Primary Preoccupation

A grade one teacher inviting the world into her classroom

Primary Preoccupation - A grade one teacher inviting the world into  her classroom

Connected Measurement

If you have read my book or have been a reader of this blog, you know that I am committed to the idea of connecting my classroom. I have seen so much deep learning, both expected and unexpected, come from connected learning that I now think of connecting as an option as I consider teaching methods for most classroom topics.

We’ve done a lot of connected work with numeration in mathematics this year, but measurement and geometry are part of my curriculum as well.

Karen Lirenman, who teaches in Surrey, British Columbia and I were teaching measurement to our students at the same time this year, so we decided to find ways that our classes could help each other to learn these concepts.  Fortunately, both Karen and my curriculum focus on the comparative aspects of measurement and the ability to use the language of math in this area rather than on exact centimeters, grams or milliliters.

Instead of having my student just use this language with the others in our own classroom (although there was plenty of that as well), we played games to compare and talk about the concepts with Karen’s class.

Comparing Length

First, we compared length. Each class had chosen a number of items that embodied the idea of length– either long or short.  During our call, one student from each class chose an object from this collection and held it up to the camera for the two classes to compare. I had two cards: one had “shorter” written on it and the other said “longer”. Each time we played a round, I shuffled the two cards and randomly chose one to hold up. Then, the students in both classes had to decide which of the two items met the criteria on the card. We kept track of which class had the “winning” item. A couple of times rulers had to come out in both classrooms, but usually we were easily able to tell. Fortunately for both teachers, we ended in a tie and all of the students felt contented and successful—and had practiced the very skill we wanted to teach.

(If I were to do this game again, I would skip the competitive aspect, which did not have any real purpose. Before I had this epiphany, we did play this game on Skype with an American class and my class “lost” very badly. I had to cope with a very grumpy group of competitive boys—an experience I have no desire to repeat.)

Comparing Weight

We also compared the weights of two objects. We both set up a balance scale in front of our computer’s camera and then students took turns holding up two items.  All of the students in both classes would predict which item they thought would be heavier.  One of the teachers would say, “Hands on your head if you think the crayon is heavier, hands on your lap if you think the marker is heavier, one hand on your head and one on your lap if you’re not sure.” (This meant that everyone could participate—no excuses!)  Then, with the predictions in, a child would put one item in the bucket at each end of the balance scale to see which item was truly the heaviest. This was more popular than the longer/shorter game because everyone could cheer.

Comparing Capacity

Our last measurement Skype call was about comparing capacity. We played this game in the same way as the heavier/lighter activity, but this time, a student held up two containers and everyone had to predict which one would hold more beads. Once the predictions had been made (again, with hands on head, hands in lap or one of both) one of the containers was filled with beads and then those beads were poured into the other container.  If the second container overflowed, the students told us that the first container held more and could explain how they knew that. If there was still space in the second container when all the bead had been poured in, the students could explain how they knew which one held more as well.

All of three of these games could have been (and were) played with only the students in each classroom, but practicing these skills with another class made the exercise more engaging and motivating for the students and taught them that other students are learning the same skills that they are. Karen and I both grew as educators as we bounced ideas off each other and prepared for our calls.

Our geometry units are coming up and we are planning to help the students learn those skills while working together again. Have you done this? We’ve got some ideas, but we’re open to others…

Using Twitter to #GuessMyNumber

A couple of months ago, I wrote about the way my grade one class has been connecting with other classrooms through Mystery Number Skype. These learning opportunities are much like the regular Mystery (Location) Skype that has become popular, but much more appropriate for students who are still struggling to understand that they actually live in a city, a province and a country all at the same time. These calls also give us a chance to practice skills that are an important part of our curriculum.

Mystery Number Skype

In a nutshell, this is how it works. Students from two classes pick a number and then answer “yes” or “no” questions from the other class as both try to guess the other class’s number.  What I love best about this activity is the direct correlation to so many of my math outcomes.

Since I wrote that post, we’ve done similar Skype calls with a number of classes and I’ve watched as my students’ abilities have grown. I’ve noticed that more of my students are able to ask what we call “fat” or “juicy” questions each time—questions that eliminate more than one number.  More students are willing to be the one to ask the questions, demonstrating a growth in their confidence and speaking abilities. All of the students can now independently write the numbers on their own whiteboard. You’ve got to love seeing that progress!

