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Learning in the Modern Classroom

I have seen learning in the 21st Century modern classroom!

The learning just oozes through the cracks of the physical classroom walls.

Learning is amplified by the amount of people who are collaborating, participating, communicating and creating. The learning is NOT about the technology tools, but what students can DO with them to learn in new ways. The learning is about an authentic tasks, that allows students to contribute in a individualized and personalized manner to make them realize that their work matters in the real world.

It all started out with a conversation between Mike Fisher and me. He had written over 40 children poems and was in the process of wondering what to do with them? I was looking for an authentic task for 9-11 year old students. We felt we had a perfect match! How about getting the students Language Arts and Art teacher involved? The initial idea was to make a unit of poetry come alive, study Mike's poems and visualize the poems by creating illustrations.

Great plan... it snowballed from there...

A quick Skype call between Mike and the teachers, helped flesh out each of our expectations and a timeline for the "project". A critical component was the participants' willingness to be flexible and see where the students would take "the project".

What if...

  • ...Mike allowed students to alter his original poems if they felt inspired to remix them, making the creation process fluid and embedding new ways of looking at forms of copyright?
  • ... Mike offered to write a new poem to additionally created illustrations by students, flipping the collaboration roles?
  • ...we published a poetry book on various platforms? (hard cover/eBook)
  • ...we had student run a marketing and advertisement campaign?
  • ...we involved the Math teacher to support students in calculating how much the book should cost, what would the profit be, how would a profit be split?
  • ...allowed the class to handle the entire business venture?
  • ...we incorporated Alan November's concept of the Digital Learning Farm and leaving a legacy?

Each student was "given" a poem from Mike to be responsible for. We set up a first Skype call with Mike, the author, for students to meet him, ask questions about "their" poem.


Part of our job as teachers was to observe students as they were taking on the roles outlined in the Digital Learning Farm. We were/are looking to identify NEW FORMS of assessment, since our "project" was not to be an add-on to traditional assessment tools.

The Digital Learning Farm


As I was watching students talk to Mike Fisher via Skype, Will Richardson's call for Thinking Differently About Learning, which includes Learning to Talk to Strangers came to mind. As students interacted, I was watching their body language, paying attention to their vocabulary, ability to articulate an idea, their conversation etiquette and ability to follow a conversation and interaction. Stay tuned for the publication of a Taxonomy of Skype Conversation to facilitate assessment of video conferencing.


As the Skype conversation was happening in the foreground, other students were busy documenting and collaborating in backchannels. A Google Doc was opened and shared among all students, teachers and Mike Fisher. The multi-tasker Mike is, allowed students to Google Chat at the same time as he was talking to students via Skype.


Other students had taken on the task to tweet the Skype call


Take a look at the 4th and 5th grade Twitter feed, documenting the skype call. Students are exhibiting understanding of Twitter grammar, syntax and etiquette. They are showing progression by starting to add value, links, citations and they own thoughts. They are summarizing and articulating thoughts in 140 characters or less. They are directly communicating, disseminating, collaborating and connecting via social networking. We are using Twitter and HOTS as a way to assess these skills.









We had other students use different tools to take notes too. The notes app on their iPad or traditional paper and pen



One student chose to summarize what he heard during the Skype call by mindmap doodling. He was able to re-tell the different poems that were discussed between his classmates and the author.



Take a few minutes to peek into the classroom as students were debriefing from the Skype experience.

Poetry Book Skype from langwitches on Vimeo.

So, where do we go from here? The students are very excited and are taking ownership. There is no talk about what kind of grade they will be receiving for their work. An authentic audience will decide if they were successful. Students will volunteer to take on different roles in the publishing, marketing, finance, communication department. We will allow them to take the lead, consulting, coaching and modeling if needed.

Stay tuned as this "school project" unfolds.




Learning About Communities…Not From Textbooks

I recently wrote about Thinking About Learning Differently- Talking to Strangers, where I mentioned our third graders journey of skyping around the world to learn about different communities.

They have spoken via Skype with classes from a suburb of Los Angeles, CA , an rural community in Missouri and a city, Weatherford, TX. The latest connection was with Anna Faridaku, a teacher and children’s book author from Indonesia. Students took turns speaking with Anna, who was just amazing in connecting (via the screen) to the kids, answering and asking questions. She engaged them and pushed them to deeper thinking about similarities and differences about our communities.

They have now also spoken to a class from Prague, Czech Republic and we are working on our next connections with Argentina and New Zealand.

The goal is not to only collect cold data, but to:

  • make connections between the different locations and communities
  • learn about geography
  • talk "to strangers", practicing speaking skills and conversation skills, be aware of body language...
  • reflect on how and what we are learning
  • invite a global audience (including parents and grandparents) to continue a conversation via the classroom blog
  • continuously becoming better at asking questions and learning that questions don't stop at the end of a lesson, day, Skype call

Overcoming geographic boundaries

Conversations about Alligators in Florida and Prague :)

Two native Hebrew speakers meet across the Ocean

Documenting through various lenses


Using tools for synchronous and asynchronous collaboration

Formulating questions and collecting data

The comments on the classroom blog below came from family and friends of our students who continued to contribute to students learning after the call ended.

Family continues a conversation after the call ended

It is time to THINK DIFFERENTLY about learning!


State of the Blogging School Address

State of our School Address (regarding Blogging)

3 years ago, we created blogs (WordPress platform) for ALL classroom teachers and resources. There was an expectation for teachers to be at least on the first step of the blogging ladder, illustrated in the image below. Their classroom blog needed to be, as a minimum,  a replacement of a weekly folder filled with parent-school communication and homework assignments. Teachers were expected to learn how to update their blogs (at least on a weekly basis), insert images and videos and categorize their blog posts. (Getting to Know your Blog- A Beginner’s How To Guide)

This was a steep learning curve for some teachers. In addition,  it was extra time consuming, as it was taking teachers longer time to learn and be comfortable with uploading and inserting images, creating photo galleries, creating links, posting, etc.

Then the question shifted from How to We Did it… We Built It…Will They Come? Some teachers continued to email parents weekly, pointing them to the blog to look at images and news, others resorted to “bribing” students with extra credit if their parents went on the blog, yet another class created a  Blog Tutorial for Parents & Grandparents video.

In preparation for our students to become actively involved in contributing on the classroom blogs, as a school, we needed to Update & Upgrade Our School’s Media & Publishing Release in order to reflect the shift from students as consumers to students as producers.

Some teachers felt ready sooner than others, to climb the next step on the ladder. They opened their classroom blog up for comments to their students. They started to shift from merely pushing out information to parents and students to see the opportunity for a conversation. Teachers were learning to, not only post information, but posing questions for students, encouraging them to think and to participate in a virtual conversation. – Preparing Students for Commenting with Wall Blogging.

Once students were well on their way to begin. They were comfortable in logging into their accounts, reading posts and submitting a commenting, the next step was to focus on the QUALITY of their writing. What constitutes a quality comment? One class answered this question by creating a newscast- Quality Commenting Video by Third Graders

The next step on the classroom blogging ladder was for not only the teacher to produce content/posts, but for students to take ownership. For one teacher, it meant the realization that her classroom job list was in need of a 21st century update What is… What Will Be Obsolete…in Second Grade?

Some teachers:

  • had daily  student “bloggers”,  who were in charge of updating the classroom blog, being the Official Scribe of the day.
  • had students take (handwritten notes) summarizing the daily learning during each subject area, to be then typed and uploaded on Friday to the blog (younger grades).
  • highlighted best work from students as it was produced.
  • put students in charge of photographing classroom/resource activities and learning taking place during the day, the class discussed and voted on the final images to be uploaded at the end of the day and write a short blurb to each image. – Let’s Ask the Kids: 2nd Grade Bloggers

Some classroom blogs were growing beyond homework assignment, as teachers found opportunities to amplify the use of their virtual spaces to get kids involved and engaged in conversation

As commenting and posting to the classroom blog became the routine, especially in the upper elementary grades, students were eager to “earn” their own blogs. It was up to the teacher to set the criteria for students to earn them (ex.5 quality posts moderated and published on the classroom blog).

Once having earned that promotion, students became administrators of their own blogfolio , a combination of an online portfolio and a learning blog. Students were able to choose their own theme from a variety of pre-approved themes available. They chose their own title and tagline, and wrote their About Page.

It takes time for the faculty to see that the students’ blogfolios are NOT a project from/for the Language Arts class. We are not there yet.Teachers, still need to take advantage of pulling in resource teachers and student experiences. Non-Language Arts teachers still need to realize that the blog is a platform for learning for THEIR students too. All this is a process for teachers and students to work through.

We had Professional Development workshops helping teachers subscribe to RSS feeds (Subscribing via RSS & Google Reader to Classroom Blogs) in order to streamline the process of reading AND giving feedback to all their students. This is a daunting task for many teachers, as they are feeling overwhelmed. I have met too many teachers (at other schools) who, precisely for that reason, gave up blogging with their students. It was simply too much work to read and sift through all the writing and commenting (!!). We are committed to working through this at our school though. We are concentrating on finding new ways to embed the reading, the writing, the commenting, the conversation into the “way we do things”, not something we do in addition.

I created the following infographic to demonstrate the flow of blogging in the classroom. The hope is to deflect from the emphasis on technology and the “translation” from analog work to digital work during the blogging process.

You can download the infographic as a pdf file.

There is so much to consider when blogging with your students. You will be able to read about some, some you will hear from teaches who are already blogging and some things you will just have to experience and go through for yourself in order to make it work for you and your students. What we do know, is that no teacher can attend a 3 hour workshop on blogging and is ready to blog with their students the following Monday. I wrote extensively about the process for Stepping it Up- Learning About Blogs FOR your Student as a guide for teachers who want to see blogging as a platform for their own professional development and as a medium for student learning.

Ann Davis, on her blog wrote a post titled “Rationale for Educational Blogging“, an article (and the following comments) worth reading! David Jakes responds in the comment section speaking directly to the teachers “who have kids write for the refrigerator”.

Ann Davis’ quote of “It is not just a matter of transferring classroom writing into digital spaces”, resonates deeply with me. It is a challenge, that we are continuously reflecting on in school, as learning and literacy coaches, but need to do a better job in helping faculty work through this as well. Tough questions need to bubble up  to the surface:

  •  Where it the Authentic Audience?  by Andrea Hernandez
  • What does it mean when students, teachers, parents feel “blogged out”?
  • How do we prevent student blogfolios from becoming an accumulation of “Homework for Thursday”, “Homework for Friday” posts?

Where do we go from here?

We will continue to seek the following through our blogs:

  • quality writing and commenting
  • documentation of the learning process
  • hub for learning artifacts
  • reflections
  • meaningful discussion
  • metacognition
  • authentic feedback
  • global awareness and connectedness

We will encourage, support and participate in activities that will foster the above goals.


  • quad-blogging
  • commenting mentor program
  • blogging buddies
  • professional blogs for our educators to build reflective teaching practices, connections to a global network of educators and building a personal brand


4th Grade Part of International Action Research

An International team of four classrooms partnered to do action research. They asked the questions: Does Blogging support and improve QUALITY student writing?
Our 4th graders, together with their teacher, Mrs. Teitelbaum, are part of this fabulous blogging adventure during the month of March 2012 .


Support their efforts and visit their classroom blogs (with student blog links) and model quality comments for them. '


Another Student-Created eBook- A Week in 2nd Grade

In the course of our iPad explorations in 2nd grade, some students made the choice to read ebooks that were in the iPad library. One of those books was the butterfly book, written by the first graders. Second graders loved reading the text and looking at the illustrations and photos in this beautiful book. They were also inspired to create an ebook of their own.

Julia reading the 1st Grader's Butterfly Book

Julia, who loves looking at the daily agenda, suggested that it would be fun to write a book about a day in 2nd grade. After discussions with the class, we settled on the plan to collaboratively create a book detailing, "A Week in 2nd Grade."

The first step was a collaborative brainstorming session to decide the most important and interesting things to include in the book. It was decided that each student would be responsible for writing and illustrating (via a photo taken with the iPad) one page. After deciding what to include and assigning pages, students used a graphic organizer as a pre-write to brainstorm ideas for their topic. 

The next step in the process was to write a paragraph using paper and pencil. Finally, students were ready to use the Book Creator app on the iPad to create their page. As students worked on various stages of the writing process, teachers met one-on-one with the students to help them edit their writing. Because this process was quite long, not every piece of writing was perfectly edited. We felt that it was important to actually finish the project and publish the book and teachers did not edit student work without the student's participation. The writing you see, therefore, is authentic 2nd grade work and may contain some errors in spelling or grammar.

If you own an iPad or iPhone, you can download the ePub file  and directly drop it into your iTunes library. Once you sync your device with iTunes, you are able to read our ebook .

If you are reading this post on your iPad, simply click on the ePub file and choose to open in iBook.


21st Century Upgrades from the Classroom

One of the creations that we had planned for students to show their research and knowledge about historic figures of the American Revolution was to create a fake facebook profile page. Since the students are under the age of 13, they created them offline in a PowerPoint slide, which we later uploaded to their classroom blog. There are quite a few few facebook templates floating around online for you to use. Thank you to the person (I am sorry that I can't give proper name credit), who created the following one that we ended with.

Kids were very excited about creating these pages, since at their age, "Facebook" represents something "cool" and "...when you are older..." for them. Once we got started, we ran into several hurdles though:

  • Platform Familiarity: Although some of them (11 year olds) seem to have already an account of their own, peek over the shoulder of an older sibling or family member, there were quiet a few who were not familiar with the entire structure and the connections between friends, posts, profile, comments, likes, etc. Many of them had to get a handle on the reverse chronological order of posts.
  • Process: After requiring a rough draft (paper version) of their facebook profile before they were able to start working on the electronic file, proved to be wise.
  • Language: The concept of going beyond a "cool", "awesome", "Yeah, kill the British" type comments was the hardest to get across. Not all of them succeeded. We explained again, that they had to put themselves into the shoes of their character. How would they have written, if a communication medium like Facebook would have been available.
  • Content: We had to repeat over and over again, that this page and its content had to SHOW their research and knowledge about the selected person. They needed to embed facts in the "conversation" between their character and their "fictitious" friends. We wanted them to show connections between events, characters and political point of view.
  • Logistics: Some students had difficulty working in the PowerPoint environment and got very frustrated with the formatting issue. Moving text boxes around, aligning them properly, resizing text and images to fit their allotted spaces, etc., was not as smooth as we anticipated. We allowed the students who became frustrated to fill out a paper-version of the


In addition to the Facebook pages, the class worked with Mrs. Hernandez to create a Snopes- Urban Legends inspired video. What myths about the American Revolution could they debunk? Students used the a range of programs (their choice) to produce a short intro video:


Here are a few examples of the Snopes movies.

Part of the planning and reflection was to use the "Upgrade to 21st Century Skills, Literacies, & Roles" template and fill in the skill and literacies addressed. The template helps teachers realize how many skills and literacies they are addressing with a single unit upgrade. Over the course of a year, it also helps to make sure that we rotate through all roles to empower learners, even if one upgrade does not address (and does not need to) all roles.

Please click on the individual images to see a larger version.

21st Century Skills Addressed

21st Century Literacies Addressed

Roles to Empower Learners




4th Graders Create Math Tutorials for Peers

They say

If you can teach know it!

We put 4th grade Math students to the "test"... well not really... No traditional test was required to show their understanding of multiplication. Based on Alan November's work of "The Digital Learning Farm", which he also outlines in his chapter of Heidi Hayes Jacobs' book "Curriculum 21", we asked our students to be Tutorial Designers.

We started our with a lesson on good tutorial design:

In groups, students set out to write scripts of their tutorials. Each group decided to use different tools to create a video visualizing the math problem and the step by step solution. We had one group creating a PowerPoint document, another one used sticky notes and the third group used various apps on the iPad to film and record.

The process of creating a simple tutorial was elaborate. From breaking the multiplication process up into individual steps, to being able to express these steps verbally and visually to creating a storyline around the math problem/solution to make it flow.

Take a look at the final product of each group.


The Official Scribe: It’s All About Learning Styles & Collaboration

Today I wanted to share our experimentation with different types of note taking as part of creating "Official Scribes" for the classroom while taking into account the students' different learning styles.

Students were starting a unit about the American Revolution by watching an introductory video clip. We discussed different ways to take notes and came up with:

  • individual note taking by paper and pencil
  • individual note taking on a word processor
  • collaborative backchanneling
  • visual note taking (on SmartBoard and paper)

As the video was playing, one student was in charge of pausing it when a visual was displayed that he felt was an important visual to describe what was happening.

Screenshooting on the Smartboard

Once paused we used the SmartBoard notebook tool of taking a screenshot and importing it into a notebook slide. After the movie was over, the class sorted through the images and discussed which ones would stay and which ones could be deleted.

Timeline Creation

We then used a timeline from the notebook gallery and copied and pasted the appropriate screenshots onto the timeline.

I had shown a few minutes of the RSAnimated TED talk "Changing Educational Paradigms" with Ken Robinson to the students. The reason for showing it was for the drawing technique used and how the illustrationist captured what Robinson was talking about in a visual way. I was very surprised to see how "into it" the students got. They did not want to stop watching it. I am pretty sure that these ten year olds were not interested in Robinson's message...

Drawing/Illustrating Notes

Visual Notes

Several students volunteered to wo(man) the backchannel on Today's Meet. They are pretty sufficient in the process by now. They set up their own room, summarize what it happening in the classroom and then "clean up" the backchannel log (which is then shared as a Google Doc).


Several students were individually taking notes with the traditional paper and pencil method.

Paper & Pencil

Class Collaboration

We asked one of the "Paper & Pencil" note takers to come to the front of the class, after the video was over, to tell us what the movie was about. He could, of course, bring his notes with him and refer to them as he was summarizing the movie for the class. The students pretty much read the notes in bullet form to the rest of the class. Then we asked one of the illustrators to come forward and tell us what the movie was about. He could also refer to his drawing as he spoke. This student was able to stand in front of the class for about 10 minutes and re-tell a (general) story (in his own words) of the American Revolution.


More on Digital Storytelling: Green Screen

I can't stop thinking about Digital Storytelling and its role in schools of the future. Digital Storytelling naturally weaves through so many 21st century upgrades to the curriculum. The importance of being able to tell a story, the skills to be able to tell a story digitally, is increasing with the need to

  • disseminate the story further and reach a wider audience
  • amplify our voice to an authentic audience
  • make our story available in different media channels

As the tools for digital storytelling are becoming more sophisticated and at the same time easier to use, in terms of mobility and price, the opportunity to produce a quality, professional looking story are within the reach of "even" elementary school students.

A few weeks ago, I purchased a Green Screen for under $20 (Chromakey muslin background) and pinned it to the wall in my room.

Students were naturally curious about the green screen and immediately got excited as I showed them what was possible with test recordings of them... sending them to the moon... making them stand in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris... all without even leaving our school campus.

Mrs. Rogo immediately jumped on board as she was preparing her Social Studies unit on "Our Community". We decided that students would create another episode of the Seminole Swamp Morning News Show.

In addition to creating a storyboard and writing the script for the show "Jacksonville for Kids by Kids", students had to think of an appropriate setting by choosing an image that would replace the green screen they would be filmed in front of. Their imagination was not limited by any field trip budgets or time constraints.

Collaborative Storyboarding with Screenshots

We practiced a few times in front of the green screen to show kids how to interact with the "not visible to them" background as I was filming them. They got the hang of it pretty quick.

Take a look at the final video and pay special attention to the Florida map and the alligator a the zoo.

Take a look at the finished story of our third graders (news show format) to teach others about the community they live in. Remember again, that the green screen and iMovie was just the tool to get the kids excited and motivated while at the same time supporting their creativity in script writing.


Florida Explorers: Storybook- Collaborative Writing

In Florida, the fourth grade curriculum calls for students to learn about the explorers of the 15th and 16th century who came to its coast and influenced the history of the state. As Mrs. Raitt and I were sitting together to plan the upgrade of the unit, we looked at the instructional goals, standards and objectives. We reminded ourselves of the 21st century skills and literacies we wanted to incorporate into the lessons for students to be exposed to and practice.

We decided to create a storybook, using an online tool, Mixbook, where students contributed different parts of a common storyline.

During one class, students collaboratively worked on ideas for a possible storyline and how each explorer would be represented and how groups would be able to research and contribute their portion of a story.

Brainstorming a storyline

Students started getting their creative juices flowing and kept coming up with more and more ideas to add to the list. Excitement in the class grew larger by the minute. Mrs. Raitt saved the notebook page with the ideas jotted down as an image and uploaded it to her classroom blog. She extended the brainstorming session by asking her students to add their storyline ideas as comments to the blog post. The class would vote on a final storyline once back in class.

Here are a few comments:

This is going to be a cool project! Here is a idea for the story part :

One day of school, the entire 4th grade find notes in there binders to go to Old St. Augstine to go back in time. To solve mysteries…….. explore new lands. but the question is : WHO sent them ?

Our class is in our classroom, and we are learning about explorers in Florida. We all fall asleep and have the same dream. Our dream is about us meeting explorers. They tell us important facts and cool stuff about them.

Thats cool Brianna! I really like it. Now here is my idea……..

We are searching up explorers and all of a sudden the explorers come out of the computer screen. When they do, they tell us all about their lives/adventures. Then we all wanted to know more since we all liked it. They all told us some facts about themselfes. It was so much fun that we felt like we were actually travaling with them when they were telling us about their adventures/stories/travels. We all said goodbye and then all of a sudden, they went back onto the comuter screen. We all wish that they would come back soon!

Thats the story I think we should do. :)

Once the class decided on a final storyline, we created a Google Doc and invited all students to edit. We started out with a beginning sentence and asked students to log in from home to add at least one more sentence. They were not to delete a previous sentence, but continue writing the introduction of their Explorer Story. They were also asked to insert a comment if they had an idea how to expand a previously written sentence by a classmate. In class, we read the collaboratively written paragraph and edited and expanded where necessary. We also asked the students to start thinking of visuals, images that would complement their story and could be inserted into their storybook.

Collaboratively writing the introduction and conclusion

Students then started their research about their assigned explorers. They also looked for creative commons or public domain images that they could upload and use for their storybook. Once found, they uploaded these images to Mixbook.

Uploading images to Mixbook

Students took turns to create and design the layout of their individual pages and then inserted and formatted the appropriate images and text.

Layout & Text Entry

Enjoy the completed storybook below. You may go directly to Mixbook where you can order a printed version of the book.


Mixbook - Create Beautiful Photo Books and Scrapbooks! | View Sample Photo Books | Create your own Photo Book