Friday, August 23, 2013

An Inspiring Friend

More often than not this blog shares stories of what I am doing with my students in the classroom as a way for me to process and reflect. There are a few "how to" posts thrown in as well with the hopes of helping others master a skill I've found useful to have.  But today my post has nothing, or every thing to do with teaching. It certainly has impacted me in ways I'll never truly be able to describe.  It's about my friend Tammy.

Tammy and I met in 2003 after we both signed up for our first Ironman races. As you can imagine signing up for an Ironman is a serious commitment and training for one demands a lot of your personal time.  To add a bit of purpose to my training  I applied to be a part of a program called Iron Child. At the time it was a mentor/fund raising program that matches up first time Ironman athletes, with children dealing with chronic illness.  Tammy, who at the time had I never met before, also applied to the program and both of us were accepted. That is where our friendship began.

Tammy and I on a training ride the day we received our Iron Child race day clothing.
You have to understand at the time when we met the only thing we had in common was triathlon.  Tammy and her young family lived in Surrey, and I was single and living in Vancouver. Without the Iron Child program I doubt we would have ever met.

As it turned out Tammy didn't live too far from the school that I worked at and so we started doing some mid week training together. We rode inside and out, chatted, walked, and ran some too. Along the way our friendship became stronger and stronger.  I listened as she talked about how she organized care for her children so she could be out training, and she listened to me talk about some of the challenges I was having with my class. Our friendship continue to grow.

Me and my wonderful Iron Child ladies.
Tammy and her wonderful Iron Child ladies
By the time August 2004 Ironman race rolled around Tammy and I were very good friends.  I was blessed to have her in my life.  Our year of training together paid off and we were able to celebrate one another's accomplishments. She was a huge part of what got me through the training, and together we made it fun.

Tammy and I post Ironman 2004 Iron Child celebration banquet.

In 2005 we took the year off from racing Ironman but continued to train together. I continued to see her regularly even though we had no big goals, except a half ironman race.  In Aug 2005 together we signed up for our second Ironman race for the summer of 2006.  Training began and we continued to train with one another when ever we could make it work. We completed a half ironman race together in early June.  In mid June Tammy was helping out a friend who has interested in signing up for an Ironman but didn't yet know how to swim well.  This friend asked Tammy if she'd do the swim portion of the race which in Tammy style she said, "sure".

The day before the race Tammy went out for a bike ride on her own.  That was the day her life changed for ever.  While riding, Tammy was hit by a car travelling at full speed.  While I may not have the exact details correct I think she cracked her skull, fractured her neck, and shattered a leg. When rushed to the emergency in Victoria they were surprised she had survived the impact and tribute her survival to her incredible fitness at the time.  Tammy is a fighter.

It was a few days before she was stable enough to be moved back to a trauma hospital in the Vancouver area.  It was bad, really really bad and the saddest, hardest thing for me to see.  Here was my very good friend Tammy, my training partner, my confidant, barely alive in a hospital bed.

At the time they doubted she'd ever be able to do another triathlon again. The damage was too severe and the goal was to get her functioning well enough to allow her to be independent again. Tammy had none of this nonsense though. From day one she was determined to race in another Ironman.

A little extra motivation for Tammy standing next to the lead female vehicle a couple years later.
Fast forward seven years. In these past seven years Tammy has been to zillions of appointments around her health and her recovery and to this day she continues to regain her body back.  But the thing is Tammy is a fighter. She is one of the most determined people I know. Lying half alive in her hospital bed Tammy set herself a goal to do another Ironman, despite the fact that so many were telling her it wouldn't be possible with her new body.

Along the way I watched Tammy learn how to walk again, how to read, how to handle light and sounds. I watched her do what ever she could to regain her brain, and body strength.  Tammy had many set backs, but she continued to pick herself up deal with what needed to be dealt with. She stayed focussed and determined.

So why am I telling you this story?

On Sunday, Tammy will be completing her second Ironman.  She HAS come back stronger than ever. I cry just typing that sentence because I know what she has gone through.  She has taught me so much about determination and perseverance, something we all need to reach our goals.

