Beth Holland

Food for thought…

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Yes! Use Cardboard!

A few weeks ago, I published a post about Cardboard Box Tools on Edutopia. The premise behind the article was the idea that children love to play with cardboard boxes because they are empty. A box could become anything, only limited by the child’s imagination. Therefore, when teachers start looking for apps or tools to use with students, one approach would be to seek out the digital equivalent: tools that are open ended, empty, and only limited by how the student chooses to use them. This morning, Simcha Schaum (@SimchaSchaum) tweeted the following:

I don’t disagree and thank Simcha for taking the time to raise the question. Actual cardboard could absolutely be used – and probably should be. Where the digital versions have value is in how the extend the audience and context of the physical boxes.

Cardboard Box + Explain Everything (iOS and Android)

One of my favorite things about Explain Everything is that it can be used to record and annotate on top of images as well as video. Students could create with cardboard, take pictures or video, and then annotate on top of that new media. This would allow them to offer reflections, explain their creative process, or archive their physical project – at some point, these projects will probably end up in a recycling bin… Additionally, incorporating Explain Everything can further extend the context of the literal cardboard box as students post their images or video online to share with others.

Cardboard Box + ThingLink (iOS and Web)

With ThingLink, students can create touchable images. Why not incorporate technology as a way to document the process or explain the design thinking behind the physical cardboard box creation. Students could take pictures of their cardboard projects and then add tags to explain design elements, offer up reflections, link to other images or videos to offer additional information, and share their creations with the world.

Cardboard Box + Padlet (any device)

One of my favorite uses of Padlet is to create a digital gallery. Imagine a digital museum exhibit of all of the students’ cardboard creations! Students could display their work, and even have an opportunity to offer comments, suggestions, or feedback on the work of their peers.

The Role of the Real World in a Digital Classroom

Last spring, Greg Kulowiec (@gregkulowiec) and I co-authored this post to explore the relationship between the physical and the digital. We realized that when talking with teachers about bringing mobile devices into their classrooms, they often express concerns that connections to the physical world are being sacrificed by over-emphasizing the digital. We didn’t disagree. While I realize that my Edutopia post described ways in which to incorporate digital tools into the curriculum, that is not to say that there isn’t immense value in having students create in the physical world. Where the digital comes into play may be in how it allows for editing, remixing, improving and publishing. However, that is not to say that the physical world plays any less of a significant role.


Book Creator + Tellagami = eBooks with UDL Supports!

Strange things keep me awake sometimes, and last night it was Tellagami. Some of my EdTechTeacher colleagues love Tellagami. Sure, I can create a talking avatar. It can speak with my own voice if I record audio or via text-to-speech. However, I just found it sort of flat. I get that I could use it for App Smashing and have a mini-virtual me travel in and out of screencasts. In fact, Greg Kulowiec (@GregKulowiec) wrote an amazing post this week about Green Screen App Smashing with it.  But honestly, until about 4am, I just didn’t get it.

I get it!

When teaching, one of my favorite web tools was the CAST Book Builder. Teachers could create their own custom content and then employ animated coaches to ask thought provoking questions, support prediction making, and scaffold concepts. What if I could do the same thing by combining Tellagami and Book Creator?!

Imagine writing a story and then using Tellagami to ask thought provoking questions to guide students through comprehension, or creating an interactive math book that includes characters to remind students of steps and processes. What if social studies teachers included characters with digital artifacts to read excerpts of speeches or documents that may be above reading level. Science teachers could have Tellagami coaches ask questions about the content to encourage students to make hypotheses. Foreign Language teachers may provide translation support or additional information about cultural references.

While voice-over narration is possible – and could be another way to provide differentiated content – incorporating these talking avatars could be more for learning support as well as enrichment.

Ok, I get it now…..

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KISS Take #2 – iSolveIt Apps

A few weeks ago, I wrote about having a “no duh” moment. On Thursday, at the MassCUE conference, I had another one…..

Though I had previously glanced at the FREE iSolveIt apps for iPad – MathSquared and MathCubed – I did not fully appreciate the beauty of them until I attended the session presented by  Mindy JohnsonBoo Murray, and Garron Hillaire.

