Comics Show Who You Are!

Today was the second day of grade 4 this year, and my eagerness to learn even more about my students led me to turn to technology. I gave my students a quick low down on Comic Life, and then let them explore, play, and create a comic of themselves. Their only requirement needed was to take a picture of themselves, include their name, and tell me five things about themselves. If they had any questions about how to use the app, I encouraged them to ask their peers, as they are becoming wonderful teachers themselves!

Once their projects were completed, they were easily able to airdrop them to me, so I could share them as well. Besides the fact that my students were instantly engaged in their projects, their tidbits about themselves gave me insights into who they are. Leaving the project open-ended, instead of providing a simple fill in the blank all about me sheet, seemed to encourage the students to tell me a lot about them. Many of their thoughts made me smile, and taught me something new and interesting. I’m looking forward to using their comics to generate further discussion, make connections with each of them, and between them, to continue to build our classroom community.

Here are some examples of their finished pieces:


Tech, Tech, and More Tech

Each school year, as I begin planning my days and units I am amazed at the changes and progression of technology. Last year, I was excited to use iPads, really focus on blogging with my students, and begin our Twitter classroom account. The connections made and sharing abilities proved to be successful, and provided ample learning opportunities for my students. This year, the options are endless: iPads, blogging, Edmodo, chromebooks, apps galore, and Web 2.0 tools. Initially, I felt overwhelmed trying to discover new and innovative ways to use these tools. How do I know which tools is the best for the job? How can I decide which device to use? These questions led me to wonder, is there truly an answer? Can one tool be the “be all, end all?”

As I began to reflect, I immediately disregarded these initial queries. I think that we have multiple tools because they are each unique and beneficial in their own ways. If I didn’t have laptops, I would want them. If I didn’t have iPads, I would wonder how to complete projects. Limiting ones tools is not the answer. Discovering how to use them, and allowing students to use what works best for them is a better response. My appreciation and excitement has flourished as I imagine the projects and possibilities that technology lends itself to. Let the 2015 school year begin!

Who Knew 9 Year Olds Would Love to Tweet?

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For the past year I have solidly become an addict of twitter to build a professional network, and have experienced first hand the great abilities of it, the connections one can make, and the endless learning that is present. This year I decided to create a twitter account for my class, as a way for my students to share their learning and make learning “real.”

As I took on this endeavor of tweeting for the first time today I was amazed with the level of engagement and excitement in my students and thought I would share a little advice and observations that I saw in my class:

The Process: I opened our class twitter account on the smartboard, gave a quick low-down on what twitter is and our account, and then began to explain how to tweet. For our first tweet, I wanted the students to work together in their groups to collectively figure out how they would decide what to tweet and come up with a precise 140 character phrase. I provided them with this tweet form as a way to organize their thoughts.
It was great to watch them working together, debating the “best” way to say something, erasing their sentence when they realized they missed a word, and observing the general excitement among them.

Once each group had a finalized idea of what they would share, they came up to my class computer and typed out their tweet together. Most of them didn’t know how to make the hashtag (#) symbol, but besides that it was relatively painless. Their faces beamed as they watched in real-time, their tweets appear on the smartboard. It was like they were performing magic!

Where to go from here? My plan from here on is to start small with a “tweet of a day,” which will occur at morning and lunch recess, and the end of the day. I want the students to use their tweets as a way to reflect on the things that they have learned and also to share exciting things that are happening in their school life. I have left the sheets out for the students to use whenever they would like, on their own, with a partner, or in a group.

I initially questioned how to get my students excited about twitter and the idea of tweeting, but as I began talking to them about it, it became apparent to me that I didn’t need to at all. Kids love using technology! They love to teach their parents about it, love using the tools their older siblings use, and love things that are current in society. Why not allow the classroom to be the platform where all these tools can come to life and students can experience learning in a whole new way?

Please follow our classroom @mspetleysclass

The Science of Learning

Recently, I have been exposed to a number of books and articles for my master’s program, and have been intrigued by the notion of the science behind learning, and how we can help learners and our students succeed. In the first two chapters of The Cambridge Handbook for the Learning Science by R.K. Sawyer, there were a number of ideals presented, as well as questions that came to mind. In chapter one, there was a quote that stood out for me:
“By 2000, no studies had shown that computer use was correlated with improved student performance. When researchers began to look more closely at why computers were having so little impact, they discovered that computer use was not based on the learning science; instead, they were being used as quick add-ons to the existing instructional classroom.” (Pg. 8)

As an advocate for technology in the classroom, this quote outlined my biggest fear. Technology is a wonderful tool to enhance student learning; to allow them to become owners and creators of their own work. However, all too often devices are being used as a substitute for lecture style or a previous, capable task. Although this is a good starting point for some teachers hesitant to use technology, I truly believe that in order for it be effective, it must create a task, project, or other learning medium that previously was difficult without it. With that in mind, how do we train teachers and provide them with the knowledge and support to use technology as a way to improve student knowledge and empower them?

