Using Kid Blog to Publish Student Writing


Kid Blog is probably my favorite technology addition to my classroom so far this year.  For the past two years, we have been publishing our writing on Google Docs, printing it out, and putting it up on our writing wall outside our classroom.  This year, we’ll continue to do this work on Google Docs and post our writing outside the classroom, but we’ll also be going digital on our class writing blog.

Last week, we used the blog for the first time.  It was extremely easy for students to login by first names  or pseudonyms (no need for email on this site, just a password!).  They learned how to create a post,  wrote a reflective sentence or two at the start of their post to share what they learned as writers, and copied over their poem from Google Docs.  It was simple and fast. Voila! Now my students have their writing published online!

We used Kid Blog as part of our writing celebration.  We shared our writing in author’s chair, read and commented on poems posted on our Kid Blog, and did a Martinelli’s toast to celebrate the work of our unit.  In the past, I printed out compliment sheets and kids walk around the room to read pieces and write compliments.  This time, we got Chromebooks from our school’s Chromebook cart, logged in to Kid Blog, and commented away on the poems online.  No wasted paper and kids could dialogue with the people who commented on their poems.  They loved discussing their writing with their friends and fans.  Kid Blog raised the level of engagement around publishing and sharing writing.

Kid Blog also gave my students a wider audience.  I sent the link to families the night before our celebration so they could comment and celebrate with us.  The next day, students were greeted with comments not just from their family, but other students’ families as well.  I also forwarded the link to friends and shared it with authors such as Sharon Creech and Seymour Simon.  Kids loved hearing that their favorite authors might be reading their work too.  We were surprised to see that our blog had over 1,000 views after just one day!

I can’t wait to see how each class’ blog develops this year!

Possible Uses for Chromecast in the Elementary Classroom

This is the $35 Chromecast. It's so simple and so small.

This is the $35 Chromecast. It’s so simple and so small.

I just bought a Google Chromecast, and I’m really excited about trying it in my classroom.

I had always wanted to bring my Apple TV to use in the classroom, but the only Apples in my classroom are my personal computer, iPad, and iPhone, so it would not have been very useful.  Now, with Chromecast, students can finally mirror their browser to share their learning seamlessly with the rest of the class.  Chromecast might be a game changer in my classroom, especially when students use the Chromebooks from our Chromebook cart.

Here are some ideas I have for using Chromecast in the classroom:

  • Sharing Presentations from Google Drive with classmates (no need for plugging in with a VGA cord or getting on the teacher computer)
  • Sharing Google Docs with the class in writing workshop (we can mirror the screen so everyone can see the work and read with the writer)
  • Sharing great resources for history, science, or math learning (cool videos, images, information, etc.)
  • Collaborating on a document and getting instant responses or feedback (could also be used to discuss helpful vs. unhelpful comments in Drive)
  • Showing classmates your status in a project and what you have accomplished (especially useful when trying #geniushour or #20time)
  • Searching for examples of media (artwork, advertisements, videos) to discuss persuasiveness
  • Researching our favorite authors and sharing information we learned
  • Modeling how to use different tech tools (the teacher or student can do this from any computer instead of teacher computer).

There are a couple of barriers that may interfere with my plans:

  • You need a HDMI input to use Chromecast.  My SMART Board does not have HDMI inputs, but I have bought an adapter to try to solve this problem (I hope it works!)
  • Chromecast is technically only supposed to work with Chromebook Pixel. We have Samsung Chromebooks.  I am going to cross my fingers that this works anyway (W. Ian O’Byrne posted about using it with a Samsung Chromebook and said it worked).
  • Chromecast may not play nice with our school district’s wifi network.  I hope that it does!

One of my favorite tech blogs, Tech Crunch, wrote about what distinguishes Google’s Chromecast from Apple TV:

“Pitted against the AppleTV — or, in a fairer comparison, against the AppleTV’s built-in AirPlay streaming feature — the Chromecast’s biggest strength is in its cross-platform compatibility. Whereas AirPlay is limited to iOS devices and Macs (with limited support for Windows through iTunes), Chromecast will play friendly with any iOS, Android, Mac, or Windows app that integrates Googles Cast SDK. “

I hope that my Chromecast arrives soon and plays nice with the tech in my school despite all the possible challenges I’ve mentioned.  I’m excited to see if it’s a tool that will enhance our class’ ability to learn, create, share, and grow together this year.

Google Drive + Teacher Collaboration = Love

Our Idea Map for the TC Institutes

Our Idea Map for the TC Institutes

New technology, apps, and websites pop up daily, especially in the education space, but only a few of these innovations have transformed the way I teach.  The website that has had the greatest impact on my teaching and professional learning is Google Drive.  While many teachers might use this site in their personal lives, not enough have used it professionally, especially to collaborate with colleagues.  Google Drive has transformed the way I teach and the way students learn in my classroom.  This summer, I found a new reason to love Google Drive:  it dramatically enhanced my ability to collaborate with other teachers both near and far.

Planning Professional Development 

One way Google Drive has enhanced collaboration with my teaching colleagues is in enhancing our ability to plan professional development.  Earlier this summer, I worked with our district’s teacher leaders in literacy to plan a professional development day for our district around the common core standards. We brainstormed different content we needed to cover and activities we could do while one teacher took notes in Google Docs.  After we had agreed on all the parts of the agenda, we broke off into partnerships and each pair planned part of the day.  As they planned, they added their ideas to the Google Doc, and in one hour, we had the day planned!   Aside from helping us work more efficiently, it was helpful to see what others were adding to the plan in real-time, so each activity would fit well with other parts of the day.  Using Google Docs made it so easy to work collaboratively and modify our professional development day plan and share it with our administrators for feedback.

Collaborating on Unit and Lesson Plans

Google Drive has also been helpful in collaboratively planning units and lessons.  This past week, I helped to lead a group of teachers from another district as they engaged in unit and lesson design for reading and writing workshop.  As we started the process of backwards mapping our unit with standards and student outcomes, bends, and lesson ideas, we realized it would be more efficient if we used a shared unit plan in Google Drive and modified it together.  Teachers were able to take the basic outline for the unit and flesh it out with their grade level team, each teacher sharing the “pen,” revising the lesson’s teaching point simultaneously to get the word choice just right.  We also used Google Drive to collaboratively write mini lessons for that unit.  Instead of each teacher writing all the lessons independently, each partnership made a copy of a mini lesson template and wrote up different lesson.  Within an hour, we had most of the unit’s lessons drafted because we had collaborated.  The added bonus was that each teacher could continue to edit each other’s lessons and unit throughout the year and all the collaborators would have a copy of the changes without needing to open an email or download a file!

Pooling Our Resources Across the Country

Finally, Google Drive has enhanced my ability to collaborate with teachers from around the globe.  After returning from TCRWP’s Writing Institute in June, I wanted to find a way to share my notes with teachers who had attended and other teachers who were not able to go this year.  I struggled to find a way to do this until I came across an “idea board” from Nerd Camp 2013 on Twitter.  I shared the idea of creating an “idea map” for the Teacher’s College Institutes with Ryan Scala (@rscalateach) and Fran McVeigh (@franmcveigh) who had also attended the summer institutes.  Within 15 minutes we had some of our notes from several days  linked on a map that we had designed together.  Then we posted the link on Twitter and other TCRWP participants added their notes too.  One teacher, Stephanie Hardinger (@mshardinger), even created her own set of comprehensive notes organized by topic instead of time.  This collaboration was exhilarating. Ryan, Fran, Steph and I were all in different places–New York, Iowa, Minnesota, and California–yet we were all able to create a pretty cool collaborative product without meeting face-to-face and now we can easily share our idea map with others.   Here is a link to our idea map!

These are just a few ways that Google Drive has enhanced my professional collaboration with other teachers.  Do you love Google Drive too?  What are some of your favorite ways to collaborate using this awesome site?



Using Digital Mentor Texts in Writing Workshop

I love using mentor texts to inspire and support writers in writing workshop.  Over several years I developed a collection of mentor texts (such as Those Shoes, The Waterfall, and Beekeepers for narrative writing) and folders of past student writing (such as A Disturbance in the Force and I Love Knitting! for opinion).  I had always thought of mentor texts as books, articles, or student writing, but a closing workshop at TCRWP’s Writing Institute led by Maggie Beattie Roberts (@maggiebroberts) really expanded my understanding of mentor texts.

The workshop shared how and why we could incorporate videos in writing workshop.  Roberts explained that we need to lean on kids’ digital literacy strengths as we teach writing.  She presented data from the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Generation M2 Study, which showed that kids have an extensive amount of media exposure and digital expertise.  Rather than pushing back against this, she suggested that teachers tap into students’ engagement with media by using digital texts as mentor texts. I absolutely loved her ideas and wanted to share what I learned with you.

