Thing 38: App-apalooza

After exploring several of the links for App-apalooza, I found three discoveries I’m pretty pumped about:

  • Discovery #1: Digital Dog Pound and their App Task Challenges!
    • I loved that they made their ATC available in one Google Drive folder you can add to your own Google Drive-and of course immediately added it to mine.
    • The setup and format of the ATC pages were beautiful and incredibly well down. I was impressed with how they managed to fit so much information (a picture of the app, a description of the app, ideas for integration, and an app challenge) into 1-2 pages without it ever feeling crowded or overwhelmed.
    • I’m so inspired by their ATC pages, this summer I think I’d like to try to make a few of my own for some of the apps on our iPads!
  • Discovery #2: School Library Journal App Webpage
    • This discovery was one of those that made me feel like a bad librarian-I had no idea that SLJ had a dedicated App Webpage! I loved looking through old postings and exploring their suggestions. I’ve already added them to my favorite websites on my computer and will be adding this into my weekly rotation of must check websites!
    • One of the things I discovered while poking around the website was that there were a ton of SLJ newsletters I wasn’t subscribing to. So, I subscribed to their tech newsletter as well as a few others I had somehow missed along the way.
    • While exploring their old postings on the website I can across a writeup for an intriguing tool which brings me to…
  • Discovery #3:BookWidgets!
    • BookWidgets is a service that lets you create quizzes, exit tickets, worksheets, games and more for the iPad. You can create your own completely from scratch or, use one of their templates.
    • There are couple of things I love about this idea:
      • As I learned in the Things 31 & 32 on Evidence Based Practice, I need to be collecting more pre and post assessment data with my classes and this gives me a tool to create just those
      • Since it’s a digital tool, I don’t have to worry about drowning in a sea of exit tickets and end of unit tests
      • It tracks all the student results for you, less factoring and figuring on my end
      • No more handing out and collecting of papers, instantly makes them available on student iPads
      • I have a class set of iPads just for the library and I have been trying to find more and more ways to work them into our lessons and this will help me make them a part of almost every lesson-even if they aren’t the actual learning tool!
    • The bad news is it’s $49 a year for this tool. Although, that does only come out to $5 a month (which is less than I spend on coffee-three cheers for treat yo’self Fridays) so I think I could justify it, if it worked as well as I hope it would.
    • There’s a 30 day free trial so I’ve signed up for that and I’ve been trying out the different widgets. Unfortunately, our last week of regular library classes is next week already so I wont be able to test out many of the features but, I think some of the game options would be a great way to review what they’ve learned in library this year while still keeping it fun. 

Thing 35: Digital Portfolios for Students

The Setup

For this week’s activity, I decided to finally try out the Seesaw app. I learned about the Seesaw app last year and immediately requested it be placed on the school iPads. However, there were a variety of technical difficulties and issues the result of which was I didn’t get the Seesaw app on all of the iPads until after the midway point of this school year! And, as is often the case in teacher world, suddenly weeks had gone by and I hadn’t tested out the new app I had been waiting months to get…

Determined to test it out before the year ended, I decided to try it with my 4th graders this year. I’ve been struggling with this grade all year. I see a lot of off task behavior from them each week and since the class sizes are on the large size for this group, I feel like I’m constantly redirecting and correcting, and getting very little teaching accomplished during any given class. My hope was that putting them in charge of their own learning documentation (and letting them know I could instantly share with their teacher and parents) would motivate them to stay on task and allow us to get more done than usual.

Tips, Tricks & Fun Ideas

Back in February, I watched a webinar on using Seesaw in the classroom and picked up tons of tips, tricks, and ideas!

If you have an ALA membership, you can click on the link to watch the webinar. Here are the best tips and tricks I learned from it:

    • How to get around the class limit-In the free version of Seesaw, you can only have up to 10 classes and I definitely don’t work in a school with only 10 classes in the building! The trick here is to set up each grade level as a class. Then, create folders for each of your teachers in that grade level. I went a step further and made subfolders within the teacher folders for each of the students. Then, it was just the quick matter of showing students how to select their teacher, then their name when uploading a document. There really is nothing to it and they caught on very quickly.  Just make sure you go into your manage class settings, scroll down to folders and make sure you’ve enabled the “show add folder step” for students and teachers. Otherwise, they won’t be able to find their folders.