Rows, and rows of transition bags for Ironman athletes.
Tammy is an incredible woman who has faced odds most of us would never have the strength to deal with. She is truly inspiring. So this Sunday, August 25th please do me a favour and think about my friend Tammy. Think about her giving her very best proving to the entire world that any thing is possible!

Bikes in transition ready for the Ironman athletes to ride them.

On Sunday I hope Tammy will race happy, race strong, and enjoy every minute of her day! While I can't physically be at the race site with her - it's my nephew's bar mitzvah - I will be with her in spirit every swim stroke, bike pedal, and run.  I could not be more proud!

Monday, August 12, 2013

August 10 for 10 Picture Book Event - A Few Days Late

I've been reading all the posts up for the 10 for 10 picture book event and in doing so I've been inspired to write my own.  I find this a difficult task though as I like a lot of books for a lot of different reasons.  You should ask my students. I often say, "oh, this is one of my favourite books to read". I say that a lot.  So in no particular order, and being removed from my books at the moment as they are all waiting to be unpacked at my new school I present my 10 for 10 a few days late:

Little Blue and Little Yellow by Leo Leoni

This book has been around for a very long time but it is still one that almost brings me to tears every time I read it. I love the friendship that these two have and how together they become one.  I love hearing how my students think they will solve their problem, and then we are all surprised by the way that they have. It's a wonderful heart warming book.

The Incredible Book Eating Boy by Oliver Jeffers 

I love how this boy eats every book in sight and then has a problem because of it.  The surprise ending on the back cover always puts a smile on my face

Boy + BOT by Ame Dyckman

I love the interaction and friendship between Boy + Bot but I also love Ame Dyckman.  As a children's author she has gone above and beyond with her interactions my grade one students. She's a real gem.

Stanley Paste by Aaron Blabey

Stanley Paste, the shortest child in the class, is someone most can identify with. When Stanley meets his friend, completely opposite in size to him, things changes so wonderfully for both of them.  It's a wonderful story about friendship and embracing who you are.

No David by David Shannon

As a grade one teacher how could I not love No, David!  My students eat it up year after year. They can easily relate to David. It's a great book for classroom discussions and problem solving.

Yo! Yes? by Chris Raschka

 A real favourite for the use of punctuation in a powerful way.  Friendship is the key focus of this book and it's wonderful to read how their friendship gets stronger just through simple one word dialogue.   It's a great book for my students to act out.

Because Amelia Smiled by David Ezra Stein

The first time I read this to a student was during one on one time with a student who was very upset. The book was the perfect thing that put a smile on his face, and then we talked about how his smile will positively effect those around them, and so on, and so on.  It made my students more mindful of their own behaviours and how they positively influence others.  It was great to hear the discussions that spontaneously came out from it.

Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins by Eric Kimmel

Being Jewish, and owning all the props mentioned in this story, is just two reasons why I love this book so much.  I love the suspense that is build up in the story and even though it's a very long read aloud, my grade one students seem to love hearing it. I love how it teaches many of the traditions related to Hanukkah as well.  It is a book that I share every year around Hanukkah.
Exclamation Mark by Ame Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld

I love, love, love this book for so many reasons.  I love how it makes punctuation so entertaining and easy to figure out. I love how simple the story is but how powerful it is.  It's certainly a class favourite.
Can I Play Too? by Mo Willems

To be honest I love all the Elephant and Piggie, and Pigeon books by Mo Willems but this one in particular has me laughing and crying all the time. I love how snake is so determined to play catch but without any arms and legs it's really not that easy to do.  And just when you think everyone has given up they come up with the perfect plan to include snake in the game of catch.  It's a heart warming story that helps my students realize that if we look hard enough there is a fair and reasonable solution to all problems.

*All images have been take from and full credit belongs to the author's of these books.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Something I'm Thinking About - Accessibility

As you can probably imagine my time at the Apple Institute is still resonating through me. I'm not sure if I mentioned in my first post about ADE but one of the sessions we all went to was on accessibility presented by Sarah Herrlinger.  We also heard  Luis Perez , a legally blind photographer, talk about accessibility and it's still ringing around in my head.