Keeping It Shockingly Simple – why these apps are amazing

Mindy, Boo, and Garron explained the thinking behind these two apps. Since algebraic reasoning is one of the best indicators of future success in college, and since Algebra is often a defining moment in a student’s math career, they decided to create two apps to address the processes of the reasoning with built in Universal Design for Learning (UDL) supports. Given that “5% of the goal of math instruction is content, and 95% is reasoning,” CAST created two apps to encourage problem solving and persistence.

MathSquared is a game that combines KenKen and Sudoko. Students solve increasingly complex, numeric puzzles. “MathSquared puzzles are grid-based puzzles that use the basic math operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division and require logic and problem-solving skills.” Initially, I questioned what I would have students DO beyond play a game. However, what if….

  • Students took a screen capture of a blank board at the culmination of a level, imported it into a screencasting app such as ExplainEverything or Educreations, and then recorded their problem solving process to demonstrate their thinking.
  • One student took a picture of another working on a problem, and then used Fotobabble to record a “play by play” of their classmate’s problem solving to then offer recommendations later.
  • Students collaborated on an ExplainEverything project where they compared and contrasted problem solving strategies and then determined who used the most effective approach.

MathScaled offers a different set of challenges. Students solve balanced equation challenges without numbers. The CAST researchers recognized that some students’ aversion to math is rooted in their “fear of numbers.” With MathScaled, shapes have relative weights and students work through puzzles in order to create balance. Chris Harrow (@Chris_Harrow) and Paul Salomon (@lostinrecursion) recently blogged about shifting students thinking about balance. Not only does this app support that challenge, but it could also…

  • Provide a visual representation for complex equation balancing in both Algebra and Chemistry (imagine teaching the concept of atomic weight with shapes)
  • Provide a visual representation for history/social studies teachers to illustrate the complexity of “the balance of power.” What if students created a series of math equations to tell a story about historical or political events!

Again, the beauty of these apps is also in how they can be incorporated into other apps through screen captures. In fact, a student could develop a series of math stories that include screen captures brought into Book Creator. Students could include typed narrations as well as audio recording of their problem solving.

I don’t often get this excited about content-specific apps. However, these two are definitely worth mentioning – particularly because of the simplicity! I definitely had a “no duh” moment as it is now feels so obvious about how these simple tools could lead to amazingly complex thinking.

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Current Events & US Geography with Technology

Tweets from @ugafrankI woke up this morning to discover these two tweets from Drew Frank (@ugafrank), Lower School Principal at Davis Academy in Atlanta, GA. Drew helped us coordinate our first set of EdTechTeacher Summer Workshops in Atlanta two years ago, and has recently become extremely active on Twitter. While I wanted to quickly respond, I realized that it just wouldn’t fit in 140 characters. Hopefully this post will suffice (yes, I will tweet the link back to him).

How can we incorporate more technology with our current events?

My initial response was how can you discuss current events and NOT incorporate technology?? With the proliferation of social media, I don’t think it is possible to even discover current events without a reference to television, Internet, Twitter, Facebook, etc. In fact, the Today Show has even embraced the impact of technology on current events with Carson Daly’s new segment. This morning, he deconstructed the tragic shooting at the DC Navy Yard by commentating on a string of social media posts: the official Navy tweet, a photo from Instagram, the first Vine…

So, what can students DO to construct a better understanding of the events unfolding on a daily basis?

  • Use current events as an opportunity to reinforce online research skills. Given the sensitive nature of some events – such as yesterday’s Washington DC Navy Yard Shooting – a Google search could be a terrifying prospect. With KidRex, results are filtered and make for a good media literacy discussion.
  • Incorporate kid-friendly news into reading activities. Whether you use an app such as News-O-Matic or a site like Time for Kids, students can find events of interest and then guide the discussion.
  • Let students report the news. Rather than just passively consuming news stories, let the students do the reporting. A great opportunity is to create videos for the CNN iReport (in fact, the iMovie app exports directly to the site.
  • Empower students to post their own news. Whether you choose to have a class blog, Twitter account, or Facebook page, empower students to do the posting. When I first started supporting teachers with class blogs, rather than creating multiple accounts for students, we linked to a variety of Google Forms. Each form provided the students with a framework for entering their news. It also gave teachers an opportunity to approve each post without any concerns about students posting without permission. This form is an example of our Sports Report.

Incorporating technology into current events has one other unintended consequence: it provides a great opportunity to discuss digital citizenship.

What are the best iPad apps for learning and practicing location and spelling of US States?