  • Alternatives to Student Folders-Another tip I loved was setting up folders based on the material or project, not the individual students. The example was given by a teacher who uses Seesaw to document her Maker Club projects and I loved this idea for documenting our Maker Club projects next year. It not only gives them another chance to get hands on with their projects and learning, it’s a great way to reflect on their successes and failures.  
  • Connecting with your Community and Stakeholders-One of the teachers talked about how they had a bunch of potatoes donated by the PTO and a local food bank. They used the potatoes to make potato characters from books and used Seesaw to document the process, final project, and share the results with their donors. What a great way to connect with members of the community who want to give back but can’t necessarily come into the schools to do so!
  • Keep the Learning Coming- The webinar also mentioned all the great resources you can use to answer your Seesaw related questions.


    • #seesawchat on Twitter-the 2nd & 4th Tuesday of every month at 7pm. A great place to find and share real classroom examples.
    • @seesaw -in between live chats, follow them on Twitter for more great tips and advice
    • – the seesaw website has a getting started guide, tutorial videos, activity ideas and more

The Project

For our final weeks of the school year, I decided to do a read aloud/book study. I picked a book and found some reading activities to go with it. Each student got their own packet and as I read aloud to the class, they follow along in their packet and answer questions/prompts as they come up. At the end of class, they use the library iPads and Seesaw to record the evidence of their work that day.  Once that is complete, iPads and packets are turned in and they can do a book exchange.

The Results so Far

The difference in their involvement and degree of on task behavior has been incredible! They are much more aware of how much they are or aren’t getting down and much more likely to self correct the last few classes. They also seem to like being in charge of recording their progress. I’m amazed (and sold in incorporating it into more classes next year!).

Things I liked about this Portfolio Option

  • I loved that you can have students access Seesaw from either their email or a QR code. For my older students, I would like to use their email addresses because I can see this being a great way to help enforce that information and help them remember it earlier in the school year. For my younger students, I love the simplicity of the QR codes. I think I could teach even my K’s to do that without too much work!
  • I like that you can decide who has access to the student work. And not just if you’ll let parents and teachers have access but if the students can see each others work as well.
  • I like that you can turn the ability to comment on or off.
  • I liked that even work created with another app can be documented through Seesaw. As long as that app can export the contents as an image, video or PDF file, it can be imported into Seesaw.
  • I liked the variety of options for documenting learning. Since not all students learn the same way it’s nice that Seesaw gives them multiple options for documenting and sharing their learning.

Final thoughts on Librarians and Portfolio Development

One of the downsides to the free version of Seesaw is that the portfolios don’t really follow the students throughout their student career. However, as an elementary teacher, I don’t know that these projects following them through their career is really the most important part of keeping a digital portfolio in the lower grades. I think simply getting them use to the idea of recording their work and reflecting on it is powerful and sets them up for greater success when they get to the upper grades and do need to keep a portfolio that reflects multiple years of learning.

As librarians, we should absolutely be involved in their digital portfolio process. Digital portfolios teach them how to use technology for a larger purpose than fun and recreation and they help them connect and share with other students (possibly beyond their classroom/school). Using technology purposefully and as good digital citizens are key components of our library standards so those are great places for us to be involved in the portfolio process, as well as adding their library work to their portfolios.

I can’t wait to keep exploring this app further and expand the classes I use it with next year!

The 2012 Presidential Election for Kids

Another debate down, one more to go and before we all know it: ELECTION DAY will be here!

If you haven’t already started educating your students about how the election process works there’s still time. Here are some great sources to get you and them started (they even make great refreshers for those of us grownups that have trouble keeping it all straight-I’m looking at you electoral college):

1. USA Gov

USA Gov covers general education/topics about voting and elections, the electoral college, election history, elected officials and candidates, legislation and reform, organizations and agencies, and education materials for kids.

2. Scholastic Magazine Election 2012

Scholastic Magazine not only contains handy, easy to understand information about the election progress, it also contains interactive resources like The Electoral Challenge, The Electoral College Map, and On the Road to the White House that are sure to please, entertain  and educate students.