 

Playing #GuessMyNumber

Last month, Carrie Zimmer, who works at a school in Milan, Italy contacted me. She wondered if I would be interested in connecting with a first grade classroom at her school to do something similar. Since the time change between our locations does not allow for synchronous conversation, we decided to play the game on Twitter using the hashtag #guessmynumber.

Playing #GuessMyNumber

We warmed up by playing Guess My Number with numbers up to twenty and then we were ready for a game with the really big numbers all the way up to one hundred. Each morning, we would check Twitter to look for two tweets: a tweet that answered our question from yesterday and a tweet that contained Ms. Diaz’s Class’s new question.  For this, we didn’t use individual boards as we do when we play Mystery Number Skype. Instead, we used a communal page that already had all the possible numbers and we worked as a class to cross off numbers we had eliminated with our last question.  Then, we’d send two tweets: one with our next query and another with our answer to theirs.

 

Twitter vs. Skype For Number Games

Guess My Number in Our Classroom

Although both Guess My Number and a Mystery Number Skype have been successful learning opportunities on several levels, the Twitter experience was in some ways more satisfying. The time constraints of a Skype call mean that it is more difficult to have a meaningful discussion with my class about the next question we want to ask. Using Twitter gave us time to consider options and to discuss different ways to solve the problem before we sent our question.  It also gave us a problem to solve as part of our daily math activities as well as a quick shared reading experience as we read the tweets aloud together. We even tried the game in our classroom with our classmates!

I think the only real key to making this game work was a commitment to do it every day as part of the math routine in our classrooms. Even on very busy days both classes made an effort to keep the questions and answers flowing back and forth to keep the interest high. When I was at home without a voice for three days, we were still able to play because I emailed screenshots of the tweets to my substitute teacher and she sent the new questions back to me to put on Twitter. A Skype call, on the other hand, would have had to be postponed until I returned.

Another example of connected mathematical literacy. I love having yet one more option for learning from others my classroom. I’m sure there are many other ways to use Twitter for mathematical literacy that I haven’t yet tried. If you’ve got an idea to share, leave me a comment!

A Twitter Impostor Took My Identity

I debated writing this post because I didn’t want to give any publicity to someone who should not have it, but I now know that this happens to other people too, so hopefully my experience can help anyone else who has had this happen.

Last November, I received an email from Alec Couros asking, “Have you seen this?” with a link to a Twitter account that had recently followed him. I checked the link and stared in shock at what I saw.  My Twitter home page is just below. Below that is an account that is NOT mine and has nothing to do with me.

My Twitter Account

 

NOT My Twitter Account

Although it’s pretty clear that the photo and header are the same, the background photo is actually the same as well, it is just positioned in a different way on the page. Even the bio, while slightly different, was the bio I had had until the end of August of last year. The URL of my classroom blog and the location were identical. Clearly someone was pretending to be me. With seven tweets in two and a half months, this person had somehow managed to gain over three hundred followers—followers who thought they were following me.

I felt violated. I work very hard to try to protect my online reputation and digital footprint. Although the screenshot above only shows a couple of retweets, there were several tweets with my picture beside them with what I considered to be nonsense content and one contained several profane words. I would never do that. People who saw those tweets would not necessarily know that. They would assume I had written them. It was one of those moments when I had to force myself to breathe deeply. What could I do about it?

Alec suggested that I use Twitter to help get rid of the account, by asking people to block the account and mark it as spam. His recommendation was that I tweet the link to the account rather than using the @username in my tweets. I did this and although I have no idea how many people actually blocked the account, several people tweeted to me that they had done so.

I also went to Twitter’s help section and found their impersonation policy and a place for reporting impersonation accounts.  The report included questions about how the account was impersonating me and asked for links to other places I had the images online. The form was also very clear that it was necessary to fax a copy of either my driver’s license or my passport. On November 11th I filled out the required forms, and on the 12th I faxed a copy of my license. An automatically generated email gave me a reference number for my complaint.