In chapter two, Sawyer discussed explicitly about instructionism verses research from the cognitive sciences, as shown in the image below:

I believe that both of these have a place within the classroom, and view the two on a continuum. We are moving away from the traditional instructionism approach and more towards developing a deep understanding for students in all aspects of their learning; allowing them to ask question, self-assess, collaborate, and reflect. I agree with the fact that having a deep understanding of a concept is obviously a better way to approach teaching, but the question that I still have is as a teacher, how are you able to assess whether or not a student has that deep understanding that we desire? Yes, we can have one-on-one conferences with students, teach them how to reflect and analyze their personal learnings, but when do we truly know that their understanding has evolved? Is it when they start making connections outside of the classroom and share their knowledge with others? What could this look like at the elementary level?

As a read one of the articles, the children’s book Fish is Fish book was shared and I recommend all teachers to read it. It shows how personal background knowledge, socio-cultural influences, and assumptions can lead learners to think and form thoughts a particular way, without them really knowing. Teachers need to be aware of their students, the knowledge that they hold, and how to help them form new ideas. The idea of metacognition within the classroom, as presented in the book, How People Learn:Brain, Mind, Experience, and School is something that I strive towards as a teacher. I want my students to be able to reflect and self-assess themselves. I want them to be advocates for their learning, and experience failure, but see it as an opportunity for growth. After reading the book, Fish is Fish, I felt that the message or moral that the author was sharing was for children to stick with what they know and be comfortable in “your own pond.” However, I could also see the opportunities for discussions with students, and to use the book as a platform to delve into preconceived notions. Among discussion, this novel allows students to be challenged, learn new ideas, and embrace new things; something we continue to strive towards as teachers.

Tech Skills for Elementary Students

Removing the “teacher hat” can allow you to reflect and contemplate the varying aspects and teaching methods within your classroom. Being on spring break has allowed me to do just that. What’s working? What would I change? What skills do the students need before the end of the year? How can I integrate technology to enhance student learning? Thinking about the last question led me to contemplate what technology skills students need to have. Is it enough that they can navigate a tablet and create amazing projects? Am I really driving home the concept of their digital footprint and do they truly understand what it means? Do they even need to know how to type effectively in a tablet-based society or is that skill becoming obsolete as well?

The rapidly, ever changing technology has led me to reflect on what exactly students should be learning. Should you be teaching to the present, or attempting at teaching to the future? Are fads in technology here or stay, or simply a fad?

Curious about what other educators thought on this topic, led me to twitter and a chat I participate in tonight, #mdeschat, whose focus was on tech tools in the elementary classroom. Here’s a summary of our discussion and the thoughts around technology and it’s place in the elementary classroom:

Question #1: Thinking about elementary students, what technology skills do you feel our students need these days?

Question #2: Given this wide range of skills students need to be exposed/master, how do we ensure that our schools offer kids experiences?

Question #3: What tech projects/tools have caught your teachers’/students’ interest recently? Where are you experimenting technologically?

Question #4: With so many skills and apps/sites/tools should we try to rein it in and plan an organized tech curriculum in elementary?

Question #5: How do you think elementary schools should be using social media?

Question #6: How can each school train students in DC?

Question #7: What are your top three favourite/recommended technology tools/sites/programs you recommend for everyone else?

When it comes to technology, the answers seem to be endless and ever-changing, but also seem to build on previous skills. I think that in order to be an effective teacher in this day in age, you need to stay on top of the trends, and find the time to experiment. Don’t be scared! Learn from your colleagues and learn from your students. Remember we are all students of technology!

Literacy in the Modern World

Recently, my mind has been bombarded with ideas and thoughts around literacy. How is it defined in a modern, technology-based world? How do current changes affect the way literacy should be taught in the classroom?

I was lucky enough to find a twitter chat, #ntchat, focusing on literacy this week. It was a great opportunity to share ideas and collaborate with other educators to discuss what literacy looks like in the classroom today. Below is a brief summary of the chat.

Question #1: How do you define literacy? Being well-read, being able to read, or something else?

Question #2: How do we support students to acquire it – literacy?

Question #3: What about writing? Should reading and writing be taught together? How do we accomplish that?

Question #4: What web 2.0 tools or digital tools do you use to promote literacy?

From this chat it became clearer to me that yes, the definition of literacy is changing. Although the core values still exist, the meaning is evolving and changing because of the implications of technology, and also the need to adapt to today’s world. The overall arching theme that stuck out to me from this chat is the importance of modeling and being involved with reading and writing, the need for students to make connections to the things they are reading, the things happening in their lives, and across the curriculum, and the opportunities and abilities that we have in a technology-based school system to use incredible tools to create literate students.

Digital Learning Day


Digital Learning Day is a yearly scheduled event to help focus on learning through different technology platforms. It is a great way to get students excited about using technology and to see the abilities that it has to enable their learning.

Twitter was filled with amazing examples around the globe of educators using technology with their students in numerous ways. It was inspiring to see and to participate in the conversations. Here are a few comments that stuck in my mind.

I’m lucky enough at my school to have a variety of technologies to use: ipads, laptops, smartboard, flip cams. Our day was filled with exciting activities that had the students actively learning new things. Close to the end of the day, a student asked me if they could blog about what Digital Learning Day is, so I of course gave everyone some time to type an entry. Here are a few examples.

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Their reflections were great and each varied in meaning and understanding. We are lucky to have such an easy accessibility to technology. I sometimes feel that we forget that we’re even using it. Days like this are a fantastic opportunity to reflect upon how technology can help us leverage teaching and the improvements and ease it allows. Be thankful we have it. Be appreciative of the abilities it grants for us. Be mindful of the possibilities and immense learning opportunities it creates.