teacher on the other end will take pictures or video. Parents can provide specific written permission for allowing their child on screen for Google Hangouts. As well, I let them know their child will only be able to post to connections or classmates for Kidblog unless they provide written permission. 

Honouring Student Work

As someone who has blogged with students for a number of years I found this section of her talk reaffirming (which is sometimes as useful as learning new things). That said, when she shared one of her students blog posts (excuse the blurry photo) I was forced to stop and reflect on my practice. 

She had honoured the student's writing by letting the student's errors be posted as is but she added clarification for the audience in brackets. I have a tendency to require more "publish" ready posts. 

I think there is a fine line (and I do not think I have found it yet) when it comes to blogging, especially with younger students. I believe publishing work (of any kind) to the 'public' requires a certain set of standards that we do want to establish. At the same time, we do not want students to be so controlled by "perfect" writing expectations that we stifle their desire to write. Thanks for the food for thought, Kathy.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Reflections On: Connected From The Start PART 1: "Skype"

Connected From the Start

When I started using Google Apps For Education in the classroom, there were very few lower elementary educators who were sharing what they were doing with technology in the classroom. There were even fewer K-3 Canadian educators sharing. Kathy Cassidy was one of the few exceptions. So I was excited to have a chance to see this trailblazer at the 90th Annual Greater Edmonton Teachers' Convention. I went to see her session called "Connected From the Start" which is also the name of her book which covers the same topics.

It IS All Connected

Like many teachers who use technology in class, Kathy uses a wide variety of technology devices and applications. Her classroom has one-to-one iPads. Her session had three main sections: Skype, Blogging and Twitter. I am going to review each section in a separate blog post.

However, I want to add a caveat to blogging about these topics separately. The magic in what Kathy (and other educators like her) does is that she does not just do ONE of these in her class, she does ALL of them and more. That's where the magic happens. Students are not simply bloggers, tweeters or Skypers, instead they see themselves as connected to the world throughout the day, across the curriculum. I know that can seem daunting to someone who has not tried any of these tools. However, I think people who only try one platform or only do blogging for one assignment will not be able to appreciate or experience the magic that happens when you open your classroom up to the world in multiple ways and vice versa. 

Part One: Skype (Google Hangout)

For those of us in EPSB, I would suggest using Google Hangouts rather than Skype (both are video chat platforms). However, the program used is not what is important here. It is how and why video conferencing is used in the elementary classroom (based on Kathy's presentation):
  • Can't get an expert to come in class? Have them Skype in: Nurse? Geologist?
  • Buddy reading  
  • Mystery Skype (she did not recommend this for grade one)
  • Mystery Number Skype
  • Skype an Author

How To Connect With Others?

Kathy recommends checking Skype for Educators to find other teachers/classes/experts to connect with via Skype. She also encouraged people to use the Twitter hashtag #mysterySkype and Connected Classrooms community on Google+.


My Reflections

As I began to write this blog post I realized that we have not blogged here at Div1Edtech about Google Hangouts yet. I have used Google Hangouts a number of times. I find it an excellent, yet fairly simple way to make learning relevant for students. It is great of any age, any grade. Going to Kathy's session reminded me to pursue more opportunities for Hangouts this year. 
  • Can't get an expert to come in class? Have them Skype in: Nurse? Geologist? This is sometimes easier said than done. However start with people you know. Kathy mentioned she uses her sister, a nurse. I will say that this is when being a "connected" educator comes in handy. It is amazing how many opportunities you can create for you class because of your Twitter or Google+ PLN. Note, developing these connections does not happen over night.
  • Buddy reading. I love this idea! I think students would find it motivating. I have already lined up Mr. Reilly for a test run! Look for a blog post about how it goes. 
  • Mystery Skype (she did not recommend this for grade one). As someone who has never taught grade one, I appreciate her opinion about grade ones' readiness for Mystery Skype. I have done it in grade two, and with guidance and structure, it is a worthwhile social studies activity.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Activity Review: Acrostic Poems (Read, Write, Think)

Acrostic Poem Generator Review

I really like Read, Write, Think's Acrostic Poem Generator. It is not 100% ideal for grade two but its positives out way the hurdles. 

Used As A Centre In Grade Two

We had been doing a focus on poetry in class. Students had done guided collaborative acrostic poems using Google Drawings. I wanted to move acrostic writing so that it could be an independent centre during literacy centres. Here is my mini-lead-up lesson:

  1. Open Read Write Think's Acrostic Poem Generator on the Smartboard. Click "see answer" to the question What is an Acrostic Poem? and read the answer together. (I have a class website so I put the link to the activity there).
  2. I told my students they would have a choice between two words: valentines and heart (can you tell we did this at the beginning of February?)
  3. We reviewed they only put their first name on activities on the internet when the prompt for "your name" comes up.
  4. Together we brainstormed eight keywords/ideas for Valentine's Day.
  5. Then I showed the students my favourite feature - when you mouse over any of the letters in the title/topic of your acrostic, the program provides hint words.
  6. Using the hint words and our brainstorm words (which are visible while you write the acrostic, too) we wrote a poem.
  7. When we were finished, I modelled how to save it. 