Then I waited. It felt like I waited a long time. Finally, on January 7th, I received another email asking for a copy of my driver’s license or passport with the assurance that this would be shredded after use. I sent this again the same day and the next day, January 8th, I received an email saying

Thank you for providing this information. We have removed the reported profile from circulation due to violation of the Twitter Rules (https://twitter.com/rules) regarding impersonation. Your faxed ID has been shredded.

This was great news! The truth is, though, I still have more questions than answers. Even though the process eventually worked for me, I wonder why I had to send my identification twice.

If you go to the webpage for the imitation account, you will see that the account has been suspended, but the background picture, a photo of some of my students, is still there. The account obviously still exists and Twitter does have an appeal process for suspended accounts. It makes me wonder if, even though the attempt to pretend he/she was me was so clear, it would still be possible for the account to be reactivated.

I also wonder WHY someone does this. When I asked people to block and report the account as spam, a couple of other people responded that they had had the same thing happen to them. It seems random. I get (sort of) that people like to pretend to be someone famous, but why bother with an ordinary Joe or Jane?

The impostor didn’t just take my identity, he or she took a bit of my faith in humanity as well. So most of all, I wonder about protecting our online identity.  If it hadn’t been for Alec’s curiosity about why I had another account, I might never have known about this.  Recently, a friend had the same thing happen to her Facebook account. Do I need to be more on the defensive, watching online spaces for instances of this happening? I probably do. Probably you do too. And that is too bad, because I would rather that we all took that time to share the good and positive things that are happening in our classrooms and lives.

Mystery Number Skype: Even a Six Year Old Can Do It

I’ve heard a lot about Mystery Skype calls over the past few years.  If you’re not familiar with this term, the basic idea is that two classrooms chat via Skype and try to guess where the other class is from by answering questions with only yes or no answers. I’ve always thought this would be lots of fun, but it has always seemed out of the reach of my six year olds, many of whom are still struggling to realize that they live in both a city AND a province.  Answering questions about our location would be out of the question.

I toyed with many ideas for ways that my class COULD do a Mystery Skype, (mystery letter, mystery word etc.) but it wasn’t until I saw a document about Mystery Number Skype that the lights suddenly came on.  For my class, numbers to one thousand (or even one hundred at that point) were out of the question, but suddenly, I realized we COULD do a call about numbers to twenty. You can get lots of ideas for doing a Mystery Number Skype with older students on the document I just mentioned, but if your students are still learning their numbers, this is…

How It Works in My Classroom

While there is no one way to do a Mystery Number Skype call, we’ve now done about a half dozen of them and this is how we have found it to work best.

  1. When we are getting ready to play mystery number Skype, everyone, including the teacher, writes the numbers up to 20 on a small whiteboard. (We got this idea from Karen Lirenman’s class during our first Mystery Number call.) Paper or a drawing app on an iPad could also work.
  2. Each class secretly chooses a number between 1 and 20. We usually do this before the call as well.
  3. Each class asks questions with yes or no answers to try to guess what the other class’s number is.
  4. For our purposes, we have one class guess until they get the correct answer and then the other class guesses. For my young students, this has so far worked the best.

Crossing Off Numbers

As the students determine which numbers have been eliminated, they cross them off or erase them from their boards. I do the same to help those who are still unsure of their numbers (or who were distracted and missed something). Besides being a great way to practice identifying the numbers, it keeps all of the students engaged during the call.

Hints to Get the Most Out of the Call

If you teach young students, remind them that it is a MYSTERY number, like a secret. In one of our calls this fall, a student in the other class kept bursting out “it’s sixteen!” I tried valiantly not to giggle as my students ignored this and went on guessing.

Agree on the rules ahead of time.  Assume nothing. In another of our calls, I assumed that the other teacher had seen a post about our first mystery number call on our classroom blog and was familiar with the way we had been doing this. Imagine the surprise of my students, some of whom were still working on their numbers to ten, when the other class’s first question was “what is two eights plus three?” (This could also have been a great way to practice numbers together, but was not what we were expecting!) You might also want to clarify what the other class knows about numbers. There is no use to ask if the number is divisible by 8 if the other class does not yet understand that concept.

Ready to Guess the Number

Think about who will ask the questions. At first, I allowed the more confident children to do this, but I now want to give a little nudge to quieter students who can also participate with some support.