Last winter, Justin Reich published Breaking Research: Most Apps Bad. There may be some apps devoted to the States. However, rather than thinking about the apps, let’s look at the learning process. The objectives here include:

  1. I want my students to develop map reading skills.
  2. I want my students to learn the geographic location of the US States.
  3. I want my students to work on their language acquisition with a focus on the US States.

Given that focus, what if….

  • Students used the Google Earth app to explore the 50 states. They could work in groups to find each state from a list.
  • Students collaborated to create a ThingLink map with an observation, fact, image, or video.
  • Students created a US States book with Book Creator. Each page could illustrate the location of the state as well as include a fact and/or image from that state.
  • Students practiced identifying states on a map, and their spelling, by annotating an outline map inserted into a screencasting app such as Educreations, ScreenChomp, or Explain Everything. By capturing the process with a screencast, teachers are able to see their students’ thinking.

When I taught the states to my 3rd graders, I found some great resources on Enchanted Learning.

This may not have been the response that these teachers were looking for, but hopefully, it sparked some ideas!

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Fun with Crutches

I remember being in elementary school and thinking that crutches looked like fun…. not so much anymore. However, they do make a great analogy, and I enjoyed writing about them in a recent article for Edutopia: iPads – From Pedagogical Crutch to Education Innovation.

Yesterday, I had a long chat with my EdTechTeacher colleague, Sam Morra. Neither of us immediately jumped on the iPad bandwagon. I initially preferred my iPod touch and used the iPad 1 as an expensive clipboard for 6 months. Sam bought one just to test it out, but took some time before jumping in. At this point, I do see it as one of the more innovative tools to put in the classroom. However, we also discussed, does everything have to be innovative? Maybe the beauty of iPad is its facility as a crutch: support, access, and mobility…

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eBook of my writings

I’ve been writing a lot lately, just not necessarily here on my own blog. There have been a few sporadic posts, but primarily, my focus has been on other publications such as Edutopia and Edudemic. In working on a project for EdTechTeacher, I just started playing with Readlists. While this isn’t a new tool, it also isn’t one that I have spent much time exploring – until now.

In a matter of seconds, I curated several of my most recent articles into a new Readlist (no account needed). From there, I could generated an embed code – which won’t work on this blog right now – as well as the ability to send my curation directly to my iPad as an ePub file that can be read and annotated in iBooks, Kindle, Nook, or Subtext.

You can view my list here and then download it as whatever file you like to consume on your mobile device. What a cool way for a teacher to curate and disseminate custom content to students to consume on mobile devices!

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iPad or Chromebook: 4 Questions To Ask Before Choosing – Reblogged from EdTechTeacher & Edudemic

For the past few days, I’ve been playing with a Chromebook. Though I have been an advocate of Google’s myriad web products since the beta-test Gmail account that I was invited to open over 10 years ago, I had not previously put my hands on one of these devices. I may be in love.

This may come as a shock since I have spent the past two years completely immersed in iPads. I love my iPad too, and my iPhone, and my mostly retired iPod Touch. However, as mobile devices go, I don’t see the need for a monogamous relationship.

With schools and districts across the country, there seems to be this preconception that a single relationship exists with regard to technology, and in particular, with regard to making a decision about mobile devices.

However, my colleagues at EdTechTeacher and I think that rather than asking which device should my school use, the more poignant question may be what do I want my students to do? or which tool will best support my students learning needs? In this push to pick a platform and enter into a committed relationship, teachers, administrators, and even school boards have focused on the single device instead of why do you want a mobile device in the first place?



More often than not, the answer is access. Students need access to the Internet for research, access to writing tools, access to digital creation tools. Maybe teachers need better assessment tools and want to integrate forms, student response systems, or electronic portfolios. A school could be making a fundamental curriculum shift towards the Flipped Classroom or more student centric learning. The district could embrace the 4Cs – communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity – of 21st Century Learning or the Common Core. All of these are great reasons for why, but they do not answer which one.

For right now, let’s focus on iPads and Chrome Books as they seem to be the leading contenders in the device debate. If I was still the Director of Academic Technology in a school, before making a decision, I would also ask…

What will best support my students learning?

ipads in classrooms

What do my students need in order to succeed at their own level? Would they benefit from text to speech or speech to text? Do they need accessibility features such as optical character recognition (OCR), voice over navigation, or the ability to use an adaptive device? Are my students early elementary and just learning to read, write, and type? Or advanced high school students who write lengthy essays and run math simulations?

iPads are completely accessible devices, natively supporting text-to-speech, voice-over navigation, speech-to-text (new iPad as well as some apps), and a host of other features. They can accept input from Braille keyboards, and the touch screen responds to a number of external devices for those who have challenges with fine motor skills. While there are a number of Chrome extensions to support diverse learners, the entire environment is not quite as customizable.