3. PBS Kids The Democracy Project

Another great, easy to understand, interactive way to learn about the election process and our democratic system. Kids can Step Inside the Voting Booth to learn more about voting, create their Own Campaign Poster, Be President for the Day, Meet the Candidates, and much more.

These are just a sampling of some of the resources available to help our students become excited, knowledgable citizens. Do you have other favorites? Share away in the comments section.

Until next time,


Cynthia Says….

Did you know that way back in 1999, the U.S. government established that ALL public and private school websites would need to be made web accessible, as in accessible to students with disabilities? If you didn’t, you’re not alone. Research shows that many schools are not in compliance with this directive (see the 1999 Journal of Special Education Technology Vol.24, number 2 for one example).

One quick way you can check your website for compliance is with Cynthia Says. Cynthia Says is fast, easy way to check how accessible your website is for users with disabilities.

From the Cynthia says main page, simply input the address of a website you want to test, and then click “Test your site”. Within seconds you’ll receive a report detailing what areas the site passed, what areas it failed, and in some cases the specific locations of areas that may need work.

For a more detailed explanation on how Cynthia Says works, there’s a video on YouTube you can watch for a demo.

For more information on how to make your website more accessible and what to look for before using a website with students, check out Project Enable’s “Evaluating Accessibility” page.

Bifocals & Buns had some areas that need improvement so I’ll be trying to address those as the site continues to expand and grow. What about you guys? Any plans to work on your site’s accessibility? Were you surprised with your site’s score? Share and share alike in the comments and I’ll see you all tomorrow.



Dead Drops

Whew, that was some cake hangover. I was not expecting to be out all last week but things got a bit crazy around here. Rest assured things are back to normal (all traces of cake and ice cream have been removed from the house) and I’ll be with you all this week like normal.

Now on with the show….

Have you guys heard of Dead Drops? Per the Dead Drops website, Dead Drops are “anonymous, offline, peer to peer file-sharing network in public space” (About Dead Drops, 2012). More specifically, a Dead Drop is a USB drive installed in a public space that anyone can access. Anyone can install a Dead Drop and anyone can take or leave files on a Dead Drop. The Dead Drops website includes instructions and tips on installing one as well as a searchable list of  Dead Drops locations around the world. If you are motivated to install a Dead Drop of your own be sure to contact to the Dead Drops website so it can be added to the master lists of Dead Drops locations.

What do you guys think? The part of me that enjoys GeoCaching and scavenger hunts think they sound interesting and fun. The obsessive compulsive, type A, control freak part of me thinks it would never use something so unmonitored (“what about the VIRUSES?!?”). While not technically a Dead Drop (since they have to be publicly accessible at all times) what do you think about installing one inside a school? Software like Turn It In should make concerns about essay sharing/cheating null and void. If the idea of giving students free reign to drop and pick up files is too nerve wracking, what about setting it up with a password so only teachers can drop files but anyone can pick them up (installing it in a school has already nullified its status as a true Dead Drop so why not take it one step further if it makes everyone feel more comfortable with the idea)? Teachers could leave little extra nuggets of information all around the school for their students. Perhaps the scavenger hunt feel will appeal to students as well and get them a little more interested in what is going on in the classroom…

Anyone have any experiences with Dead Drops they’d like to share? Anyone feeling bold and willing to try one if they happen upon it? Anyone thinking the Dead Drop with training wheels I described would be a great fit at their school? Share away in the comments.

See you tomorrow for Technology Tuesday,


Do These Things Come with Owners’ Manuals?

I’m sure you’ve heard the joke about babies/kids/teenagers not coming with an owner’s manual but, for a teacher and/or a school librarian, Edutopia may have the next best thing. Edutopia is a website supported by the George Lucas Educational Foundation and is devoted to bringing educators easy access to “what works in education.” One of the ways they bring you what works is by providing free educational downloads and classroom guides. To access the downloads an Edutopia account is required but signing up for one is free, fast and, easy.

They educational downloads cover a range of topics such as: Brain-Based Learning, Classroom Management Tips, Teaching with New Media, Summer Rejuvenation Guide, and Tips for Assessing Project Based Learning.