During the first week of centres a few hiccups arose in my students ability to do this independently.
  1. As they did not do their centres on the same day we did the model lesson, their braintorm list was full of spelling errors and therefore so were their poems. More importantly, however, my struggling students spent A LOT of time on the brainstorm part of the activity.
  2. Saved final copies are PDF. Saved incomplete copies allow students to open and continue to work on their project. How is this a problem? Well, I noticed one student spelled their topic word HAERT and another spelled it HEEART (despite having the words on my website and on the whiteboard). However, we could not edit them as they had saved their poems as PDFs there were no working files saved to allow for editing.

Week Two Of Centres AKA Modifications

I do not believe in one-offs for most activities. I think its ideal to have students do an activity a number of times. Therefore, I wanted to add this acrostic activity in my centre rotation. To do so, however, I needed to make some changes. 

I followed much the same lesson plan as I did the first time I introduced the centre. I did another model lesson.
  1. Open Read Write Think's Acrostic Poem Generator on the Smartboard.
  2. I told them they would have a choice between two words: love and hockey.
  3. We reviewed they only put their first name on activities on the internet when the prompt for "your name" comes up.

  1. Together we brainstormed  keywords/ideas for hockey on chart paper. We did the same for love. These charts were then posted during centre time each day for students to reference. 
  2. Then I reviewed the students my favourite feature - when you mouse over any of the letters in the title/topic of your acrostic, the program provides suggestions for words.
  3. Using the hint words and our brainstorm words (which are visible while you write the acrostic, too) we wrote a hockey poem. 
  4. When we were finished, I modelled how to save it as a RWT file only.  Students were told not to save it as a final copy.
  5. All these steps and hints were written on chart paper and  then posted during centre time each day for students to reference.


During the second week, I had students who were finished their final copy, leave their Chromebooks logged on for me at lunch. I opened up their file (you have to go to the Acrostic Generator and open it from there) and saved it as a final and emailed it to myself. For those poems that needed edits, I had student make corrections at another time before I emailed the poems to myself. As most of the edits were minor, this was easy to do during class. Once I had all the PDFs, I simply printed them from my computer.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Pear Deck In Grade Two

Pear Deck

What is Pear Deck? In a nutshell: it takes slides, makes them interactive and gathers student responses in a visual way.

It should be noted that not all the "cool things" mentioned in the video are a part of a free account.

How I Used It: Social Studies

My first degree was in Classics with a minor in Anthropology. Despite a love of all things social studies myself, it can be a challenge to foster that love in students at times. I like to think I do a pretty good job of making social studies interesting and engaging. However, sometimes we just have to do some dry reading to learn. 

So this week in my class, it was time to learn about work done in Nunavut (natural resources, goods, services and so on). In the past I have had students create a Google Presentation as we read. However, we have done a lot of Google Presentations this year, so I was looking to switch it up. Plus, I want them to do a Presentation for their final product for this part of the unit.

I heard about Pear Deck about a year ago but have not tried in class yet. I was looking for something that would engage the students as we read and this program seemed to fit the bill.

Creating A Pear Deck (Free Account)

Creating a "deck" is creating simple slides, much like a PowerPoint or Google Presentation. Each slide has a place for you to write a question at the top. You can chose for students to answer with short answer text, with numbers, with multiple choice or in a paragraph.

You can add images, text boxes, videos or lists to your slide. I chose to scan and upload the pages from the textbook we'd be reading. 

It was simple and easy to use.

Use In Class

Traditionally I may have taught this type of lesson by having students do choral/shared reading as a class and then have a discussion after each paragraph. With Pear Deck, students did not have to put their hands up and wait to be called upon. All students could respond to the questions I asked about what we read.

Students had to log on to Pear Deck. It logs them in via their Google account. The first time they log in they will have to "allow" access. Then you provide them a code to access your presentation. This remains at the bottom of the projected display for those students who accidently close the tab and need to log back in.

While we were reading I kept the "show student responses" option off. Once we finished reading the passage, I turned it on and students began to answer. Their responses then showed up on the Smartboard. What I liked is that the answers showed up immediately and that motivated students to look for answers. What I did not like is that it would only show about three at a time and then you'd have to scroll to see newer answers. Not a big deal but it'd be nice if Pear Deck could make more effective use of the display real estate for that function. 

Students could submit a second (or even third) answer. Their first answer would show up as crossed out on the display and their second answer would show up above it. You are also informed of how many students have responded.

When the teacher navigates to the next slide the students' screen automatically change as well. 

Viewing Responses

While you are using the presentation, you can see how many students have responded. However, you cannot see who has typed what answer in the free version. 

After you have ended a session you CAN export responses. This provides you with a spreadsheet of what each student answered for each question (as they are logged in via Google, their usernames are attached to their answers). However if they changed their answer during the activity, it will only show their final answer.


I used the quick question function at the end of the activity. This is where you can add a question on the fly. I used a yes/no question and asked if students wanted to use Pear Deck again and 100% said yes.

It will be interesting to see if the novelty wears off, but my first experience was very positive. I can definitely see the appeal of getting a full subscription, but for use in grade two, I think the free version is sufficient.