For early elementary students, iPad lets non readers instantly create – listen, watch, draw, record audio, take pictures, shoot video – all without needing to read. At the higher grades, when students are reading, writing, and collaborating in addition to creating, the device choice becomes more closely aligned to the learning needs of the individual student as well as the curriculum of the faculty. Will a trackpad and keyboard better support those learners rather than a touch screen? Maybe.

What do I want my students to do?


When we first started asking Why iPad, we lauded the ability to create, edit, and publish from a single device. We looked at how iPad empowered students as creators of their own learning through screencasting, digital storytelling, and eBook creation. However, iPads are not computers. They require a significant shift in thinking and approach in order to be leveraged successfully.

Chromebooks incorporate the best of the web and integrate seamlessly with Google Apps – a major advantage for Google Apps Schools. Students have complete access to their Drive accounts, a full browser, the ability to install additional apps such as Evernote or Skitch, and a standard keyboard. Much like iPad, Chromebook has the charm of “easy on/ easy off” and total mobility. Though it lacks the touch screen and dual camera functionality, the overall similarities to a traditional laptop can make for a smooth transition especially when the curriculum still relies heavily on traditional assessments such as papers, presentations, and spreadsheets.

Both devices offer tremendous capabilities, so my next question might be…

Where does my school/district want to go?

document learning in school

This is really the big picture question. Identify a strategic vision, and then choose the best device to help get there. Chris Dede, Timothy Wirth Professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, uses vignettes when describing his vision of classrooms in the future. By telling a story, he creates a tangible image what he hopes to achieve.

Start with a pedagogical framework, create clear measures for assessment, identify specific learning objectives, and paint a clear picture such that the teachers – and consequently the students – can start to innovate in order to get there. In many ways, we can follow the principles of Understanding by Design (Wiggins & McTighe). Start with the outcome and then plan how to achieve it.

iPad or Chrome Book?

I started writing this article on my iPad in a Google Doc – how iPad has changed my writing process sits at the heart of another post. When I felt ready to start editing, I opened the Chromebook and signed in with my Google Account. Instantly, I accessed my Drive and continued to edit with the facility of the keyboard, trackpad, and keyboard shortcuts. From the Chrome browser, I logged into WordPress, uploaded images, and published this post.

What if we didn’t have to choose? What if we could have a polygamous relationship with mobile devices? I understand the realities of budgets, networks, and replacement cycles. But for a moment, imagine this: what if we could give every student an iPad – which is intended to be a single user device – and place carts of Chromebooks – which work seamlessly with multiple users – in strategic locations?

I wonder what the learning environment might resemble if students could consume and annotate custom content, create with an unlimited set of options, curate their work into a variety of portfolio formats, and then connect to other learners as well as to the work that they created….

I’ll be talking more about my love of iPads at the April 10-12 EdTechTeacher iPad Summit USA as well as during numerous iPad Workshops this summer in Atlanta, Boston, and Chicago. To address my new affair with Chrome Books, I’ll also be leading All Things Google as well as Building an Interactive or BYOD Classroom with Multiple Devices at Harvard in July.

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Don’t Be a Beta Max – re-blogged from Edudemic & EdTechTeacher

I wrote this post with my colleague, Shawn McCusker (@ShawnMcCusker), from Chicago. It first appeared on Edudemic and then was re-blogged at EdTechTeacher. So, here it is again – just in case you missed it there…

Are you a Beta-Max?

Now that we are all excited about integrating iPads into the classroom, what’s next? What are we all going to do in 18.. 24.. 36.. months when the next great device comes along? Are we all going to just start over? How do we, as educators, avoid being the next Beta-Max: that flash in the pan that couldn’t scale up and adjust to a rapidly changing market?

While Beta-Max may be gone, the idea behind it  – that people wanted to easily access videos and then store them to watch later –  lives on in every DVD player, and mobile device, that exists today. If you were someone who looked and saw the big picture idea of Beta as the sharing and storing of videos (or of information, images, video,  and data), you may not have been upset by its demise and would probably not be surprised by the popularity of today’s technologies that perform the same functions. Similarly, you would neither be shocked by the popularity of the Blue Ray format that delivers an ever higher quality product, nor by web sites such as YouTube or Vimeo.

