Education, Independent Study, K-12, Motivation, Research, Teaching Tools, Web 2.0

Next Year Will Be Even Better – Online Learning

sample pages from our course catalog, which can be found here
sample pages from our course catalog, which can be found here

For many of us, at least in the United States, another school year is over.  Even as we eagerly embark on our rejuvenation journeys for the summer, you might be thinking, as I am, of new ideas for the next school year.  This week, I would like to share some of the improvements I hope to make in my classroom for the 2013-2014 school year.  Today’s post is about offering more opportunities to my students using online tools.

I am so excited about a pilot project that we are doing in my school district this year.  A group of us (elementary gifted and talented teachers) got together, and decided to offer some online classes to our students for the summer.  The classes are FREE, and anyone in our 3rd-5th gifted classes throughout our district was allowed to sign up for one.  We had 320 students sign up for this first summer.  We would have had more if we had not cut off the registration date or if we had opened it up to more grade levels.  This tells me that there is a thirst for knowledge that motivates our students to learn even when they are not in school.

You can visit a sample of our course catalog here.  I removed the links and the teacher names to ensure privacy, but I want to give a huge shout-out to all of the teachers involved, as they are doing this on a completely voluntary basis during their summer.

We are using Edmodo as the vehicle for delivering our courses, and I am just in the process of realizing the potential of this web application (also available as an app).  As I mentioned in yesterday’s Genius Hour post, there are so many students out there who want to learn more than what is being offered in their regular classrooms.  Edmodo gives us the opportunity to give them more options, allowing us to schedule assignments and posts that they can access on their own time.  There are certainly other online class sites out there, but this is what our district happens to be using at the moment, and it serves our purposes very well.

Thrilled as I am about our summer program, I would like to see it expand.  I would also like to implement a similar program throughout the school year.  So, my goal for this following school year is to try offering some courses for my own students that can be done on their own time – or, if a classroom teacher agrees, in place of work that they have already mastered in the regular classroom.

Please understand that I am not envisioning these courses to be MOOC’s (Massive Open Online Course), or to replace the physical teaching environment.  I want to keep the courses small and personalized.  I want the courses to enhance what my students are already learning, and to fuel their desire for finding out more on topics that interest them.

I plan to write a reflection about our summer experience in a couple of months (most of the classes began yesterday), after I get feedback from the students and teachers.  In the meantime, if you think you might like to try something like this, feel free to contact me at if you have any questions.

Screen Shot 2013-06-10 at 2.23.34 PM
click here to view the live (sample) catalog on Flipsnack
3-12, Education, Independent Study, Research, Teaching Tools, Web 2.0, Websites


I have been reading about instaGrok on various blogs for a month or two.  It is a search engine that “maps” your topic.  In addition, it suggests videos and creates quizzes for your topic.  There is even a toggle bar to change the level of complexity of the results.  While I agree that it is a unique way to search for information, my brief explorations of the site did not make me feel that it belonged on this blog.  Until yesterday.
A co-worker of mine, Kacie Germadnik, mentioned to me that she liked the “class” option in instaGrok, and had been using it with her gifted third graders for a research project.  Curious, I actually registered for the site (which is free). It was then that I was able to realize the full power of this tool.  As a teacher, you can create a class code.  This enables your students to also register on the site without needing e-mail addresses.
You don’t need to register to use instaGrok for research, but being logged in allows you to “pin” information to a note-taking journal that can then be printed or e-mailed.  This is an amazingly intuitive and user-friendly way to gather information about a topic on the internet.
And, if students are logged in under your class code, a teacher can keep track of their progress and search histories to make sure they are staying on the right track.  This can also be useful for collaboration.
Thanks to Mrs. Germadnik for encouraging me to take a deeper look at instaGrok!
Education, K-12, Teaching Tools, Web 2.0

Web 2.0 Pins

I found the link for this collection of Web 2.0 pins for educators on Teach-Lou-Ology.  I think that there are several of these floating around on Pinterest, but this one caught my eye with the particular sites that are included.  Some of them have been reviewed on this blog, such as Triptico and Storybird.  Others are ones that I use regularly (Wordle, Google Docs), but I have not included on this site.  And then, there are others I would like to investigate further – such as Animaps.  The summaries of each site pinned make this page very helpful.

Apps, Art, Creative Thinking, K-12, Motivation, QR Codes, Student Products, Web 2.0

QR Codes and Art

I like patterns.  This week, I started by sharing some QR Code Countdown Calendars.  Yesterday, I chose to share a link to Countdown Calendars.  So, today, I will focus once again on QR Codes.

I found an article on the Langwitches blog that gave a wonderful idea for using QR codes with art.  You should read the article here, because it gives great details.  To summarize, it explains a project in which the students created magnificent artwork.  They then made individual recordings about their artwork.  These recordings were uploaded to the web, and QR codes were generated for each link.  The QR codes were then adhered to the artwork.  Therefore, anyone who passes the artwork that is being displayed can use a “smart” device to scan the code, allowing them to listen to the student’s narrative about the art as the surveyor looks upon the masterpiece.

This generated so many extension ideas for me when I read it that I could not even begin to list them.  Think about the power of attaching another media to a bulletin board display of any type of work.  It could be an audio narrative or music.  It could even be a video!  Imagine the electronic portfolios your students could create that would co-exist in the both the “real” and “virtual” worlds!  I can’t wait to try it myself!

K-5, Language Arts, Motivation, Student Products, Uncategorized, Web 2.0, Websites, Writing


As a teacher, do you ever have a moment when no one needs your help, and you are standing in the middle of your classroom wondering what you should be doing?  In my twenty years of teaching, I think that’s happened twice:  when I was student teaching and had no idea what I was supposed to be doing anyway, and today.  I showed my students Storybird, which allows you to choose sets of art to illustrate a story that you write.  I meant for it to be a station on some computers in my classroom, but the students who started at that station didn’t want to leave.  So, I started pulling out laptops until everyone was working on their own stories.  For over an hour, there was silence in my room, and every child was engaged in creating his or her own story.  We had been studying Figurative Language, and the assignment was to create a story with a winter theme that used at least 4 different types of figurative language.

After lunch, I thought the students might be weary of sitting in front of computer screens.  I began saying, “Okay, you have a choice.  You can either continue working on your Storybirds or – ” I didn’t even get to finish.  They unanimously agreed that they wanted to continue.

Storybird is free.  Register as a teacher, and you can add a class of students easily.  The students do not need e-mail addresses to register or log in.  You can view their work at any time, and they can also view the work of other students in the class by clicking on a tab at the top.  They can comment, as can the teacher.  It’s online, and easy to share, so they can show friends and family.  The teacher can post specific assignments or the students can just create.  Collaboration on stories is possible, and reading the stories of others is inspiring.  The art work is charming and lovely.

Here is a sample from one of my 4th graders: (I apologize if some of the words are cut off – WordPress does not “play well” with embed codes!)
[vodpod id=Video.15699736&w=425&h=350&]

K-12, Student Products, Teaching Tools, Videos, Web 2.0, Websites

Producer’s Toolbox

Created by Kim Ball, a teacher of Gifted and Talented students in San Antonio’s North East Independent School District, The Producer’s Toolbox is a great resource for anyone, teacher or student, who is interested in creating multimedia presentations.  It has links to video, audio, and research sites, as well as other fun extras.