Try one, try them all but do give them a try. And if you do, feel free to tell me what you think.

One day closer to the weekend loves.

Until tomorrow,


Power (of) Play

I recently read an article in Marie Claire @ Play (a special supplement issue that came with my subscription over the summer) entitled “State of Play” by Joanne Chen. The article explores how more and more, research is showing that play is a key element in our lives. Play can make us happier and healthier. Taking time out of the work day for play can even make us more productive.

Chen’s article looked at four specific ways that play can make us all better works and even help us professionally:

  1. Play helps you focus-Research shows that our attention spans are cyclical and to get the most out of a day, we should schedule regular breaks.
  2. Play helps us bond-Games help us get to know each other and even help us develop social skills.
  3. Play makes us more creative-When we play games without any “right” answers we stimulate our imaginations and kickstart the brain storming, innovation process.
  4. Play helps us all get along-Research has shown play not only lowers stress levels (which makes us all easier to get along with) it encourages collaboration between people and makes for better, more productive work relationships.

The power of play can have similar effects for our students. In fact, children today need planned play breaks built in to their days more than ever. Have you seen some of their schedules? Today’s children have more packed in their schedules than ever (some have more on their plate than I do on a typical day!).

To further explore the power of play for our students and ourselves and for some great tips and ideas, check out the blogs Board Games with Scott and Because Play Matters also written by Scott Nicholson. Scott Nicholson is a professor at Syracuse University where he conducts “research on how to facilitate learning through games and play in non-classroom settings” as well as looking “at both the creation of transformative games and meaningful gamification” (Because Play Matters, About Scott Nicholson). Go to YouTube and check out Scott’s appearance on the CBS Sunday Morning.

Happy exploring and happy gaming everyone! Please feel free to share your own gaming tips and experiences using games in the classroom.




Think fast.

Should students be tweeting during class? Reading emails? Logging on to Facebook? Checking the news?

Chances are, you answered something to the effect of, “ABSOLUTELY NOT!”

I’d be inclined to agree with you too, especially after reading this article a few weeks ago from NPR. Shortly after that however, one of my classmates posted a link to this TED Talks video on Facebook and it made me reconsider my initial, knee jerk reaction.

On one hand, I agree with Barbara King (who wrote the NPR article) that students’ attentions can be compromised when split between lecture and the lure of technology at their fingertips.

On the other hand, as Lisa Nielsen (from the TED Talks video) points out, technology is a very real part of students’ lives. They are from a highly technological, gadget filled generation that learned to work a computer in Kindergarten. By contrast, computers didn’t become a regular part of my educational experience until high school. I didn’t even own one until college. I’m not even to an age where I could be the mother of a high school or even upper middle school student and the difference between the world they have grown up in and the one I did is markedly different. So while it may be difficult for myself and other, even older educators to comprehend, these students are use to and (contrary to how it seems sometimes) quite adept at multitasking.

One of the first classes I took for my grad program was taught by the head of the department. I can still remember my surprise when he not only encouraged us to bring knitting and crocheting with us if we were so inclined, he also encouraged tweeting during the lecture. He assigned a hashtag for our class and even had Tweetdeck open on his laptop right on the lectern podium. Throughout the lecture he would peek at his Twitter feed and address any questions or comments that came up as he went. He monitored it after class as well making it a great way to contact him for questions and concerns that popped up later. It became a great resource for all of us and I still knit when listening to audio or video lectures to this day.

Of course, this example is from the graduate level and one could argue that undergrad students, teens, and especially tweens aren’t ready for that kind of technology freedom in the classroom. (Although in my experience kids will often rise up to the challenge and surprise you when presented with the opportunity to be more responsible). In the end, each of us needs to run our classrooms they way we see fit, the way that allows us to be the best educator we can be for our students. If for some of us that means sticking to “traditional” ways of teaching and declining to use and allow social tools in the classroom that is fine. But (you knew there was going to be a but didn’t you) expelling social networking tools and other technologies from the classroom shouldn’t be a knee jerk reaction. Before committing to that decision, take some time to explore the tools available and consider if some of them might not make a valuable addition to your curriculum and your classroom. Then include them in whatever way you feel is best (even if that means in no way at all).