However, the person who found comfort in the familiarity of the small cassettes and argued against VHS on principle, as well as out of loyalty, would have seen the demise of Beta-Max as a tragedy and their investment in it as a useless waste of time.

So how does this apply to education? If your 1:1 or technology program is simply the endorsement of a platform, then you might find yourself with the next Beta-Max. What real learning gains have been made with the chosen device? Would this learning be valuable if the chosen tool was retired and replaced by a new one tomorrow? Could you, your colleagues, and your students apply your big picture idea regardless of the technology platform? These question may guide you towards  getting to what is truly important.

“Don’t pilot a device… pilot a pedagogy!” – Anthony Salcito @AnthonySalcit0

Teaching with technology is about being able to clearly articulate well-defined learning objectives and to encourage students to leverage the best possible tools in order to communicate their thoughts, ideas, and understanding in complex and modern ways…..

At first glance, this statement may not sound like anything more than good solid pedagogy – and that’s the point. Too often, we talk about implementing a device, or piloting a program, rather than leveraging a new quiver of tools to create more dynamic, creative, exciting, and resource-rich learning environments for our students. The creativity with which students can now demonstrate their understanding as they strive to meet these objectives is what makes modern-day technology so exciting for education.

In fact, it is pretty safe to say that from the time that this was written, to the moment when it is read, several new creative outlets to demonstrate learning will appear. What will not change, however, is this need to direct students towards acquiring understanding as well as effectively expressing their comprehension. Without that endpoint in mind, no app, no program, no website and no device will improve learning. Without that learning objective in mind, and a clearly defined challenge before them, students will see technology as nothing more than the games that it offers them, rather than the learning opportunities that could present themselves through its use.

Beta-Max Prevention Strategies

Now what? As educators, how do we continue to stay on the cutting edge? How do we ensure that with all of the tools, and talk, we don’t lose sight of our big idea? Here are five strategies for preventing obsolete-ism.

  1. Embrace the fact that we are all life-long learners. Too often, adults forget to keep learning. Read books. Watch the news. Follow a few blogs. Do whatever it takes to continually discover new ideas. Edudemic, Edutopia, EdTechTeacher, Education Week, and Free Technology for Teachers are great starting points. From there, branch out and read the blogs of individual teachers: Kevin Jarrett, Suzy Brooks, Chris Harrow, Katrina Kennett, Keith Rispin, and Charity Preston to name a few.  The number of teachers problem solving and experimenting with technology is staggering.  Sharing in their experience can help you to grow.
  2. Expand your Personal Learning Community. Teachers get stuck in their classrooms, but there is an entire world of people online willing to collaborate. You may excel at problem solving, but the world of technology, and the corresponding shift to technology in the classroom, will present you with an overload of problems to solve.  You could probably accomplish this yourself if given enough time, but through collaboration, your class, your school, and your students can grow faster. After all, one of our greatest concerns as teachers is time – and how to manage it. A strong Personal Learning Community can weather the minor problems, share successes, and offer support to everyone.
  3. Failure is not an option… It’s a requirement! Embrace and share both your successes and your failures. While it is good to have a high standard at your school, adopting a new technology will also require you to share what does not work. If classroom teachers are afraid to share what goes wrong, the whole community could be repeating failures that may be avoided. In your discussions, in addition to talking about what goes well, and what you are proud of, make sure to also discuss what goes wrong. There are usually more lessons learned from failures than from successes.
  4. Don’t be afraid to play! According to Dan Callahan, Instructional Technology Specialist at Pine Glen Elementary, “The most innovative educators are the ones who aren’t afraid to play.” Push all of the buttons. Challenge yourself to try out new tools. See what you and your students can create. You won’t know what’s possible if you don’t try to figure it out.
  5. Ask WHY questions. WHY follow a particular scope and sequence? WHY assess student understanding with the same essay topic? WHY integrate a new tool? The answer should always take you back to HOW this new tool, technique, subject, etc. helps students achieve desired learning objectives and addresses their learning needs. If you have an answer to WHY, then you have not lost sight of the big picture.

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Multi-Article, Double Re-blog – where I’ve really been writing…

It’s been crazy few weeks. Since my last post, 10 Ideas for Creating Literacy Centers with iPads,  but that does’t mean I haven’t been writing. The posts below were all originally published on Edudemic and then re-blogged on the EdTechTeacher blog.

Whatever Happened to iBooks

In our workshops, we begin by discussing how Apple initially marketed the iPad as a device for consumption – watch a movie, read a book, browse the web…. With the iPad2, thanks in part to the integration of the camera as well as the rapid development of apps, it started to become more of a creation tool – make a movie, share a photo, create a song…. We’ve applied that same thought process to iBooks, and explored it across the spectrum from consumption to creation.

With regard to consuming books, I wrote about teaching active reading skills, supporting students’ active reading, and supporting diverse learners. On the creation side, teachers and students can use tools such as dotEPUB to generate custom course content for consumption via iBooks as well as apps like Book Creator ($3.99), Creative Book Builder ($3.99), and Composer (free) for building multi-media iBooks.

Educators may or may not be using iBooks as a typical eReader, or in the way that Apple initially assumed, and with the rise of textbook apps like Inkling as well as collaborative readers like SubText, one reading app of choice may not emerge. Additionally, as more classrooms and schools move towards a BYOD/BYOT environment, iBooks as an app may play a less centralized role. However, the concept of creating and curating digital content as ePubs certainly works across devices – a variety of eReader apps and extensions exist for Kindle, Nook, Android, FireFox and Chrome. While, the mechanics for collecting and annotating course content may change depending on the platform, the concepts apply.

>>>> You can read the full post on the EdTechTeacher blog

The Invisible Apps

As a follow-up to that first post, I wrote…

Two of the most powerful apps on the iPad may be completely invisible: iBooks and the Camera Roll. However, when used together, they have the potential to create powerful learning experiences and dynamic projects.

From Dynamic Math Portfolios to Science Lab Book Collections to Books of Books, combining apps via the Camera Roll and then curating student-generated content with iBooks opens up a a world of possibility for students.

Imagine the end of the school year for students whose teachers fully leveraged the potential of iBooks and the Camera. Perusing through their iBooks collections, they could have documentation of their learning for each of their courses as well as their research materials and reading assignments. As these students prepare for final exams, they could share eBooks for virtual study groups using Subtext. Imagine a review conversation occurring directly inside of student-generated content….

>>>> You can read the full post on the EdTechTeacher blog

What can you actually DO with an iPad

This week, to wrap up these thoughts, as well as to reflect on presentations that I gave at  the New England Reading Association Conference and the NYSCATE Mobile Learning Summit, I wrote…

Online, in workshops, and even with friends, I frequently get asked What can the iPad actually do? as a sort of challenge to the worth of the device. I would rather that they ask, What can you actually do with an iPad?

So last week, in preparing for the New England Reading Association Conference and the NYSCATE Mobile Learning Summit, I decided to change my approach. Rather than structure my presentations by tool, or by app, or even by project, I organized myself around desired student outcomes – aka. what students can actually do.

However, before addressing that question, I asked not only WHY iPads but WHY Technology? Because….

  • I want my students to communicate in complex and modern ways.
  • I want my students to make their thinking visible as an alternative assessment.
  • I want my students to document their thinking as they work through a process.
  • I want my students to have multiple ways through which to interact with learning objects.

What does this tangibly look like in the classroom? One English teachers asked where to even begin, so we started with a set of content-specific learning objectives.

Like the others, you can read this full post on the EdTechTeacher blog or all of these on Edudemic.

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Double Re-Blog: Creating Literacy Centers with Technology

Well, I admit it, this is a re-blog of a re-blog, but I wanted to have a copy of the article. I wrote this in response to an email from a Teaching the Elementary Grades summer workshop participant. First, I submitted it to Edudemic. Then, I re-blogged myself on the EdTechTeacher Blog.

10 Ideas for Creating Literacy Centers with Technology

I received this email the other day.

Hi Beth.

I am a student from the Harvard summer session on Teaching Elementary Grades with Technology.

I have been voulun-told to teach a session on Literacy Centers using tech to staff members in a week. I am hoping you have some insight or ideas for this!?



First off, I love the concept of being volun-told as that describes so much of how life evolves in a school, but I digress. Initially, I responded to Jenn by saying:

… I’d be happy to help. What type of tech will you be using for your centers?  You could even use Suzy’s SMARTCenter concept and apply it to whatever device that you are using.

Feel free to get back to me….

Image Provided By Edudemic

I’ll admit that this first response was a bit of a cop-out because I was in the midst of prepping for another workshop and on the road. However, I have been pondering the concept of centers of learning all summer. Partially in response to Suzy Brooks’ use of her SMART Board as a learning center, and partly because of the growing number of elementary schools that are adding shared devices to their classrooms.

Combine Jenn responding that she has iPads, iPods, laptops, and SMART Boards, with a 2-hour layover in the Dulles airport followed by a two hour flight, and you have a recipe for 10 ways to create literacy centers with technology.

  1. Spread around the room, place iPads next to books. Have students use Educreations to take a picture of the page in the book that they are reading, and then record themselves reading it. You could even have multiple students read multiple pages. With Educreations all logged in to the same class account, students could essentially collaborate to screencast a book for their peers. Educreations also works on a computer via the web, so students could also use laptops to complete this project as well as mobile devices. With one app or web site, and any device, you now have a way to assess students for fluency and decoding.
  2. Have students work in groups to create a set of flashcards for vocabulary words using A+Pro Flashcards on an iPad or any presentation tool such as PowerPoint or Keynote. Digital flashcards allows students to add their own audio recording as well as images in order to illustrate the words.
  3. Give students a story on paper. Have them use a screencasting tool such as Educreations, Screenchomp, Doodlecast for Kids, etc., to read the story and draw some ideas of what they “see” in the story as they go.
  4. For younger students working on sight words, ask students to work in pairs at the SMART Board. Create Notebook Lessons that allow them to drag words on top of their corresponding images.
  5. Ask students to use ScribblePress or BookCreator to create their own reading skills and strategies books. For each skill or strategy, they need to include an image as well as a writing prompt. Students could even use the iPads and iPods to take pictures of images projected on the SMART Board and then type their responses below the images. This same concept could be applied to students using laptops. They could create their own books using a presentation tool such as PowerPoint, Keynote, or Google Presentations
  6. Have students practice their fluency using Fotobabble. They could take a picture of what they are reading and then record their audio. This could all be published to a class account for easy assessment later. Because Fotobabble is an iPhone app as well as web based, this could be done on any device available.
  7. Allow students to work in pairs to read to each other. One student reads while the other videos them. Then switch. Students can watch together and then do a retake. This will let them self-assess and start to take ownership for their own fluency. This concept could work with an iPod or iPad as well as using a built in camera on a laptop.
  8. For older students, assign them to pairs and then ask them to do reading records on each other. The first student uses a screen-casting app such as ScreenChomp or ExplainEverything to take a photo of the page that the second student plans to read. As the second student reads aloud, the first records the audio while simultaneously making notes about fluency and decoding on the screencast. Then the students could switch. The teacher now has not only an assessment of fluency, but also of comprehension.
  9. Place a series of objects on a table that illustrate spelling words that the students should know. Have the students use Animoto – which works on an iPod, iPad, or laptop, to create a video where they type the word as a caption for each photo. This activity could be expanded for older students who may have to also include definitions and parts-of-speech for vocabulary terms. iMovie would be another option for this project and would work with a variety of devices as well as a Mac laptop.
  10. Think of this idea as Pictionary in reverse. Instead of giving students words and having them illustrate them, ask students to write as many words as they can associate with the image. Give each student a slide in either a SMART Notebook, ActivInspire, or other IWB note taking tool, with an image to describe. Each student would then be provided with a set amount of time to write as many words as possible to describe the image. Rotate each child through the file, and a turn at the SMART Board. Older students could correct the person ahead of them, and each image could be differentiated to allow students to succeed at their own level.

Why use this Learning Center Approach?

In many of our EdTechTeacher iPad workshops, elementary teachers ask what they can do with only a handful of devices in their classrooms. Similarly, we often discussed the role of Interactive White Boards in a class that should be more student-centric. By taking this center approach, teachers can put the technology in the hands of their students, differentiate their instruction, and create multiple opportunities for learning.

For the record, I did send Jenn this list before finishing the blog post. Hopefully, she will comment to let us know the status of her presentation.

SHAMELESS SELF-PROMOTION: I will be talking more about leveraging iPads and other devices in the November 6 Pre-Conference Workshop, iPads in the Elementary Classroom as well as during the November 7-8, EdTechTeacher iPad Summit.