 Hearing Luis talk about ways Apple technology has helped him made me realize that there are things that I can do for others that will help make their lives a bit easier too. You see Luis can't see well and for a photographer that is something you need to do to take pictures.  But technology is pretty amazing and he has apps that help him with his photo taking.  You must check out his blog.

I was also tweeting with Will Chamberlain about accessibility and he had some great ideas for me too, many of which I have included here as well. He also suggested I check out Ira Socol's blog.  He also shared his class blog which has many accessibility features built into it as well.

So what can I do as a blogger to help others access my blog?  First off I added the translation widget to my blog.  Why not allow those who don't speak English be able to read my blog too.  While I don't know how great the translation is I'm hoping at least my message is getting out to others.

The other thing I've started to do is make sure to add writing to all the images I add to the blog.  You see when you're blind you can't see the image but with a device like an iPad it can read the description of the image.  It takes very little extra time for me to add these titles but it opens up a world to a blind reader.

I also looked into having a text to voice feature added to my blog.  I was given a couple of suggestions of some good ones but I couldn't seem to get any of them to work for my purpose.  But then after talking with Luis a bit more he reminded me that Apple technology, particularly iPads will read text to a blind reader.

As I create my chapter as part of my ADE responsibility I've also been exploring adding closed captioning to the videos I add.  Everyone doesn't need closed captioning but it would be great to have it for those who do need it.  I haven't done it yet on this blog but it is something I think I could do.  I just need to figure out if a deaf reader can actually turn on closed captioning on blogger. I'm curious if any one knows if this is possible.  It is possible when you create books with iBook Author so it is a feature I have added to my book.

Will and I also talked about type text contrast.  While I haven't revamped my entire blog I am hoping the grey on white is okay.  If it's not please let me know and I'll see what I can do to change that.

As I dive more into accessibility I'll try to share more of what I'm learning.  In the mean time in addition to Luis and Ira's blog posts shared above  here is a blog post to better accessibility to blind readers.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Using an iPad in Grade One - More Ideas One Year Later

About a year ago I wrote a blog post around screen shots I took from my iPad.  There I talked about some of the apps that we were using in my grade one class to learn, show, and share our learning.  I also tried to link out to class blog posts or student blog posts to illustrate exactly what I was referring to. This year my students had a lot more choice in how they learned, often making their own decisions on what tools they wanted to use.   Because my students have so much choice I figured I'd share some screen shots again and talk about some of the  ways they've been using their iPads in class.  I hope this is helpful for others.

Productivity apps found on my students' iPads.
Double click any image to see them more clearly.

Dropbox has once again been a great way to share things between iPads such as photos or co-created books.  When we made our group book for our We Can See project it was the easiest way to collect all the individual photos off of the iPads.  We also used dropbox when we worked with Mrs. van Rees' class when we created our own version of Good New Bad News Stories.  In addition we used it when we co-created books with high school students.  It really was an invaluable tool for my students since we don't have e-mail on our class iPads.  

Qrafter was another valuable tool that my students used regularly.  Whenever we had shared photos of images from say, a field trip, that my students needed to access, I would create a QR code so that they could access them from their iPads via Qrafter.  From there they could download them to their own iPads and use them in their blog posts.  We also used Qrafter to access Today's Meet rooms which we used to collaborate with other students. We used Qrafter to access our padlets too for collaborative or whole class brainstorming and idea sharing.

Twitter is the third app in this folder that we used a lot.  Each iPad has our class twitter account logged into it. It was used as a choice for reading, or to learn or share learning with the world.  

A Screen Shot of the Story Making App Folder

Story making is another set of popular apps that we used but each year different apps are popular with different classes.  This year my class used five apps in this folder more often then the others.  In no particular order they were as follows.

My Story - many students loved this app because they could draw, write, and record their stories.  To share the stories on their blogs the students took screen shots, then imported those screen shots into an   app that recorded voice, then put those into iMovie to created mini book movies. They did this for many of the books that they made.

Comic Life - this was a popular app particularly with the boys during their "Pokemon" adventures.  Several of my boys wanted to create comics with their pokemon cards so this was the perfect app for them.

Pic Collage - this was a great app for so many different reasons. It's a really easy to use picture collage creating app that allows you to add text.  My students used it to create 2D 3D shape posters and to share living and non living things.  We often used it to tweet several pictures at the same time to give a feel for what we were really up to.

Book Creator - this app was used a ton this year particularly when we figured out that books could be created on different iPads, then through the use of dropbox, combined together.  As mentioned above it was used when we co-created books with our high school buddies. It was also used during our animal research projects where different students worked on the came animal book and then used the features in Book Creator to combined books.  I hope we can co-create more often with other children around the world.

Haiku Deck - we started to use Haiku Deck right near the end of the year. It was so easy for my students to figure out and the created some really great "Canadian Symbols" decks.  I can see them  using this a whole lot more next year to write stories from their images or to share facts about animals.

A Screen Shot of the Show and Tell App Folder
Show and Tell Apps are very popular apps in our classroom. My students use them all the time to show their learning and talk about what they are learning.  Once again in no particular order here are some of their favourites with samples of how they used them.

Skitch - Skitch is an app that allows you to annotate images.  My students quite liked this app when they wanted to label their work - whether it be math, word work, or science. It was their go to app for basic image labelling.

Popplet- This app allows you to create webs. The best part about the app is you web can include pictures that you draw right with in it, images that you up load from an iPad camera roll, or words. It was used to show comprehension, share facts about winter, and animals research.

Educreations - This is a simple white board app similar to Screen Chomp, and Show Me.  This app was most popular of the three because it provided my students with an embedding code which they quickly and independently add to their individual blogs. My students often used this app to show their mathematical thinking or word work.

Draw and Tell - If I were to say the app that my students used the most it would have to be Draw and Tell. They use it when they want to add voice to their work. They used the stickers to created math number stories or patterns. They used it for word work over and over again.  One of the cool things about Draw and Tell is that if you're talking about an image and you touch the screen as you record a blue pointer shows up.  It's also very early childhood friendly with super easy to use drawing tools. It's an ideal tool for a k/1 student

Explain Everything is also used in our class but I have to admit the drawing tools are not particularly enticing to my grade one students.  The potential for this app is huge though as it does much of things that the other apps do but all in one app.  My students used it when they created shapes around our classroom mini movies.

A Screen Shot of the Word Work App Folder
Word work is done in so many different ways in my classroom.  The key is that my students play with letters and words to create words.  Each child seems to have a few favourite tools and the tools tend to change as the year progresses too.  The three most popular word work apps in my classroom include Magnetic ABC  (which is interesting since we have lot of real magnet letters), Word Wizard, and Touch Write.  I think the draw to Magnetic ABC is that you can easily change the colours of the letters and there are some background options as well.  Word Wizard is a fantastic app because it makes the letter sounds for each letter you chose and it blends letters together to read full words.  Touch Write I think is just fun for my students. They are able to add their word wall words easily and love the tools for practicing them such as chocolate frosting or whipped cream.

A Screen Shot of the Spelling App Folder
During word work time some of my students love to use Chicktionary and Rocket Speller to learn the spelling words of their choice.  Chicktionary is all about creating words from the letters that are available.    It interesting to see my student manipulate letters to create new words.

A Screen Shot of the Fine Arts App Folder

The fine arts apps aren't used as often as perhaps I would like but then again my students learn with real instruments and art tools. However Doodle Buddy and Draw Stars are two popular apps they use to create letters to play with words.

A Screen Shot of the Science App Folder
Again while my students have several apps in the Science folder the most popular ones were Discovery Ed and Pocket Zoo HD. These apps were used for research over and over again when they were learning about animals.  The other app that is in this folder that my students loved when I taught them about calling 911 in an emergency is Dial Safe Pro.  This app is great to help students learn what will happen on the phone if they ever have to call.  With headsets on  my students listened and answered the questions the "dispatch" was asking them.  If 911 safety is part of your curriculum I highly recommend this app. It's a great way for kids to feel comfortable about calling 911 and knowing what to expect when they do.

A Screen Shot of the Math App Folder
My students do have a folder of math games but I must admin after the early months in the school year my students rarely return to these apps for learning.  Some of the favourites early on were Find Sums, Math Bingo, and Hungry Fish. If you're wondering how they did their math digitally, check back on the apps that I refer to as "Show and Tell" apps.  These apps allowed my students to illustrate their number, pattern, and shape math knowledge in a far more personalize manner.

A Screen Shot of the Board Game App Folder
While my students have some games on their iPads Where's My Water and Kodable were two favourites.  Depending on the student some also liked to code with Cargo-Bot. Hopscotch was downloaded on some iPad apps too, but it wasn't used much. Coding was pretty new to my students in the final term.

A Screen Shot of the Photograph App Folder

While there are several apps in this folder iMovie was by far the most popular app.  My students made movies all the time as a way to show their learning. They created books, math videos, movies about Halloween costumes and so much more.  It's super easy for the to use independently. They can record right in it and add music too.  One thing that my students didn't really like was the Ken Burns effect which is automatic when you add images.  They found that it often cut off their text. While they could fix is, they often choose to add their voice in Draw and Tell, then add those short videos to create their movies.  They discovered that when you add movies vs images you don't have to deal with Ken Burns effects. 

Now how could I forget those important apps that sit on the shelf at the bottom of the iPad. The KidBlog app has been a total game changer in my class this year.  My students use this app all the time to upload and share their learning with the world.  The app is so easy for them to use and it has made their individual blogs and digital portfolios that much more rich.

The camera and camera roll are also vital features for my students as they are key in helping them document and save their documentation.  My students also have quick access with a direct link to our class blog, and to the internet with the Safari app.   They use these five tools  (KidBlog app, camera, direct link to class blog, photos, and Safari) all the time for learning.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Using Green Screen Technology

This past school year I've been watching some of my teaching friends use green screen technology with their classes. These include Diana Williams and her amazing KIVA Ninja Video, Kristen Wideen and her Nuffle Bunny Adventures, and Kathy Cassidy sharing First Nations learning. It was something I wanted to try with my class as well, and finally right near the end of the school year we did it too.

At the time my class had been studying about Canada, and more specifically symbols of Canada. What better way to share what we were learning than with a green screen project.  For this project my students selected a Canadian symbol, were filmed in front of a green screen talking about the symbol, and then the video clips and images about the specific symbols were put together using advanced features in iMovie.  It was actually pretty easy to do.  Let me explain in a bit more detail.

First off you need a green screen for filming.  I used the most basic green screen I could find - large green paper off the roll of paper that we have hanging around in our hallways.  I know Kathy used green plastic table clothes that she purchased at the dollar store (just make sure they aren't too thin so the items behind them don't come through).  Others have used green fabric draped from the ceiling to the ground.  The trick is that it's chroma key green.

My green screen, simple green paper from a large paper roll.

Next you need to film your students speaking in front of the green screen. The key though is that no other background is in the footage.  I had some older students come and help me film but I couldn't use any of their footage because some of the regular wall was showing in the footage.  You also need to check out your lighting.  When I filmed we were at the end of the hallway with a glass door leading to the outside right beside us.   It turns out it was too bright on my student's faces so I had to cover up the light.  There was however enough light from the hallway itself.  Sometimes though if where you're filming is too dark you'll have to add light to your subjects.  I'm no professional photographer here but it is something to be aware of. This filming could easily be done by a student.

It's actually a good idea that before you start filming that you have an idea of which image (or video) will eventually be on the green screen so that you can position the student in the just right spot for filming.  In addition it's really important that your student not wear green (or yellow or blue for that matter) because that part of them will act just like the green screen itself and it will be blended right into the background.  I learned this the hard way but it was pretty cool to have one of my students fade into the maple leaf background, and another to have a movie playing on her head band.  It was a learning experience for me too.

Once you have your background and green screen images all together it's time to move into iMovie.  Unfortunately green screening is not yet possible on the iPad version of iMovie but it is possible on iMovie for your Apple desktop or laptop.  The key is finding this feature when you're in iMovie.  To do this under the iMovie tab at the top of your screen click down to where it says preferences. Then make sure you check "Show Advanced Tools".  This opens up a ton of other really cool iMovie features which you may not have know existed. It's also where you find the green screen feature.

Where to find your iMovie preferences.
Where to turn on advanced features.

With advanced features turned on it's time to get started.  First add the background image. After trial and error I ended up adding them one at a time. Background image, then green screen footage.  It was easier for me to do it this way so that I didn't get too far ahead of myself and I could match the length of time the image (or video) was being played to the green screen footage.  But I get ahead of myself.  Once the background image is added to iMovie drag the green screen footage directly on top of the background image.  This (when advanced features is turned on) will open up a screen with many options to choose from , one being green screen.  Click that. Then adjust your image so it's the same length as your video and you've done it.  Repeat the process over and over again until all the clips have become official "green screened" clips with the background images replacing the green screen.  Of course if you have a long video footage and you want to have a few backgrounds flash behind during the footage that's no problem either, Just drag them into place like you would for one image and drag the green screen footage on top.

Drag the green screen video op top of an image and the advanced features menu will show just like in this image.

Then proceed as you normally would with iMovie and create your own video.  Here's my first attempt at using green screen technology with my students.  As you can see there are still a few errors but it was a great learning experience for me and my students.  I'd love to see how you are using green screen technology too.


Friday, August 2, 2013

Using Twitter in a Primary Classroom

A student composing a tweet.
It's funny, I've been using twitter a fair bit with my students this past year but as I went to find a post about it to share with a colleague on twitter I discovered I've never actually blogged about it. It's time to fix that.

My class and I have used twitter as an incredible connecting, sharing, and learning tool.  We've used it for many different purposes and the reality is there is always another way we could be using it. The great thing about Twitter is that it's one of the easiest ways to bring the world into your classroom.  It's available for access from almost every where in the world.  Tweets can be left at any time zone but you can check them when it is convenient for you. It doesn't hurt that it's engaging, and often the feedback is instant for my students.  Nothing like sending an author a tweet and five minutes later she's writing you back.  But I'll get more into that a bit later.

 To begin with I've created a class twitter account at @MsLsClass. As class this is where we tweet from.  Since my students are only six and seven they are far too young to have their own account so any tweet they ever write has to go through me before it goes live to the world.  Sometimes I have to admit it's a bit of a pain, particularly when we are back channelling at the same time, but my students understand why and I know it's my responsibility.  Thankfully, most of the time a quick glance by me, it is after all 140 characters or less, I can quickly say , "tweet away".

But what do we tweet?  The simplest thing to tweet is what is happening in our classroom at any given moment. What are we learning? What can we share with the world? Often we'll be in the middle of some cool discoveries and some one will say, "Ms. L, can we share this with the world?"  A tweet is then quickly written, or an image is taken, and it's shared with the world. It's a great way for the parents to know what's going on in the classroom at the exact time a tweet is being sent.

Other times we use twitter for specific purposes. In fact we actually create our own hashtags so that all our learning can go to the same place and others can join in on our fun too.  This past year we used it for math a couple of times. The first time we tweeted to #2d3dshapes where we gave clues about two and three dimensional objects hoping others would try to answer our clues.  So for example some one in the class tweeted, "I look like a can, I have two circle faces, what am I?" Other children answered our tweets and provided us with clues to figure out too, which we did.

Math Tweets
 (double click this and all other images to better read the tweets)  

This term we also tweeted out math story problems to the hashtag #mathstory which we created as a class.  Here we would share number stories with the hopes that other children would respond back to them and share some math stories with us too.  This hashtag was extremely popular but the most unexpected bonus was that when people responded to my students tweets, they showed them how they solved the problems.  While that's great, the real power was in the fact that so many children solved the exact same problem in so many different ways.  Some sent us images of their drawings, some sent us number sentences and number stories.  Many different types of mathematical thinking was being shared with my class which opened up my students to so many different ways to solve their number stories. And yes, as their teacher I did show them many different ways too but it was cool to see the answers come back to us in so many different ways.  Of course as their teacher it was great to see them excited to answer other students math stories too.

