Primary Preoccupation

A grade one teacher inviting the world into her classroom

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

Introducing Young Children To Digital Citizenship

I sometimes learn more about my own practice in the classroom from the questions I am asked than I do from my own reflection. There is something about the lenses through which others see our work that helps us to see ourselves more clearly.  That was the case earlier this month at the Building Learning Communities Conference in Boston.

At the end of the first day of a two-day session I was leading on Building Learning Communities in elementary classrooms, I asked the participants what they specifically wanted to talk about on the second day. One of the attendees asked me to address the way I introduce the idea of digital citizenship in my classroom. What a great question! Unfortunately, I didn’t have a great answer. I did though, have the evening to think about my response.

I have posted before about how and why I teach digital citizenship in my classroom. We often have discussions about the issues involved in this concept. As I thought about it, though, I realized that I had never explicitly taught the idea of digital citizenship. Every year, we talk about being safe online, about each student posting their best work on their individual blog, about building a positive image of our classroom through the tweets on our classroom Twitter account, about letting the world see what we do, about how to comment well and about the ways we learn from others outside of our classroom. Every year, I refer over and over to these ideas (although I have never specifically called it digital citizenship—that term is a bit too nebulous for six-year-olds) and the students are soon able to articulate the hows and whys of what we do in our social media spaces.  But I had never taken the time to specifically introduce them to the whole concept of posting online in a way that would lay the groundwork for what we talk about throughout the year.

Clearly, this needed to be changed.

This year, I will purposefully teach that first lesson about being safe and responsible online.  My goal for this lesson would not be a finished product or a specific curriculum outcome, but a foundational awareness of what it means to post online.

Showing Examples and Asking Questions

I will choose two blogs belonging to past students from my classroom—a girl and a boy who have since left our school or are old enough that none of my new children will know who they are, what they look like, etc. I will choose anonymous students because I don’t want my new class to have any ideas about these students beyond what each of them has posted online. I’ll project these blogs for my class to see and together, we will explore them.

After looking at each blog’s tagline, “About Me” section and some of the individual posts on each blog, we’ll talk about the following questions.

What things do you know about Aaliyah and Haydn?

What things don’t you know about Aaliyah and Haydn?

What do you notice about the things they have posted on their blogs?

Why do you think there is no picture of Haydn or Aaliyah’s face on their blog?

Would you like to be friends with Haydn or Aaliyah?  Why?

Would you have felt differently if Haydn and Aaliyah had posted things that were unkind? Mean?


These questions will inevitably generate other questions from the students who are new to the whole idea of posting online and will give us a good starting point to discuss why we post online and how we can do this in not only a safe manner, but in a way that helps us to learn and others to learn from us.

Hopefully with this specific introduction as a basis for what we do, our frequent “just in time” discussions about safety, kindness and appropriate posting online will be even more meaningful as the students will all have the necessary background right from the start to understand what it means to post online. Kids do learn best from other kids (or in this case, other kids’ blogs)!

If something is important, it deserves to be taught well, including a good introduction. I think that teaching digital citizenship is important. So, from now on, I’m going to do a much better job of introducing this to my students. Thanks for the great question, Caitlin!

If you have never specifically taught this concept in your classroom either, feel free to use the student blogs I linked to above.  Maybe you’re way ahead of me and have done this many times. If so, I’d love to hear how you have done this.

Even Our Youngest Students Need Digital Citizenship Skills

This  article was originally published on the Voices From the Learning Revolution blog of Powerful Learning Practice.

This recent tweet from Darren Kuropatwa has had me thinking about digital citizenship.


As the Internet becomes an increasingly important part of all of our lives, children are spending more time online as well. And they are doing this largely without any guidance about what is responsible or appropriate online.

While my six- and seven-year old students don’t yet even understand the words “digital” or “citizenship,” they also need direction and support as they explore online spaces. In fact, they need this instruction even more than their older counterparts.

My students will live in a digital world. Computers and Internet-enabled devices have always been a part of their life experience. They are growing up with the expectation that they, too, will have uninterrupted access to digital devices. It only makes sense to prepare them for this.

They are already online. By the time children arrive in my first grade classroom, they have usually had unrestricted access to the Internet, at least at some point. By Grade 1, many have watched umpteen YouTube videos and can easily navigate to their favorite sites using whatever technology they have at home. As their teacher, I want to give them some direction in these uncharted waters.

Parents want help “drawing the line.” Since this proliferation of access and devices happened after my students’ parents grew up, they have no parental model of their own to follow. As they try to decide how much time to allow their children online, what sites to allow access to and what their privacy settings on Facebook should be, I find parents eager to know what limits I think are appropriate. They also appreciate that their children are getting some guidance at school about being responsible online.

Reading Blog Comments

Reading Blog Comments

What should instruction look like?

If teaching digital citizenship to primary students is important, what should it look like? Clearly talks about privacy settings and the dangers of posting too many selfies with alcoholic beverages in hand are not called for at this point in their lives.

These are three main ideas that I try to instill in my young students.

Be Safe – Since students in my classroom all have their own blog and also post fairly regularly on Twitter, safety does need to be a primary concern. In a nutshell, my policy is this:

  1. Get signed permission from the parents.
  2. Make sure the parents understand what we are doing.
  3. Involve parents in our online activities.
  4. Nothing gets posted online unless I see it first.
  5. Never match a student’s name with their picture.
  6. Never post a student’s last name.

If you are interested in further specifics about this, I’ve posted about it before.

There have been times when parents have inadvertently used their last name in a blog comment. We always read and celebrate these comments, but I do not post them because they could help to identify the child.

I have also had instances in which a child wanted to refer to something in a blog post that would clearly identify which one of the children pictured on my classroom blog he was – such as referring to something he’s doing, his ethnicity or another obvious physical characteristic. In all of these cases, I have talked to the child, and later to the class with that child’s permission, about why we don’t want to identify the child by their picture.

Be Respectful – With six- and seven-year olds, the talk in our classroom is often about being kind. We have always talked about this in relation to things that are happening on the playground and in the classroom, but in the last decade that kindness has also extended to what we post online.

Children easily understand how to leave a comment that they would like to receive themselves – how to focus on the good rather than the bad and how to be sure that their “best work” is what goes online. Numerous teachable moments about this topic come up every year and I try to take advantage of these moments.

In past years I have had students who, after an argument, write a blog post denouncing the other child. Because I see everything before it is posted, I have been able to talk to the children involved and later the entire class about whether they still feel the same way about their friend (they have usually forgotten the offense) and about the permanence of posting something online. These moments have been learning opportunities for the entire class.

A couple of weeks ago, one of my students was angry and as an outlet, began posting tweets full of nonsense letters and the word “poop” on our classroom Twitter account. Someone who follows our account immediately alerted me to this.


What a wonderful discussion starter this tweet was! And a lesson to all of the children that when we post online, someone really is watching.

Be a Learner – In all of our discussions and posting online, I try to instill in the children the notion that the Internet is a place to learn. Many of them already know that there is other “stuff” online, but we focus on places where we can learn, such as other classrooms whose blog posts we read or the people and classrooms we follow on Twitter.

Instances come up every year where a student clicks on an advertisement and is taken to somewhere he did not expect, or someone decides to do a search for a new word she has learned (why is it that children who cannot remember how to spell their sight words seem to know how to spell “poop” and “boob”?).

In all of these instances, we talk again about why we shouldn’t click on any unknown links and about how we can use the Internet as a place to learn as long as we know how to navigate it properly.

Reading over Skype

Reading over Skype

A firm foundation opens up the world

With these basic beliefs firmly in place, my students have been free to explore, share and to learn online, developing digital citizenship skills that will serve them for the rest of their lives.

In the past year we have played Guess My Number with a class in Italy via Twitter, commented on the blogs of other classes and received comments in return, made a video to answer questions from a class in Dublin and participated in many other curriculum-related events online.

All these activities have helped them to learn not only the curriculum outcomes but valuable cross-cultural skills such as curiosity, empathy and understanding of similarities and differences between themselves and others who live far away.

They know how to be safe, to be respectful, and above all, to be online learners. That’s what digital citizenship is all about.

Five Ways to Start Connecting Your Classroom

In my teaching career as an educator, no change in curriculum, program or teaching philosophy (and believe me, there have been a lot) has had the impact on my teaching that connecting my classroom has.  Using social media tools to connect my students with people and classrooms from across North America and far beyond has helped my children to achieve curriculum outcomes, to learn how to act safely and appropriately online and to learn an appreciation for the similarities and differences between people. Not only do we learn from and with these other people, the students have a chance to become teachers themselves.

Would you like to start connecting your own classroom with classrooms in other places?  Begin to meet curricular demands through those connections? Help to teach your students what digital citizenship looks like?  Discover together how life in those places is the same as and different from your own?

If you answered “yes”, here are five suggestions to get you started on your own journey with connecting.

Join a Project 

There are some special teachers like Jennifer Wagner who make getting connected easier for the rest of us. Every year, through her Projects By Jen webpage, thousands of teachers connect with other classrooms from around the world. Jen already has the projects set up for next year. If you see one that interests you, just register for it and she will send you information, including (depending on the project) the email address and/or Skype name of other teachers involved in the project. Take the initiative and reach out to a teacher whose location intrigues you. If that teacher isn’t interested in further connecting possibilities, try someone else from the list.

My class has participated in many of Jen’s projects over the years, including stacking Oreos in the O.R.E.O. project, the Holiday Card Exchange and sorting marshmallows from a box of Lucky Charms.

Get a Classroom Twitter Account 

My recommendation is that you have a separate account for your class than the one you use yourself. Make it clear in the name and in the description that it is a class account (you can see my class Twitter account here).  If you are looking for classes to connect with through Twitter, you can check out this list organized by grade level. (and then add your name to the list!) Consider following other Twitter accounts based on what your class is currently studying. For example, my class is currently doing an animal inquiry unit, so we are following the San Diego Zoo and Animal Life.  Last spring, when he was tweeting pictures of the earth from space and video of exciting things such as how to cut your toenails in a weightless environment, we followed Chris Hadfield.

My classroom has used Twitter to learn and to help others to learn. As beginning readers and writers, we first read and compose tweets together until we are able to do this independently.  We have played Guess My Number on Twitter, tweeted secrets about Santa and shared riddles that my six and seven year olds had composed on their own. Learning on Twitter is really only limited by the imagination of the teacher making it a great place to start to connect.

Start a Classroom Blog

To show the world what is happening in your classroom and to reach out to others, nothing beats the possibilities of a classroom blog. I use our classroom blog to share what is happening in our classroom with parents, relatives and friends and with the rest of the world.  Each of my students has his own classroom blog, linked to mine, which is a digital portfolio of his learning through the entire school year.

Since we have a blog, we like to check the blogs of other classes as well. As we read the comments others leave for us and comment on the blogs of others, we are working on traditional and digital literacy skills as we learn about the lives and learning of others.

Skype With a Classroom in Another Province or Country

For students of any age, actually seeing and talking via a video conference to students who live far away or to an “expert” on a current topic teaches not just new information, but empathy, diversity and tolerance. This is what Skype (or any form of video conferencing) can offer.

Who will you chat with on Skype? How about an author? An expert on sharks? Or register for Skype in the Classroom and check out their list of guest speakers. Skype in the Classroom also has thousands of registered classrooms from around the world with students of every age who are looking to connect using this format. My class uses Skype frequently including using it to practice measurement skills, getting extra reading practice and asking questions about healthy bodies.

Start a Project of Your Own 

If none of these ideas appeals to you, you can always invent your own project—perhaps with people you already know. You can also sign up for ePals and submit your project there. ePals has lots of projects for you to browse—perhaps someone else has the same idea as you do!

If you’re going to the ISTE Conference, and you’re interested in connecting, join Karen Lirenman and myself to chat about how you can get started. You can find us at our poster session:

Primary Kids Can! Let’s Tweet, Blog or Skype to Connect 

Saturday, June 28, 7:00 pm – 8:30 pm                                                             GWCC Murphy Ballroom Galleria, Table 21

Whether you can make it to the conference or not, try connecting your classroom with others through one of the ways I mentioned. Let the learning begin!

Keeping the Curriculum Context in Connected Classrooms

Most of this  article was originally published on the Voices From the Learning Revolution blog of Powerful Learning Practice.

To say I’m pretty jazzed about the possibilities of my classroom learning by connecting with other classrooms and people would be a bit of an understatement. My class regularly learns from and with students and others from across North America and in fact from around the world using social media tools such as Skype, Twitter and blogging.

I frequently see teachers on Twitter asking if other classrooms would like to connect with theirs or I receive emails from teachers asking me how to get started with connecting.