Have any technology faves you’d like to share? How about tips and tricks for incorporating them into the classroom? 

Technology Tuesday-Schoology

First things first: Apologies for leaving you hanging yesterday. I had to run the dog to the vet (again-she had a procedure done and I’m going every other day to have her bandages changed) and had two other appointments of my own and the day just got away from me.

Now, let’s explore another interesting technology together shall we? I subscribe to the AASL’s tip of the day email (if you don’t already I highly recommend it) and yesterday’s tip was about cultivating back to school collaborations. One of the technologies briefly mentioned in the email was Schoology. Having never heard of Schoology before I instantly hopped online to look it up.

Verdict? Definitely worth sharing with all of you.

As you can see from the overview screenshot, Schoology offers  a few great features such as: managing your lessons, finding intriguing resources, interacting with your students, fellow teachers, and parents, posting assignments, posting tests or quizzes, and hosting discussions. Schoology even allows you to keep track of how students are doing with nifty charts and graphs.

Setting up a Schoology account and your Schoology profile takes mere minutes and afterwards they walk you through a quick introductory tour to get you started.

Now let’s use my account to show you how the introductory tour works. When you log into your account, there will be a link to click on to start the tour: 

The first leg of the tour shows you where/how to add courses to your account:

The second leg of the tour shows you how to add or join groups in Schoology:

Leg three points out where to go to for additional resources:

The fourth, fifth and, sixth legs of our tour explain the navigation options in the upper right hand side of the screen:

The seventh part of the tour explains your Schoology calendar:

The eighth leg explains the recent activity center a bit further and the final section of the tour shows you where to get further assistance with Schoology:

One of my favorite features I discovered while exploring Schoology is their App Center:

The App Center offers a few cool apps to use with students:

I was especially impressed to see that the Concept Bank and ScootPad Apps utilized the Common Core.

All in all, Schoology seems to have a lot to offer and could be a great addition to your educator toolbox. Check it out and let me know what you think.

Until tomorrow,


Homework Help….For Parents

On my way to the vet’s this morning I happened upon the John Tesh Intelligence for Your Life Radio show just as he was discussing how to help kids with their homework. John offered the following tips for parents (find the full transcript here):

  • First, talk to the teacher about a tutoring session for you. Teachers say that most parents are too embarrassed to admit they can’t do 7th grade math, or worse, 4th grade vocabulary words. Some teachers can provide CD tutorials, or give you access to websites for the curriculum they use in class. They might even point you to textbook websites, which have special sections designed to help parents help their kids.
  • Another homework tip: Plug math problems into Google. You’ll probably find a website that’ll give you the answer, and tell you how to get it.
  • You can also find instructions, practice problems, and refresher videos on websites like A Better Answer, TeacherTube, and
  • And you can buy used copies of most teacher’s edition textbooks on Amazon. Teacher’s editions provide the answers, and show you how to explain it to your child. And it’s not cheating, as long as you don’t just feed your kids the answers.

I thought John’s ideas were simple and effective but they get me thinking: wouldn’t these tips be even better as the basis for a library program? The first month of school the librarian could work with teachers to find out what they will be teaching and when this year (something we should be doing anyway), find out what textbooks they are using, ask what other resources they recommend and put together an information night for parents.

The information night could debrief parents on what their kids will be learning and when and show them what resources are available to help them help their kids. Before the information night the librarian could identify teachers willing to provide tutoring sessions and even arrange for them to be available at the event. The librarian could create a resources cheat sheet to hand out to parents that also lists teachers willing to tutor and their preferred contact information and/or create a parents’ resources section on the library webpage.

If the budget allows maybe the library could obtain teacher editions of the textbooks being used in classes and make them available for parents to check out. Perhaps if a teacher has several parents that request tutoring sessions the library could be used as a meeting space for those sessions? Maybe the event could even be held quarterly to keep parents up to date on what their children (and they) will be working on each marking period?

What do you think of the librarian running a homework help event and/or program? What other ways do you provide parents with assistance in understanding and helping their children’s schoolwork?

Thanks for reading and I’ll see you tomorrow.



Excerpt from John Tesh Intelligence for Your Life radio show from here: