Thursday, August 4, 2011

Exploring Scoop.It and Other Possibilities

I'm spending a lot of time this summer looking at tools I've known about but haven't quite explored, those that I haven't used in a while, and also some brand new tools.  I'm trying to decide which tools to use as I begin the school year  - tools to help find information and organize it, tools to help create and share, and tools to help collaborate and connect.  You couldn't, and shouldn't, use every possible tool, although I believe it's important to at least find out what's available.  And, sometimes, you might decide something you thought would be great just isn't suited for your particular needs.  Even if everyone else loves it, if it isn't helping you, then put it aside.

So here is what I'm looking at today -  Choose a topic to "curate."  Resources come to you.  Add them to your page, or not.  And you can also collect your own resources that you want to include on your page.  Share with others in a variety of ways.  See what others are curating as well. For now, I'm just exploring.  My page on creativity is still a work-in-progress. Click on the image to see the full page -

Friday, July 29, 2011

Home Depot - Free Teaching Materials!

What are some of the important things to consider when creating a learning environment for your children? We want the learning to be meaningful, relevant, appropriate, interesting, and, especially in today's tough economic times, as inexpensive as it can be without sacrificing quality - free would be great.

This year I discovered a great teaching resource that has all that.   That's right, Home Depot!

Our second graders used this web site for a fantastic project.  The problem:  Our classroom was in need of some new carpeting.  Their task:  find some new carpet and explain why this would be the best choice for our classroom.  They had to keep in mind that we were trying to spend our money wisely. For example, although all three teachers have the initials "MM," the carpet tile with giant "Ms" on it was three times as expensive as most of the other carpet.  Darn!  Students had to look at cost, durability, and ability to be cleaned.  They also had to agree on a color and type of carpet (carpet squares or wall-to-wall).  Additionally, they had to find out the amount of carpet to purchase, meaning they had to figure out how to calculate the area of our classroom, which was quite a challenge for young second graders.  In the end, the carpet teams presented their choices, and we voted on the carpet we thought would be best. The proposals were outstanding, and the questions posed to each team by the other students showed a good understanding of the process and the information they had learned.

This project was an extension of our math lessons.  The children had to use skills such as calculating area, multiplication, division, addition, subtraction, figuring out tax, comparing prices and other data, and, at the same time, cooperating with team members. Some of the the time, support was given, either by a teacher or by anther student who had already figured out what another student was now trying to do. Peer support was a huge part of this project, and it gave several students a wonderful opportunity to use their strengths for their own enjoyment and to help their fellow learners. In the end, the children not only built their academic skills, but they are now more savvy shoppers!

So, how can you use Home Depot in your classroom?  Take a look at some of the great learning you could be doing by just hangin' out at Home Depot:

Map Skills

  • Store Finder
  • In Store Layout

Environmental Awareness

  • Energy Star Appliance - what does that mean?
  • Check out the Eco Options of Home Depot - very cool!!

Social and Life Skills

  • What is stress-free shopping?  Why would shopping be stressful?
  • How to communicate with customer service (By the way, Home Depot was extremely quick to respond when I sent a note asking if using their site as a teaching tool met with their terms of use! Well done! And the answer was "yes" so go ahead and teach away!)
  • Credit card - a good idea or not?
  • What is your budget?

How-to Videos - Home Depot on YouTube

  • Your school will be repair-free and looking gorgeous in no time - and with the kids doing all the work as great school projects, you can't beat the cost - FREE  (sorry custodians).  But seriously, children could learn to plan, create and present their own how-to videos just by watching some of these videos, and they might develop some interests along the way. They might also learn to critique by asking questions about the effectiveness of the video, which is another way to help them learn to create their own videos and presentations.

Vocabulary Building - Here's just a sampling...

  • qualified appliance
  • special financing
  • campus essentials
  • exclusive offers
  • eligible items
  • practically the entire lumber and composites section (I have some homework to do!)

And, finally, FREE FIELD TRIPS (OK, I'm kidding, sort-of)
Check out the Kids Workshops at Home Depot. That's right! On the first Saturday of every month Home Depot offers FREE how-to workshops for children ages 5-12.  They learn how to build things, and they get one of those snazzy orange aprons.  Did I mention, it's free!!

I can't wait to check out the Pottery Barn site...

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Little Me - Birthday Edition

A birthday is a great time to reflect on your life.

Well, I've written before about the importance of recording memories.  I try to emphasize this with my students and with my family.  There have been times when my "recorded history" has come in quite handy when someone tries to say, "You never..." or "I never got to..."

We are fortunate to have so many ways to record memories. There's everything from a basic journal, to blogs, videos, photos, and paper and digital scrapbooks. Although oral storytelling is still one of my favorite ways to pass on events from the past, a bit of supporting evidence, such as photos, video or a written document, certainly does help one's case when there's a dispute.  Multiple points of view definitely help.

Make sure your students and your own children are keeping a record of their history. Work together as much as you can to make it real and accurate.  For me, I only have one side of the story and a terrible memory of my own, so I can only imagine how things really happened.  For fun, here's just one example...

"Comments on Maryann - at 2 1/2" - as recorded by my mom

She is still very stubborn.  She always wants to do everything Carolann [my older sister] can do, but doesn't like me to show her.  She cries that I only give her a "little bit" to eat.  She eats half then cries that I gave her too much. She is very clumsy and enjoys being bad.  She has an "eternal smile" as big as can be - even when she is getting yelled at.  She climbs, touches and gets into everything. She doesn't like to be helped.  She can't keep still a minute.

Rebuttal, by me  :) - I was very smart and skilled and frustrated at being held back by the unfortunate circumstance of being born second.  I was further frustrated by my parents' inability to appropriately portion my food, either giving me too little or too much.  I tried to be pleasant even though I was constantly criticized.  As soon as no one's looking, I'm outta here.  

(Now the record is straight.)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Don't Get All Sharpie on Sudan

If you return to your classroom for the new school year with Sharpie in hand and simply draw a line across all your maps and globes to divide what was once Sudan into what is now Sudan and Southern Sudan, you're missing a world of learning that could happen in your classroom - whatever age or subject area you teach. 

In the last few weeks I've been exploring Southern Ocean and how scientists classify such things, and now I am learning more about how and why a new country emerges. There's conflict that can last years, then decisions to be made within the new country, communication with other countries in the region and elsewhere, and planning that involves world organizations. The new country needs leaders and those who believe in the changes being made. You don't just draw a line on a map and call it "done."

Some of you may have seen this map of the world by Simon Rogers and Jenny Ridley.  (First time using Prezi?  Click the play button under the image and then use the magnification tools to the right of the image. If you don't see the tools, mouse over the right side of screen and they will appear. Takes a bit of practice, and it's not the best way to view a map actually.)  It's helpful in seeing the borders of countries and some stats about the world.  But, even more fascinating to me are the comments posted below the map.  While you can't tell the expertise, country of original, etc. of all those postings (meaning some additional investigation would be needed), the fact that these debates can and are happening in the world is an important thing to share with the learners in your classroom.  It's unfortunate that comments have been closed on the page, possibly because they were becoming a bit heated? 

THIS is what teachers should be taking back to the classrooms and sharing with students--that even a map is open to debate, and I think all maps should come with a debate. What a way to learn, to spark interest, to generate the desire to investigate a topic, and to make those places on the map actually mean something!

Random Add-On...
By the way, I was checking the spelling of Sharpie and ran across the Sharpie web site - it's totally awesome and worth checking out! Apparently, there's an entire Sharpie World I've been missing...time to update my maps again!!  Sharpie Web Site

Saturday, July 9, 2011

How Many Oceans Do You Count in Your Classroom?

Oceans away by Here
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  Here's Kate 

I'm preparing for my new adventure in fifth grade (coming from second).  One of my favorite things about being a teacher is that I get to continue to learn new things, relearn what might have been forgotten, and I truly appreciate giving others the chance to share their expertise in whatever learning environment I find myself.

So, as I browsed through the fifth grade textbook to see what it's all about (textbooks...a whole other conversation), I began thinking I'd like to brush up on some geography.  I know it's easy enough to "look online" to find out a location or understand something about a culture, but I wanted a more automatic recall of information I once knew so easily.  Earth science, environmental science, and cultural geography were three of my favorite classes in college, and they helped me gain a better understanding of many things about our world. This is definitely a great time to review. So as I began going between the book and other resources to make sure I have the most up-to-date information and to be sure I can connect history with the present I found there was something missing from the maps in our social studies manual. Something like, um, an ocean.

I began to ask around and apparently there are many people who don't know that there are now five oceans.  Or, more accurately that SOME people claim there are five oceans.  The more I investigated, the more I found out about this fifth ocean and that it might not actually be a done deal - not all the votes are in it seems.  Briefly, about 11 years ago, some scientists decided that there is now Southern Ocean, which surrounds Antarctica.  It's on the maps.  Well, some maps, and not our textbook maps.  National Geographic, which, from my research, did not originally recognize Southern Ocean does now have it marked on maps on its site.  Some scientists believe Southern Ocean is not really an ocean but part of other oceans.  I don't have enough of a grasp on the topic to explain it clearly. I'll have to keep reading to get a better handle on the two sides.

There was an interesting article published in January 2011 on  It reminds me that even more important than knowing how many oceans there are is the idea that teachers are responsible for knowing about such controversies as this debate among scientists about the oceans (or remember the planets and Pluto - does your science textbook still have Pluto in it?)  It is the responsibility of teachers to show students that such debates exist, how changes are made, why changes are made, and, of course, it will mean getting the students in on the debate and not just waiting for the final outcome to make its way to your textbook that you might be getting in a few years.  It will definitely take some research and a continued commitment to the topic (add Southern Ocean to your Google Alerts).  It might even mean reaching out to experts in the field.

When you return to your classroom for a new school year will you go back with four or five oceans or with a question for your students:  How many oceans do YOU think there are?  FUN!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Resume Updates: Or, Little Me Returns for Summer Reflection

Last summer I reflected on my own years in school, as a student.  It was interesting, amusing, and really helped me think about myself as a teacher.  Here are the posts if you're curious:  Little Me and Report Card Comments, Summer Reflections/First Drawing, Hopes and Dreams and a Dash of Criticism.

This year, I bring you reflections of Little Me as a preservice teacher.  Yes, as I think about my many roles during my elementary and high school years, I find that I probably ought to update my resume.  I have, in fact, been a teacher in training since I was a young child.  See below for some updates I am considering.  I will just have to do some research to get the exact years.

Elementary School Teacher Experience

Classroom Design
I think I had a hand in just about every bulletin board that went up for my teachers.  I either traced and cut the letters (remember that?), mounted the paper, or attached the items to the board.  I distinctly remember one time being on a ladder after school (the big ladder, not a step stool), and putting paper on the bulletin board above the chalkboard.  I'm pretty sure teachers of today could not allow young children (I think it was 4th grade) to climb ladders OR just hang out after school without telling their parents.  And, I also remember that there was not a teacher in sight.  In fact, I'm even wondering if the teachers went home.  I really don't know, but I was with another child, and we had a blast.

Enrichment Program Coordinator
In Catholic school, we didn't have a gifted program.  But I do remember that several of us would be finished our work early and had to find other things to do.  So we would make up games to play.  I don't remember them all, but I do know one had something to do with the big classroom dictionary--maybe something to do with spelling the words?  I don't know. But I know it was up to us to figure out how to "amuse" ourselves.  

ELL Teacher
Yes, it was the students who were our ELL teachers in elementary school. We were in school at a time when there were refugees coming from Vietnam.  There was a girl who came to our class who spoke NO English.  There were a few of us children who took turns working with her. Reading and writing I think, maybe math.  I don't remember much, but I do remember thinking she was a brat!  She didn't want to do any of the work and WE would get in trouble if she didn't do the work.  Hmmm, sound familiar teachers?

Speech Pathologist
I have a sister who is a year younger than I. As many young children do, she had trouble with her "er" sounds.  During a recent conversation, my mother reminded my sister that she "just grew out of it" without any services. Apparently, according to my sister, when we went to bed at nights I would spend time working with her, helping her with those "er" sounds. I'm sure my parents owe me tons of money for those private lessons!!

High School Tech Support
So, in typing class we got these crazy contraptions that would actually allow you to type digitally and correct errors BEFORE you printed your work.  No correction tape, no worries about spacing, margins, etc.  It was all done for you. They were called word processors, and we only had a few of them so the students were to rotate on them.  The teacher took volunteers to start.  I was in!  Pick me!  This was too good to be true, I thought, almost like cheating.  Surprising to me then, just as much as it is now, there weren't that many takers for this innovative technology, and not even enough volunteers to start rotations.  I just stayed on the word processor for all the turns.  Soon, our teacher was coming to me for advice on how to use the word processors, and she began to ask me to show the others how to use them as well.  I would figure out what to do when something went wrong too.  So here's the best part:  when report cards were given, I was quite surprised that I didn't have a good grade (it was average).  I asked the teacher why, especially given that I was pretty much teaching the class.  Her response - well, you didn't complete all the assignments for the term.  Ugh!

Take some time to reflect on your elementary years.  How will it help you to become a better teacher? How will it help you create valuable learning experiences for your students?  I learn a lot from Little Me.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

EraserTown USA Grows Up

After teaching second graders for 11 years, I will now be teaching fifth graders.  That's quite a change, and I'm excited for the new adventure.  ErasertownUSA will have to adjust as well because it was originally created with a focus on teaching in today's primary classroom (see the bottom of the blog for the history behind the blog).  I have no doubt, however, that I will find amazing, creative children in fifth grade--children who are eager to learn, collaborate, question, problem solve, and enjoy their time in school.  I can't wait! 

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

ISTE 2011 - Enough Is as Good as a Feast

ISTE Season - It was a great week of learning, sharing, and socializing that started on Saturday, June 25, with the Discovery Educator Network pre-conference event and a bit of EduBloggerCon, continued on Sunday with the Constructivist Celebration, and ended on Wednesday, June 29, after three days of ISTE's numerous events.

But, the ISTE season began many weeks before as I prepared for some presentations I was giving. There's a lot to do as one organizes thoughts, resources, and materials to share with others. I also began planning long in advance for the pre-conference events I would attend, the volunteer responsibilities I would take on, as well as the ISTE sessions I wanted to attend and, of course, the social events that I wanted to include on my ISTE calendar.

There's so much to do at conferences, and, once again, I felt pulled in so many directions, as I'm sure many participants did. I began to feel disappointed that I couldn't be in two (sometimes three or four) places at once. Then I was even more disappointed that I was not feeling satisfied with the choices I made, even though I was planned where I wanted to be in the first place. Make sense?

But then I had a wonderful conversation with a "new friend" over lunch at the Discovery pre-conference, and I felt much better about not being able to be everywhere, do everything. It's one of my favorites from ISTE:

We were treated to a great lunch at Discovery's pre-conference. As we picked up our boxed lunches, packed with sandwiches, snacks, fruit, etc., we walked past a table filled with cupcakes. I couldn't wait to eat lunch and get a cupcake. Unfortunately, and, as is usually the case, I eat slowly, talk too much, and can never finish my meal. I was so full I no longer wanted to eat the cupcake. I was disappointed because I REALLY wanted a cupcake, but, I wasn't about to make myself sick over it. During conversations about lunch we were reminded of how we sometimes go out to dinner and look forward to the dessert but often are too full to order the dessert in the end. And, we said, sometimes it's nice to go out to eat and just order salad and a dessert. I sometimes even like to order the entree and just plan to take it home with me for another day.

That got me to thinking about something like ISTE and the gigantic, eclectic menu it has to offer. While I really wanted it all, there's no way I could consume all that ISTE had to offer and truly appreciate the experience. So, I won't feel disappointed about what I've missed, I will be happy with my experiences. Salad and dessert - yummy, and the company was awesome! And, I will savor the doggy bags that I know are waiting for me via my massive online community refrigerator!!

Here's just a bit from my plate for those who want a snack:

From Discovery Pre-Conference

Discovery Pre-Conference Birthday Celebration

From Constructivist Celebration

  • - Make music in a creative way
  • Microworlds - I finally spent some time exploring
  • Generation YES - I had a great time talking with Dr. Dennis Harper about Generation Yes and the programs offered by this organization. I would like to be able to share this program with others in my district because I think it is of value not only to the student involved but also to the entire community.

Constructivist Celebration


  • SCAN - a program to help develop critical thinking skills, problem solving, and the ability to create well-developed arguments. Thanks to Sandy Wozniak for a great presentation, and I hope you get your sweater back from the cab! This was a session where I was a volunteer (actually, my volunteer assignment changed and this was a last-minute plan), but I was glad to have learned about SCAN. That's why I love not having every moment mapped and being able to "go with the flow" sometimes.
  • Digital Fabrication - something I have been waiting to see and am hoping to bring back to my school.  An exciting way to bring creativity, thinking and problem solving, and integration of subject areas into the learning environment.  See Fab@School and DigitalFabrication for info. Thanks to the FableVision Learning team for the awesome info. and demo!!
  • Infographics - Kathy Schrock's Resources; Jane Krauss and Diana Laufenberg's Infographic Resources. Visual literacy was where I put my focus during ISTE, and was was thrilled to learn more about infographics.

A Scene from the Newbie Lounge

("Enough is as good as a a feast." - While it's not  a Mary Poppins original quote, it was in the movie.  And I do love to quote Mary Poppins whenever possible!)

Monday, May 30, 2011

A Learning Community

As we wind down for the year, I am reflecting on the year. Each year, of course, is different, some more different than others.  One thing I love as a teacher is watching a classroom culture develop.  I enjoy helping the children establish their learning environment and taking responsibility for their own learning.  Each year is different because we are a new set of people with different strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, and personalities.  Even the weather trends for the year can make a difference in how we proceed through second grade!  What I hope for my students, and the adults who are part of our community, is that we work together, enjoy our time together, benefit from our time together, and grow as learners and people by the time the school year is over.  

After reflecting on this particular year, I am certain we have created a successful learning environment where the children feel they are responsible for their own learning and the learning of others. The children show pride in their own accomplishments while encouraging others to achieve.  

Here are my top ten observations that demonstrate, to me, how I can tell my students have been part of their classroom learning culture: 

Top Ten Ways I Know My Kids are Part of the Learning Culture
  1. They come into the classroom in the morning knowing what they want to accomplish.
  2. They are bringing in information from home to enrich discussions.
  3. I am hearing them ask EACH OTHER, “How did you do that?” and watching as they show each other new skills.
  4. They take the compliments I (and other teachers in the classroom) give the children and use them on each other. 
  5. They critique me, the teacher, even when I don’t ask for critiquing. 
  6. They ask if they can take work home to finish.
  7. They ask if they can do their own, additional, learning at home.
  8. A handful of children are immersed in a book series, passing around the books to one another as they finish, spending much of their day reading the books, completely oblivious to whatever the rest of the class is doing or to the fact that they are not “supposed to” be reading.
  9. I find “water cooler” groups of children discussing some topic at a time when they are supposed to be doing something else.
  10. I observe a group of children rearranging the desks because the way they were set up was not working for the class. (My all time favorite!!)

Friday, February 18, 2011

PETE&C - Recycle-Reduce-Reuse

Did you attend the Pennsylvania Educational Technology Expo and Conference in Hershey, PA? Here are some great ways to make your PETE&C 2011 experience "green."

  • Do you still have your badge holder?  It makes a great "press pass" for your students.  Just make and insert your own badge into the plastic pocket.  Try BigHugeLab's Badge Maker for a fun project.
  • Did you get "freebies" that you really don't need?  Re-gifting is totally OK.  Kids, and teachers, love to get stuff.  So, give away your things, and share the wealth.  
  • Did you get papers that you don't need?  Don't throw them away, use the backs for scrap paper, or post the info. in your faculty lounge to share with colleagues.

  • Make sure if you are sharing all that great information with colleague that you make use of all the paperless resources we have.  Many presenters have their information posted to the PETE&C Ning.  No need to print things out.  Just direct colleagues to the site.  Or connect to their links and start your own resource site, either on your own school web site or perhaps on a free wikispaces
  • It's too late for this conference, but as a note for the next conference, don't forget to bring your reusable coffee and water bottles.  No need to create trash just because you are away for a few days.  Just make sure you have a backpack with a side pocket, and you'll be good to go!

