Thursday, April 17

Author Visit Success - Ask Questions!

This year our school was lucky enough to schedule Matt Phelan for our annual author visit.  Along with organizing a luncheon and the sale of books, I wanted to prepare the students thoroughly so they could engage with him fully.  We met this goal.

While my initial plan was to expose them to as many Matt Phelan books as possible, I didn’t want to seem as if I were pushing book sales.  Granted, I was excited to share my enthusiasm for Matt Phelan’s books and illustrations, but something seemed missing.  I needed a better plan.

To begin, I created a Google Presentation about Matt and his life.  After a number of lessons on creating a PowerPoint in Google Docs this year, the students were immediately drawn to my presentation.  They were given the opportunity to not only view my work and content, but to offer suggestions. Fortunately, this initial step provided the catalyst to my next step.

Now that I had them excited about Matt and his work, I wanted to explore questioning.  As a former reading specialist and classroom teacher, it seemed natural to provide a lesson on thick v. thin questioning.  I began by modeling, and then we brainstormed a list of questions.  The next step was pivotal.  How do we ask a visiting author questions that show us at our best?

Each grade (K-4) had the chance to practice asking questions.  While this may seem like over-preparation, it is an important life skill, and it was a lot of fun! The students learned how to introduce themselves, and then ask questions that couldn't be answered with a yes or no response.  They learned to lower their hands while the author responded and to be polite and patient listeners.  We worked really hard on our listening skills so we wouldn’t waste precious time asking questions that were already asked.  The younger student concentrated on forming their question in their mouths so they would be ready if selected. 

During Matt’s presentation, the students were focused, attentive and showed their best “Myers Manners.” This catch phrase became our signal to present ourselves in our best way.  When Matt asked for questions, even the Kindergarten students remembered to introduce themselves, lower their hands while he responded and ask deep, rich questions that showed they connected to his work.  Matt was very impressed.

Overall, each grade exceeded expectations, and most importantly, learned how to present themselves respectfully and politely in a public forum. 

By the way, the books sold out and the excitement for reading grew even more.

It was a memorable day.

Monday, April 14

Using Voki with Digital Citizenship

After a six week course of study on Digital Citizenship, I was looking for a culminating activity for my students.  

Quite accidentally, I found Voki.  I’m a teacher who relies upon my PLN (Personal Learning Network) on Twitter, and I saw a few tweets about Voki and I began to explore. I was quickly intrigued.

While I had seen a number of ways to create avatars, I had never seen one that included not only a voice feature, but an abundance of creative choices.  I knew I had to find a way to include this in my library.  I began by setting up a free account.  Then, I tried to make a Voki that looked like me.  I was thrilled by the feature that used my cell phone so I could record my own voice.  Each step of the way was so user friendly.  My Voki told the students about the genre of the month after I easily copied the embedded code onto my library website.
 I showed my students the Voki on our website.  They loved it.  When I told them they would be creating their own Vokis… well, let’s just say the enthusiasm included applause and high-fives.  In our district, the students all have a standard user name and password.  Prior to class, I had created Voki accounts for each student using the Voki Classroom feature.  This was a huge time saver.  It didn’t take too long and it insured that each student had an account with their correct user name and password.
Once I showed them how to navigate to Voki using our Symbaloo (an exceptional time saver), I created another Voki. I showed them how to choose a character style, and the multitude of customization features as well as the background and player features.  (The bling was a huge hit!) One of the areas I didn’t stress s
During this first introductory lesson, my goals for the students were to log on, create a Voki, enter text to make it talk, and save it.   The next week they logged on, they found the assignment I created.  Not only does Voki have a place for teachers to share lessons, but you can create assignments for your students.  Each student was required to describe what being a good digital citizen meant.  Since we are always running short on time, creating the Voki the first week and focusing on the content the second week, made it much easier for the students.

Another great feature in the Voki Classroom is that the teacher can approve, disapprove and leave comments for the students.  Once I approved their Vokis, my next step was sharing. While each lesson automatically creates its own Web page, where you can showcase your students’ work, I wanted all of the students in the school to be able to view the Vokis through my website.  When I clicked on the publish feature, I discovered that Voki had a feature for sharing the link on Symbaloo.  As mentioned earlier, Symbaloo is a great time saver if you are looking to save all of your links in one place.  I created a Symbaloo webmix that shared all of the third grade Vokis.  Now, everyone (including parents) could view the Vokis.  It didn’t take too long to copy/paste the Symbaloo Voki link for each link.  It was worth the time and effort.

I’m always looking for ways to excite my students about technology in a meaningful way.  Using the Voki as a culminating activity for our unit on Digital Citizenship was not only exciting and fun, it was meaningful.  It meshed different apps, typing skills, writing skills, summarizing skills and creativity.  An added bonus was when the teachers found out what the students were creating, they wanted to set up accounts and use Vokis in their classrooms.

Sunday, February 2

My Heart (Still) Belongs to Twitter!

So, I reached 3,000 followers on Twitter.  Now, I know numbers shouldn’t matter, but this felt like a pretty significant milestone to me. I’ve been tripping down the memory lane that is my Twitter journey.

Back on February 14, 2010 I wrote my very first blog that described why I joined Twitter.  Not much has changed in four years.  The goal has remained the same: connecting and learning with others.

While there are many who followed the trend of “unfollowing” everyone, and only interacting with a select group of personal connections, that choice was not for me.  As my PLN (Personal Learning Network) grew, I couldn’t wait to see what would come up in my feed! I treasured every chance to grow, learn and become a better educator.  I cherished the unexpected interaction.  Even when people randomly “unfollowed” me, I continued to follow them.  Maybe they would change their mind.

When I was hungry for professional development and encouragement to try new things, Twitter was my avenue for learning.  When I needed answers, advice or just old-fashioned reassurance, Twitter gave me everything I needed and more.  I was consistently overwhelmed by the generosity of others and I was determined to pay it forward. 

Over the years, I met and formed friendships that have sustained me and helped me when I needed it most.  I know I found a life long friend in Tania Ash who lives an ocean away in Morroco.  Together, we formed and moderated one of the early educational chats called #elemchat.  While we no longer run this chat as the need for grade and subject specific chats developed, I know I have a friend for life in Tania.  Through Twitter and unconferences such as #edcampPhilly and #ntchat, I met Jerry Blumengarten, one of the most preeminent educators on Twitter, the reveered and respected @cybraryman1.  I am lucky to call Jerry and his wife, Gail my friends and I look forward to seeing them whenever I am in Florida.  Again, I can’t stress enough the rich relationships I have found via Twitter.

Just the other day, I wrote a blog for Digital Learning Day that only came about through the encouragement of @geraldaungst.  We followed each other on Twitter, and then, I discovered we both worked in the same district.  Together, we’ve tried to encourage our colleagues to embrace Twitter to enrich their professional lives.  We have a pretty good track record.  I’m especially proud of @flyteach1st who is just as excited as I am by ways to include technology in our teaching.  And, speaking of proud, our school counselor, @carlicounsels not only embraced Twitter, but has successfully started her own chat #escchat.  Now, she’s off to Florida this summer to share her Twitter skills and journey as a presenter at a conference.  I feel like a proud Twitter Mama!

As social media grows, changes and becomes an expectation in our daily lives, I’ve had a blast exploring new places to connect such as Tumblr, Pinterst, ScoopIt, Instagram, Vine, etc., but my heart will always belong to my first love…. Twitter.

Thank you Twitter for the connections and learning.  Oh, and I can’t wait to meet my future followers.  Who knows what kind of learning we will share together?