I started the list below because, when I see these queries, my first reaction is usually “which curriculum outcomes or standards are you looking to teach?” followed closely by “what tool would you like to use to connect?”

Connecting just for the sake of connecting is a valuable activity as it exposes children to other places and cultures, helps to teach online safety and etiquette and helps to prepare them for the hyper-connected world they will eventually be living and working in.

But if you really want bang for your buck, try connecting around a curricular theme or outcome. Kids really do learn best from other kids.


Keeping my students (meaningfully) connected

Kathy-Cassidy-03Recently, I went back through the posts on my classroom blog and on this blog to make a list of all the ways we had connected over the past twelve months.  I  hope the list below can help teachers  who are just beginning their connected classroom journey. I have seen other teachers also connecting in wonderful,meaningful ways, but here is what my classroom has been up to. Have you connected you classroom in a meaningful way? Please share it in the comments!

A couple more notes before I get on with it. First, there are lots of great tools out there to help classrooms connect. The ones below are the ones I have found to be most effective in my classroom. Second, these suggestions are all primary-grades specific (my students are almost all six years old), but it takes very little imagination to think of a way to make them work with older students too.

And now, finally, my list of suggestions to get you started connecting your classroom…

Using Skype or Google Hangout

Using Twitter

Using Blogs


So there you have it. All of the above ideas have helped me to meet an English Language Arts or Mathematics outcome in my classroom. I hope they help you as well.

102 New, Free Books About Teaching and Learning

Apple has just released an exciting collection on iBooks called One Best Thing. Each of these books was written by an Apple Distinguished Educator about one thing they do well using—you guessed it—Apple products.  The useful thing about this collection is that not only are the Multi-Touch books written about the ways educators are transforming their classroom, but each of the 102 books (today I counted 83 available so far) are offered free.

I am thrilled to be one of these authors.

One Best Thing

Student Authored Portfolios: Archiving Learning with iPad

My book is Student Authored Portfolios: Archiving Learning with iPad.  As the title suggests, the book shows how my students use their iPads, a few apps and their blog to archive their learning and to create a digital portfolio.

Although these books are written about Apple products, the few I have read so far are more about transformative teaching than individual products.  Yes, my classroom is 1:1 with iPads, but as I mention near the end of my book, it is not necessary to have access to iPads to create digital portfolios with students or students of any age. We used a similar process for many years before we were fortunate enough to get our iPads.

Check out the entire collection.  Or in iBooks, visit the Education category and find the One Best Thing collection tile.  Happy reading!

Ten Things You Should Know About Writing a Book

One year ago this month, my first book, an eBook about the way I connect my classroom with the world, was published. Writing a book was never on my bucket list.  In fact, I didn’t even think I could write. It wasn’t until I was at a presentation led by Angela Maiers at the Building Learning Communities Conference that I even considered such a thing. She convinced me that I could be a writer.

Once she had me persuaded, it didn’t seem like big steps when John Norton, the editor of the Voices blog for Powerful Learning Practice, asked me to start writing blog posts, and then later suggested that I should write a book.

I have a feeling that there are lots of people out there who are like me. Maybe you are. Maybe you think you can’t write, or maybe you just need someone like Angela to convince you that you can.  I’ve learned a lot over the past year, about writing and about myself.  For you, and anyone like you, who wonders about writing a book, here are the things that I now know that you may not.

  1. You CAN write a book. Yes, you.
  2. Writing a book is work. Hard work. Sometimes ideas flow smoothly, but mostly they don’t. If you want to finish, you have to force yourself to write most of the time. The whole process is more about endurance than inspiration.
  3. Writing a book is not so much about writing as editing and having a good editor. I’m a details oriented person. I dot my i’s and cross my t’s. When I sent my first draft to my editor, I knew it still needed work, but I didn’t expect it would be sent back to me four times.  And then twice more to deal with formatting issues. The book got better with each succeeding version. A good editor (like John Norton) is worth his weight in gold.
  4. Writing a book did not change my tax bracket. I’m sure that best-selling authors are able to make a great living from their writing, but for me, despite the generous profit sharing approach of PLPress and a growing number of university classes and school campuses that have purchased my book to read and to learn together, publishing a book did not change any retirement plans I might decide to make.
  5. Further to number four above, some personality types are better suited to promoting their book than others.  I am not naturally one of those well suited to this. Promotion has been a huge learning curve for me personally.
  6. Writing a book changes some people’s opinion of you. Some people equate writing a book with expertise, and to them, you suddenly have credibility.  But mostly people are unimpressed.
  7. Writing a book teaches you a lot about yourself, about what you value and perhaps surprisingly, about who values you.
  8. Writing a book about your own experience exposes you in a new and vulnerable way.  It is somehow different than writing any number of blog posts in which you show only a small part of yourself at a time. I feel a strange sense of intimacy with anyone who has purchased my book.
  9. Although everyone’s experience with this will be different, I have found it fascinating to have a glimpse inside the world of publishing—a world that I knew nothing about only months ago. Considerations of paper vs. digital versions, marketing, copyright, profit sharing and permissions—the learning curve has been steep and intriguing as I ventured out of my classroom comfort zone.
  10. There is something very satisfying about having finished such a big project.  It is a bit like finishing a university degree. All of a sudden, all of the months or years of hard work have resulted in completing something.  Or it’s like having a baby. When you see the finished product, you forget the months discomfort and the final pain and wouldn’t change things for the world.

If you are considering writing a book, I say, “Go for it!” Yes, it is an incredible amount of work but the feeling of fulfillment when you finally see your finished product is well worth all of your effort and time.

I’m channeling Angela Maiers here… YOU are a writer. You CAN write a book. Yes, you.

Technology in the Classroom: Embrace the Bumpy Ride!

This article was originally published on the Voices From the Learning Revolution blog of Powerful Learning Practice.

I frequently get emails from primary teachers asking for help as they begin to add technology in their classroom. These teachers have a lot of questions. They want to use technology, but there always seem to be problems or glitches of some kind along the way.

Their emails go something like this: “How do you use technology so easily in your classroom? It seems to run so well for you. What is your secret? How does that happen? There are always problems when I use technology and then I want to give up.”

These are all great questions. I too have experienced many bumps in my travels with technology. Just when the journey seems to be becoming smoother, another roadblock comes along that needs to be negotiated. Experience has taught me a few things about the mindset that helps us navigate this bumpy road.


Don’t just “integrate” technology

The first bump in the technology road involves a new way of thinking. Don’t view technology as just one more thing to add to your day. And if “integrate” means (as it often does) adding one more thing to your already heavy load, then we probably need a better word. Technology should help us to teach better and in more meaningful ways. It should be used to connect us. It should give us choice and allow us to share. It should not be something that you do in addition to everything else you already do in your classroom. If technology is something that you try to add after you have planned your reading, writing and math, you are destined to fail at “integrating” technology.

Using technology does not mean keeping your students entertained with digital worksheets, or practicing skills with animation, or using computer time instead of a red checkmark as a reward. Instead, use technology when it allows you to do something in a better way than you have done before or to do something that was formerly impossible to do.


Technology supports new ways of learning

Thanks to advances in technology, we now have powerful tools to help students understand and learn in unique ways.

Kathy01You can select a tool or app that will give your students an online audience for their learning and connect them with other classrooms and experts around the world. That tool may be as different as a classroom blog or Twitter or Skype. Other tools make it easy for your students to create artifacts that show not just their learning, but their thinking processes and their self reflections. These are all examples of doing things with technology that could not be done before.

Use technology to make learning new and different in your classroom. Set your sights high and aim for activities that transform! Then, when you hit a bump, you will be more motivated to keep trying. Transformation is never smooth.


Expect problems

My days with technology do NOT all run smoothly. Sometimes there are many stops and starts. This is especially true at the beginning of the school year as my six year olds become familiar with the tools and apps we will use to learn and share what we know. Bandwidth can be an issue in my school, and access has often been as well. Sometimes a tool that I rely on will not work for some reason or other.

I think that everyone experiences these issues and they can be very frustrating. On the other hand, things don’t always run smoothly when I am teaching without technology either.

Kathy03When my students use pencils, they frequently break and need to be sharpened. Some of the children chew on the ends of the shared pencils we use. Erasers get thrown, children get poked. My students hold their pencils in a wide variety of ways, many of which need to be patiently corrected. But we don’t stop using pencils and erasers. I continue modeling the correct usage of those tools and helping students practice until they can use them well.