We also used twitter this year to connect with people.  The thing with twitter is that you can direct a tweet to a specific person.  In one case we tweeted Ame Dyckman, a wonderful children's author.  We read her book Boy + Bot and really liked it and wanted to tell her such.  So we did, through my twitter account.  She then got a hold of me and sent some special treats for my student who wanted to tweet her to thank her.  This time instead of using my twitter account we used our class twitter account.  Each student wrote their own tweet to her thanking her for the gifts, asking her questions, and or talking about her book. The best part was that Ame tweeted every one of them back. I can assure you that was a day of smiles in my classroom.  It's pretty powerful when a six and seven year old writes something to someone they look up to and that person takes the time to respond back to them.  Here are some of those tweets, and some of Ame's responses.

My class tweeting Ame Dyckman

Ame Dyckman tweeting my students back.

We also used twitter when we were learning about voice. Using the characters from Little Red Riding Hood we pretended to be one of them and tweeted out in their voice.

My students tweeting in the voice of characters from Little Red Riding Hood.

Just like the adults in a professional development conference my students have also used twitter to back channel.  Discover Education puts on some great live streaming sessions.  At one point this year we watched one from an aboriginal community in Canada.  As we were watching my students were tweeting out their key learning points with other children to a specific hashtag. Not only was it a great way for them to synthesis their thinking, but it was also a great way to review what we had all learned but rereading the hashtag we had created.

Sometimes we don't start out with the intention of using twitter but our conversations end up there as well.  At one point this past year we were learning about the number ten.  It was written about on our class blog and Mrs. Cassidy's class saw the blog post.  They wrote us back a comment and quickly we replied to their comment. But we were worried because we weren't sure if they would know that we had replied back to their comment so.... we tweeted them instead.  My students know that when you put the @ symbol in front of a specific person, or in this case a class name, the tweet will go into their mentions section and so they will get a notification.  As you can see by the conversation in the image below they got our tweeted and responded back.  It was a great way to learn with children a couple 1000 km away.

A blog conversation moves into the realm of twitter.

Another benefit we've had with using twitter in the classroom is that other people learn about us and come and visit the class and student blogs.  It's a great way to make new connections and expand on learning. 

I do have some tips on using twitter in the classroom too.  The first one is that's it's really important to inform your students' families that you'll be using twitter for learning.  The reality is as much as I know how we can use twitter so often tweet ideas just pop into our heads when we least expect them.  I try to be clear that we are using twitter as a tool for learning. I ensure my students' parents that we will never tweet last names and if we tweet a photo there will be no names attached to it.  I also let them know that I approve every tweet that goes up.  Student safety is very important to me.

Now I've mentioned that my class twitter account is @MsLsClass and I think some of you may have gone out to follow them.  Here's the thing though, we may not follow you back.  My students read what is in our class twitter feed and so I need to be very careful with what I let them read.  Right now we follow a handful of primary classes and some pretty cool people like Chris Hadfield.  But we don't follow many others.  If we connect with you as a class in another space - maybe we joined the Primary Blogging Community with you, or we did a collaborative project with you, then it's more likely we will follow you.  But if you start using your class account to retweet non kid related posts the chances are we will unfollow you.  Nothing personal but I do need to keep my students safe.


Some of you are probably wondering how we get people to join the conversations on the hashtags we create.  The first thing is that I, as their teacher, am a connected educator.  This means that I do have connections to some really amazing primary teachers. So when I send them a tweet saying what my class is up to on twitter they will often join in the fun.  But if you're new and your network is small it's just as easy to let a hashtag such as #1stchat or #2ndchat know what you're up to.  Then you may find people from there coming to join in on your conversations.  The key though is that if you are using twitter with your class you really should be using it professionally too. Why make your students do something you're not willing to do yourself? The same goes with blogging by the way, but that is a whole other post.

Another thing you need to be aware of is when you create a hashtag it's a good idea to make sure no one else is using it for a different purpose already.  This happened to me once this year. Thankfully there were no inappropriate tweets to the hashtag but a different hashtag was quickly created for our purpose.

I hope these few ideas will help you give using twitter a try in your classroom this fall too.  It really is a great way to learn with others.

Curious to learn more? Check out this EduSlam where I am featured talking about using Twitter in an Elementary classroom.