  • Did you get packets of information or product flyers in folders?  Don't need the folders anymore?  Reuse them in your classroom.  
  • Did you get schedules of events, program books, advertisements?  Use them to plan training in your district. They can remind you of some topics that you might be able to present yourself and that others in your district would enjoy hearing about.
Do you have more ideas?  I'd love to hear them!

image obtained with permission from

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Bored? How?

This winter has been brutal.  We've had several snow days and some late openings and an early dismissal due to the weather.  But no matter where you are, there's lots of learning to be done.  Parents and children should celebrate the time they have together because there is so much they can do! Learning doesn't just take place at school, and learning can be, or should be, FUN!!

Here's what I did today.  If you have some extra time with your children, look at it as an opportunity to do something different.  And if your power is out and you can't use the computer...well, be creative!!

1.  Art Lessons:  I spent some time laughing and making a cat.  There are more lessons, so bring on the snow!  I can't wait to share this with my school kids. This is a drawing course for kids pre-k to third grade, but it was just right for me.   Check out illustrator Will Terry as he helps us all learn how to draw.

2.  Make puzzles.  I made some cryptograms to share with my class.  I bet your kids will love these.  Or, better yet, have them make puzzles for YOU to solve.  You can trade.

3.  What?  You're not following the Iditarod?  It starts in about a month, so get moving.  I spent a lot of time revising my lessons and preparing for our annual Iditarod Banquet. The Iditarod site has tons of suggestions for how to use the Iditarod to teach children, and there are even blogging dogs.   Lots to do, lots to do!

4.  Do you want to learn how to make comics with kids?  The National Association of Comics Art Educators can help.

5.  And if you think you have it bad stuck in the house for a day or two, visit this Alert Map site.  It shows every type of disaster imaginable happening in the world now.  Then count your blessings.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A Day of Reflection

What a great day!  A snow storm. Horrible driving conditions.  Several students absent.  Early dismissal. 

So what's so great about that?  For whatever reason a day that could have been chaotic turned out to be relaxed, pleasant, and very productive.  The children trickled in this morning and we didn't start our day as a group until well over an hour after the official start of the school day.  But, the children arrived seeming happy to be in school.  Everyone had something to do--something of educational value.  There were activity choices posted and deadlines for projects were close.  Even though these children are young, they didn't need much (if any) guidance to get started with their "work day."  They didn't need an official "go ahead" from me either.  It didn't matter if there were five children or fifteen, things ran the same.

For me, it was a great morning to observe the children, something I love to do and something that I find to be crucial to creating the best learning environment I can for the learners.  I watched the children to see what choices they made and who interacted with whom, and I was able to spend time having conversations with individuals. 

At one point I wondered if the children would have even noticed if I left the classroom!  One small group had organized a subtraction flash card practice session, a few children were working on creating submissions to our Junior Doodle project (discussion the best way to represent the word "incognito"), and a couple of children were working on some sort of writing assignment.  One child asked for help with an independent research project he wanted to do.  After I guided him in the right direction, he was all set to work on his own.  And a few children were doing various independent activities they had chosen for themselves that morning. 

The day progressed quite calmly even with constant interruptions with important announcements about changes in lunch schedules, information about the early dismissal, and messages from parents about how children were going home.  We moved into some group work and then returned to some independent work.  We had a very early lunch, discussed some upcoming projects, worked on a current project, and all the time, the children seemed content with their time in the classroom.  While, outside the window, the snow blew, the streets filled with a slushy mess, and we wondered if we would have another snow day tomorrow.

While it's nice to enjoy a snow day, it was also great to reflect on the current learning environment.  Do the children enjoy where they are?  Do they own their learning space?  Do they understand that their learning space is for them to learn and they don't have to wait for someone to tell them to learn?  Are they just as happy to be at school with their friends working on their activities as they are building a snowman in their backyard? 

If not, how you can make your learning environment as exciting as sledding down a snowy hill?