I encourage what I call “fat” questions (these questions can eliminate multiple numbers) by discussing options ahead of time, but allow the students to ask questions of any kind.  My students’ questions range from “Is it eight?”  to “Does the number have a curved line?” to “Is it between sixteen and eighteen?”

Why I Love Mystery Number Calls

These calls work well on so many levels. I use Mystery Number Skype calls in our classroom because:

  • My students are writing the numbers to get ready. Purposeful practice.
  • Everyone is learning at their own level, whether that student is still learning to write the numbers, is struggling to distinguish between 11 and 12 (why do those pesky numbers not follow the ‘teen’ rule?) or is formulating questions that eliminate lots of possible numbers. We can all participate in the same activity, but the learning is differentiated.
  • While we are discussing numbers, my students are learning that other children far away are learning the same things as they are. This is a big step in global awareness.
  • My students are learning one more way to use technology to help them to reach their learning goals. This kind of digital literacy is important for children growing up in an online age.

If you have other great ideas for dong this that have worked for you, I’d love to hear them. We’re looking forward to more calls like this—soon we’ll be ready for numbers up to one hundred!

Using Blogs and Twitter With Young Students: THIS is What it Looks Like

I talk and share what I do with a lots of teachers.  When these educators hear about the ways their colleagues are using blogs and Twitter in their classrooms they are intrigued. Most of them are interested enough to want to look further, but the idea is a bit overwhelming.  I find this to be especially true of primary teachers. “What would that look like with young children?” they wonder.  “What do the different blogging tools look like if you teach six year olds?”  “How could you use Twitter in a kindergarten classroom?” “Yes, I can see what that would look like with older students, but my students are young. Most of them can’t yet write. What would THAT look like?”

Reading Tweets

Reading Tweets

What they really want to see are examples. I can show them my classroom blog and my classroom Twitter account, but there are so many other fabulous classrooms out there learning and sharing their learning in unique and effective ways. Ways that teach traditional literacy skills while also teaching digital literacy including how to learn and how to be safe online.

So for those people who have asked the questions and for anyone else who wants to see what blogging and tweeting in a primary classroom looks like, check out the links to examples below.

This is what it can look like:

Primary (to me that means age 3 – 8) Classes that Tweet*

Primary (again, ages 3 – 8) Classroom Blogs

And just so that those of you who teach older students don’t feel left out, here are some lists for older elementary students.

Classrooms That Tweet (all age levels)*

More Classrooms that Tweet*

Elementary (ages 8 – 12) Classroom Blogs

Blogging

Blogging

I’m grateful to teachers who are willing to add their information to lists like these that are such a help to educators who are just beginning their social media journey.  When you start your own journey, don’t forget to add your link to a list!

A link really is worth a thousand words!

Maybe more.

[*Note: If you have never used Twitter, but want to see the tweets of those teachers who are, you just need to type twitter.com/username in a browser to access their home page with all of their tweets. For example, my classroom Twitter account’s URL is twitter.com/mscassidysclass]

 

But the Parents Aren’t on Twitter…They’re on Facebook!

Blogging

Since 2005, all of my grade one students have had their own blog. Those blogs show my students’ learning from the first week of school until the last week.

Every year of that time, I have encouraged the students’ parents to comment, knowing that while the students love getting comments from me or from people they have never met, the comments that really mean the most are those from their parents and others who love them.  It has been my experience over the years that while some parents are very faithful at commenting, most do not find the time to comment regularly, and many don’t ever comment at all.

I’ve thought about this a lot over the years. How could I remind the parents about their child’s blog? How could I get the parents to their child’s blog more often? I tried holding commenting nights. I tried various other reminders such as emails, but have never had the success I was hoping for. Eventually, we started tweeting as a class as well. Twitter has become another great learning space for my class, but again, very few parents followed us there.

What About Facebook?

Our Facebook Page

As I was musing about this last summer, it occurred to me that while my class is a frequent user of social media with our classroom blog and Twitter account, neither of those were social media spaces that my students’ parents were using. Social media spaces are great for connecting, but only if the people you want to connect with are in that space as well. It occurred to me that my students’ parents were probably on Facebook! Perhaps I should enter that space as well?
I’m not a big Facebook user, so I had to ask my daughter to help me out with the best option but with her help, I set up a “page” for my class (see instructions at bottom of this post). This way, I get to control the information on the page through my own login, but it is not associated in any way with my personal page. Beginning in September, each time I put a post on our classroom blog, I put a link to the article on our Facebook page.

At our grade one parent information night during the second week of school, I asked the parents how many of them were on Twitter. One raised her hand. “How many of you access a Facebook account fairly regularly?” Most of them agreed that they did. I explained the page that I had set up, and suggested that if they “liked” the Facebook page, they would get a notification in their timeline each time I posted.

Learning to Comment

At that information night, I also asked the parents to comment on their child’s blog before they left that evening. In the past, along with talking about how children learn to read and how parents can support that process, I have shown the parents our blog and demonstrated how to comment, but this year we had a few extra minutes at the end, so after my modeling, I asked them to use one of our classroom iPads and to leave a comment for their child. I was there to help if they needed it, but apparently no one did. The next morning, I had lots of happy children who beamed as their special comment was read aloud. That seemed to set a pattern.

Reading Comments Together

This fall, my students have received more parent comments than they ever have before. The sheer volume of comments some of my students have received has blown me away. It could be that this year I just have outstanding parents who are eager to be involved in their child’s education. While I am sure that is true, I have thought that same thing other years as well, but we have not had as many comments.

It appears that having the parents see that notification in their Facebook timeline encourages the parents follow the link to see what we are up to in our classroom and it seems to remind them to check their child’s blog as well.

I can’t truthfully say whether it was the commenting practice at the parent night or the Facebook page that has made the difference, but you can bet I will be doing both again next school year as well. Instead of trying to bring the parents into the spaces our class are in, I have now gone where the parents are instead. No wonder it is more successful! A couple of small changes, but they seem to have made a big difference.

Setting Up a Separate Facebook Page for Your Class

If you do not already have a Facebook page yourself, the best thing is to set one up for yourself first. You don’t have to use it, but it is the starting place for the way I did my class page.

Facebook has changed the way to find this since the summer, but if I was to do it now, I would click on create ad and then create page. I chose the Company, Organization or Institution option and then just added the information I was prompted to give. Voila! It is not associated with my personal page in any way except that I control it through my account.

The Journey to “Connected From the Start”

Eight years ago, I started out on a journey to open up my classroom and to connect it with the world.

Today is a big day in that journey. My book, Connected From the Start: Global Learning in the Primary Grades is being released as an eBook.  The thinking, the writing, the editing and the reediting this book has required have been an interesting part of my journey. I’ve had to reflect in a way that I never have before. As this day has FINALLY arrived, I’m feeling a lot of different emotions: trepidation, excitement, satisfaction and hope.

Trepidation Every time I publish something on this blog, I wonder. I wonder what the readers will be thinking as they read it. I wonder how they will respond. I wonder if others will see the potential that I do. A book is a lot of blog posts worth of wonders.

Excitement I’m thrilled that there is now a resource available to help teachers who want to begin connecting their classroom.  I often get emails from teachers who want to start their own journey in connecting their classroom, but aren’t sure where to start.  I’m happy to reply, but you can only say so much in an email. I have always wished that a resource existed that I could point those teachers to. Now there is.

Page from Connected From the StartSatisfaction I’m satisfied that after a year and a half of hard work, there is a user-friendly resource for curious teachers—one full of colour, hyperlinks, pictures and video from my classroom.

Hope is by far the most powerful of the emotions I am feeling. I want those who read my book to understand the tremendous potential that there is in a connected classroom. I hope that I have written a book that will be helpful to those teachers in choosing tools that work well for any grade level, but especially for primary classrooms where our emphasis is on literacy.

I hope that teachers will use this resource to become connected and to realize the powerful potential of social media to transform their classroom from a closed community into a learning space open to the world and with a worldview.

I hope that because of this book, other teachers and classrooms are transformed the way that mine has been.  I hope that other primary teachers can find ways to use tools such as blogs, Skype, and Twitter to open their classroom to the world.

I hope what I have written helps your classroom to be a connected place.  If you want to go on this journey with me, you can find the book here.

My own journey with my classroom continues. I can’t wait to see where it takes us!

1st Look: Skype Group Video Calls

This article was originally posted on the Voices from the Learning Revolution blog of Powerful Learning Practice.

Group Skype Call A couple of weeks ago, Skype announced they are now allowing educators free access to their group video calling. This would mean that in a call with multiple users, you would be able to see the video feed of all the participants. Previously, this feature had been restricted to premium users who pay for the service.

This sounded intriguing to me, so I went to my free Skype in the Classroom account and logged in to get the access code. I followed the instructions, waited 48 hours and voila! I had access to the service. The only thing left to do was to try it out. My primary students had learned so many things in past Skype calls. What would we be able to learn now?

With St. Patrick’s Day approaching, I had also signed up for Jennifer Wagner’s project to count the marshmallow shapes in a box of Lucky Charms.

I knew that other teachers on Twitter had also signed up, so I tweeted to ask if anyone wanted to join my class and count live together via Skype. A kindergarten class from Winnipeg, a grade three class from northern Manitoba, a grade one class from Surrey and a grade two class in Regina all decided to join us. When I got to school the next day, the teacher next door to me wanted to be part of it as well, so that made six classes for our group video call!

How did it go?

We planned to have a story, to count our Lucky Charms and to share our results via the group chat. One of the teachers also suggested that we could share our results using a Lino.it (which we did).

I have been using Skype fairly regularly for several years now. There are occasional hiccups, but we just hang up and try again. Five other classes instead of one other class meant five times as many chances for hiccups (and there were a few), but the class next door to me just came into our classroom instead (their video froze) and the one class that none of us could see could see almost all of us, so everyone was happy.

The counting took longer than anticipated, and several of the classes had to leave for various reasons. In the end, it was only my class and one other, so several of my students watched as they finished counting. In the end, we too ran out of time.

Fortunately, we were able to arrange a one to one Skype call with one of the classes the next day to compare our results. I know that other classes were able to work this out as well so that the opportunity for the students to share—the best part of the experience—could be maintained.

Marshmallow Count in Our Lucky Charms Box

What did my students learn from this experience?

  • Counting and Sorting Skills – My grade ones counted the various marshmallow shapes and my grade twos counted the regular shapes.
  • Addition – The grade ones had to add each of their totals together to get a final count. This involved much higher numbers than they were used to using, but they used the strategies they had been practicing on numbers to twenty and were successful. The grade twos also used strategies they were practicing to help the grade ones and to add even larger numbers.
  • Estimating – In the end, there were just too many regular cereal pieces for the grade twos to count, so they used the piles of one hundred they already had and estimated.
  • Comparison – Comparing totals with the other classes.
  • Other Students Far Away Learn the Same Skills We Do – This important notion cannot be over-emphasized. It gives much more credence to your learning when you see other children practicing the same skills.
  • Sometimes Adults Problem Solve, Too – Again, it is valuable to learn that sometimes you need to try other solutions to a problem.

What did I learn?

  • Skype is a great tool – And the opportunity for educators to use the group video feature at no cost is a valuable one.
  • Planning is essential – In hindsight, we had planned far too many things for this call. Having many classes meant that people were not heard. A group call among three or more classrooms needs to be much better focused than a one-to-one call does.

The ability to have group calls has been available on Google+ for a while now, but I think many more teachers are comfortable using Skype as a tool than Google+. While our first experiment with this new free serve may have felt a bit overwhelming, we’ll definitely find great ways to take advantage of it. It will be a valuable addition to my connecting arsenal.

Skype on!

You Can’t Teach Literacy With Skype, Can You?

We Learn Best From People

I have a few grade two students in my classroom this year for the first time in half a dozen years. Since the last time I had a grade one/two split, the curriculum has changed.  Naturally, I have spent time reading through the grade two curriculum. But when I have specific questions about what my seven year olds need to know, I don’t usually try to find the answer in the curriculum.  I just walk across the hall and ask the grade two teacher. She explains it well and gives me the practical information that I need.  She is also likely to add a few things I had never thought to ask that will help me to be a better teacher of that concept. Learning from her is much richer than the answer in the curriculum guide.

My students learn best from people as well. When some of the students wondered aloud about what it was like to move, I had some picture books handy, but the learning was far deeper when we asked a student in my class who had actually moved. Even the best book or digital program is no match for  personal contact.