I don’t let the rough spots deter me because I know the importance of students learning how to use these and other traditional tools to assist and demonstrate their learning. The same holds true when we use a form of technology. Children already know how to use technology for entertainment. They need to learn how technology can help them to learn.

What is the solution? For anything that will become a learning routine in my early years classroom, whether it involves technology or not, I model, model, model it and then we practice it together until the students can do it independently. Even once that independence has been established, I still have to monitor how and what the children are doing to ensure the best learning outcomes.

Flexibility and a backup plan are important ingredients in any classroom, but particularly in a space that includes the use of technology. If the Internet goes down in the middle of our day, I have to be prepared to teach another way, just as if I had planned a trip to the school library and it was suddenly unavailable.


Start with just one thing

My suggestion for people who are hesitant to use technology in significant ways is to start with one thing. Think of one way technology could enhance or deepen the learning in your classroom and then just try it. If you fumble and falter for a bit, keep trying. Like the six year old learning to hold a pencil properly, you will gain mastery over time.

It’s easy to become overwhelmed if you try too many different tools at once. Most of us who have been teaching with technology for awhile have taken on too much too fast somewhere along our journey.  Focus on just that one technology-enhanced activity until you feel very comfortable with it. Then, when that feels good, try adding something else.

Kathy02bMaybe you would like to share what is happening in your classroom with your students’ parents and others who are part of your classroom community. Why not try aclassroom blog, a classroom Twitter accountor a Facebook page to showcase the activities and learning that are taking place? (You don’t have to do all three at once!)

Perhaps you would like your students to be able to publish their writing or their reading fluency or their math skills for a global audience. If this is the case, then why not trystudent blogs, a wiki or some other online program? Invite others in to view and give feedback to your learners.

Maybe you would like to use Skype to connect your classroom with another classroom far away to compare perspectives. Check out the resources that are available to help you do this. Plan a small event, perhaps with another teacher who is also just beginning to use Skype. Learn together. Building a network of online support is a great way to bolster your confidence.


It’s not technology – it’s the stuff of teaching

What do you consider to be technology? A pencil? An overhead projector? A computer? An iPod device? At some point, each of these items was considered to be the very latest technology for the classroom.

Many people think of technology as anything that came into popular use after they reached adulthood. To my six-year-old students, and in fact to all students in school today, computers, tablets, smart phones, interactive boards, etc. are not technology. They just are. It’s their teachers and parents who consider these items to be something new or unusual.

Students are comfortable using these devices to communicate and to find information. To them, tools and apps are just another part of the world they inhabit. These tools have the power to become the stuff of teaching and learning if we will let them. Don’t think of them as technology. They are just part of the fabric of life around us. Students need to be shown how to use them to learn.

Is using technology bumpy? You bet. But we need to begin thinking the way our children do. We use technology not just because it istechnology, but because of what it can do. It engages us and helps us to learn. So bring on the bumps!

Making Math Thinking Visible with iPads

I’m not a big fan of using technology as a digital way to do what can be done on paper. We use iPads in my classroom.  I’ve seen lots of online examples of students using iPads to make a “good copy” of their writing or to practice number facts, but to me that is like buying a Ferrari to only drive six blocks to church each Sunday.  It works, but what a waste! The power of technology is the power to create.

My students create many different artifacts, but the most meaningful are those in which my students show their learning and their thinking in ways that are far beyond what a worksheet could do.  When they make a video or screencast of what they have learned, I can hear and see their thinking. I can also hear confidence or hesitation, self-corrections or errors in perception. Consider these math examples produced by my students.


Sharing Learning

I love it when I can watch a video or a screencast that a student has created and know that the student has grasped the concept that we have been working on. For example, when I saw this, I knew that the creator was beginning to count by twos.


And this student knew how to count using groups of tens and counting on with ones.


Sharing Thinking

But what really gets me excited is when something that a student creates shows me not only that the student can DO a process, but that he or she UNDERSTANDS the concept as well. A worksheet might show me that this student understood the concept of capacity, but this video shows me that he not only knows which container holds more, but that he can also explain how he knows that. His learning could transfer to another situation.


This student understands the concept of heaviest/lightest and understands how a balance scale shows you this.

When my young students’ math learning and thinking is visible, I can better understand their thought process, and am better able to help them to learn. Isn’t that my goal as a teacher?

[Note: All of the screencasts in this post were created using the Draw and Tell app by Duck, Duck Moose.]

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!


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