What is a digital mentor text?  

A digital mentor text is a digital text that the class revisits throughout the year.  It acts just like a traditional mentor text, but consists of clips of media or digital material. Here are some examples shared during the workshop:

Narrative Mentor Text: “Modern Family” – Claire and Phil

Narrative videos help with character development.  If kids are struggling to include meaningful dialogue or actions, you can watch video multiple times and ask questions such as:

  • What did the dialogue say? How did the dialogue shape our understanding of the characters?

  • Watch video muted. Ask: What actions did the characters do? How did that change our understanding of the characters?

Opinion Mentor Text: Apple Ad:  Our Signature

When searching for opinion videos, it is helpful to look for ads.  Persuasive mentor texts usually make a specific claim, offer convincing support, and use precise  and sophisticated vocabulary to support the claim.  Some questions to use with students as you view an opinion mentor text:

  • What might a thesis statement be for this video?

  • How is it persuasive? What strategies does the video use to support claim? How does it use repetition? How does it use images? How does the order of the video matter?

  • What words did the video use to support the claim or idea?

Informational Mentor Text: National Geographic Shark Video

Informational videos often have certain expert tone to them, but the best videos also have engaging facts, comparisons, and mini stories to make them even more interesting. Some questions to use with students as you view an informational mentor text:

  • What idea does the video put forth about ____?

  • What are the moves the writers use to make ________ fascinating/terrifying/lovable?

  • What is the structure of the information? What order were the facts presented and why?

  • What images does the video use to support ideas?

Finding Digital Mentor Texts

Now that I have a little time on my hands, I’m starting to search YouTube to see which videos I might want to use as digital mentor texts in my 4th grade classroom this year.  The first one I really love is Bullfrogs Eat Everything.  It is such a great video–it is written in paragraph form, has great sentence structures (main idea and detail, compare and contrast), includes fascinating facts, uses elaboration, and the list goes on!

Do you use digital mentor texts? If so, I’d love to hear about your favorites! If you don’t and want to search for them with me, let me know and we can share our links!

Opening the Door

Inspired by TCRWP!

Inspired by TCRWP!

I have always loved writing, but found it incredibly challenging.  From middle school on, I loved sitting with my fingers poised over a keyboard, coaxing the ideas to flow.  It sometimes felt a little unwieldy, like preparing a dinner feast–so many little details and parts that need to come together, so much time spent stirring the pot, waiting for the dish to bake, but I loved the process and the outcome. Seeing everything suddenly form after spending hours revising sentence after sentence, paragraph after paragraph, omitting needless words was satisfying.

After college and graduate school, however, I stopped writing.  I rarely took the time to craft any writing unless I was applying for a grant or penning a letter to a friend.  I had thoughts about starting a class blog or even a teaching blog, but never got very far.

This year, after attending the Teacher’s College Reading and Writing Project (TCRWP) Writing Institute, I decided to begin writing again after being inspired by Lucy Calkins’ opening keynote.  In her keynote, Calkins had three main points.  She said if we want to get results with students in writing, we need to:

  1. Go for it.  Don’t waffle.  If we don’t stick with something it work have an impact (much like a diet). We need to role play our way into the actions of a writer.
  2. Work with deliberateness towards challenging goals.  Learners benefit from having specific goals based on what they are already doing.  Having a strong relationship and knowledge of students is key and feedback propels the learner forward.
  3. Bring writing to scale at our school.  The relationships between teachers makes the biggest difference.  We need to venture into each other’s rooms, collaborate, and work together to create a community of writers and learners.

While these ideas were about the teaching of writing, they have implications and applications far beyond writing workshop–they apply to all learning and teaching endeavors both in and out of the classroom.  So, I am taking Lucy’s advice both inside and outside of the classroom.  Here’s my plan for personal growth:

  1. Go for it: I want to bring thoughtful writing back into my personal and professional life, so I am starting a blog
  2. My challenging goal: I aim to write 1-2 posts a week about teaching and learning sharing articles, lessons, tech ideas, websites, videos, artifact, quotes  (trying to bring in at least one outside source each time I post)
  3. Bring work to scale–collaborate and form a learning community:  I’m going to try to extend the scale of learning by collaborating both at school, within my district,  between districts, and across the internet using this blog, the kidblog I just started for my class, and twitter.

I’m opening the door, inviting you in to see the beginnings of the process.  I’m going for it, and I’m crossing my fingers that what emerges is interesting and, hopefully, delicious.