I’ve noticed this online as well. People often ask a question on Twitter that can easily be googled. I’ve done this myself.  Somehow we feel more confident in an answer when another person is directly involved. We like to be able to question and push back. Simply put, we learn from best from people.

Because I want this best learning, we often use Skype as a learning tool.  Skype connects us to people. I made the following video for my about-to-be-published book to show some of the ways we use Skype in our classroom. As always, my students say it best.

OK… But Literacy?

Skype is also one of the tools in my literacy instruction. The listening and speaking components of Skype are obvious ones, and we use it often that way. We learn about similarities and differences and ask and answer questions with others from far away. But, we have used Skype for more traditional literacy activities as well.

  • Many times, teachers or others have taken the time to read my class a story or poem via Skype. These experiences have introduced us to books and authors we would not otherwise have encountered and enriched our learning as a result.
  • People have been willing to listen to my students read via Skype, helping them to increase their confidence and their reading fluency.
  • We have done Reader’s Theatre with a class from Alabama.
  • We have shared reading strategies with another class, marveling that they used the same strategies that we did when working to improve their reading skills.
  • We have made reading connections with various classrooms. “Hey, we like that book, too!” or “we have a books by Robert Munsch in our library!” We have even learned a special silent hand sign to show we had made one of these links from the Kinderkids in New Hampshire. (We make a signed y with our fist and rock our hand back and forth in front of our chest—it saves a chorus of comments like the ones previously mentioned.)
  • Later this week my class will be making up some nonsense silent e words to see if some students in South Carolina can decode them. They’ll do the same for us.

Can you teach literacy with Skype? You bet. We learn best from people, and Skype connects us with people.

How Can I Get Followers For My Classroom Twitter Account?

Someone asked me this great question at a session I was leading this week. I don’t think I answered the question adequately, so I decided to put a better response here.

Who Do You Follow?

My first thought is that it is not who follows your class that is important; it is whom your class follows.

If you teach a primary class, you probably choose very carefully who you follow. Simply put, you want to select people or classes that you can learn from. My class follows some primary classes, including a class that tweets in French. I include this class to help my students see that other people actually speak and write this language that we practice together. We purposely follow only a few classes to help my students feel more connected with these students in other schools. We also follow Chris Hadfield, the Canadian astronaut whose photos, videos and tweets are inspiring the world’s interest in space. We learn from everyone we follow.

We do not follow my children’s parents or educators I admire. Many of these people’s tweets would be beneficial, but most adults occasionally succumb to banal or snarky tweets about the person in front of them in the grocery line or worse. These are not appropriate for young children so we simply do not allow them in our timeline. I want our shared or individual reading time that includes the reading of tweets to be a learning time, so I make who we follow a matter of careful consideration.

Encouraging Others to Follow You

Despite what I just said about who you follow being more essential than who follows you, no one wants to tweet in a vacuum. Here are some suggestions for ways to help others to notice your class and what you are tweeting.

  • Make your class worth following. Ask your students what they like to read in tweets. Do they like to read sentences that all start with “I”? Would they rather read “we did math” or “we put cubes together to show groups of tens and ones”? This can be a great motivator for students to add details to their writing.
  • Add pictures or video links to students’ creations to some of your tweets.
  • Let the parents of your students know that you are on Twitter. Although we do not follow them, I do encourage them to follow us.
  • Show that you tweet. If you have a blog, you can put a Twitter widget in the sidebar to display what you have been tweeting. Go to your settings and then click on widgets. Twitter will set it up according to your preferences.
  • If you are on Twitter yourself, occasionally retweet good content from your classroom to let other teachers know you have a class account.
  • If you follow a class, but that class does not follow you, you can still interact with them. If you put @username in your tweet, they will see your question or comment on their mentions page.  If a class enjoys interacting with you, they may follow you in return.

However you use Twitter and whoever you follow, Twitter can be an engaging and authentic literacy tool. I have written a book called Connected From the Start. It should be available by the end of March.  It includes an entire chapter about using Twitter with little learners.

The best people I know to explain the wonders of Twitter in the classroom are my students. I’ll leave the last words about Twitter to them.

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