Thursday, October 30, 2014

Big Universe iPad App

Big Universe has been a great resource since the beginning of East Noble School Corporation's digital conversion. It has worked especially well for our second through sixth graders as it supplies a wealth of non-fiction texts pertaining to topics that interest elementary students. This is especially handy as it is often hard for younger students to perform research online and understand the reliability of online resources. Big Universe provides that reference point to help them determine the accuracy of other online materials.

Allowing teachers to quickly assign and distribute digital content to students contributes to the success of Big Universe. Teachers use it for differentiated instruction as they can select texts based upon multiple reading leveling tools and check off which students should receive it. Training students to use the reading level resources was equally advantageous for teachers as students were able to find books that are "just right" for them.

This year, East Noble's kindergarten and first grade students have transitioned from an iPod touch to an iPad. In reality, Big Universe is very new to my kindergarten and first grade teachers as the product was found to be too difficult for primary students to navigate on a smaller device.

The iPad app provides great opportunity for students as they have a streamlined the user experience. With the app, sorting through reading levels and searching for topics is super simple. The catch with the combination of searching for topics and reading levels simultaneously is that one must start with searching for the topic. Otherwise the user loses the search filters based upon reading level.

Another great feature of the app is that it keeps the user signed into Big Universe. This may not seem that significant of a factor, but when you are dealing with primary classrooms, using an app that keeps students signed in is a time and frustration saver. To top it all of, users can even download texts for offline use. This allows students taking devices home to have access to class sets of texts without the Internet. It also is a good idea to have a few texts downloaded offline just in case the school network decides to go down in the middle of your literacy instruction.

Want to know more? I have a quick tutorial on all of these features with the Big Universe iOS app. Check it out and get your students signed on it!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Tech Squad and eLearning

Last week, I presented at the ICE conference on the topic of Organized Chaos. What is Organized Chaos you ask? Attempting to maintain a 1:1 technology environment with primary students.

This became very relevant this week as we will be doing a district-wide eLearning day. The students will be taking devices home with content downloaded onto them. This might not be too much of a problem with second graders on up, but for kindergarten and first grade, it requires a lot of time on the teacher's part. Many teachers resort to just accomplishing the task for themselves. However, I'm a big fan of "using your resources."

To help kindergarten get ready for eLearning, fifth grade students placed the apps needed for the day into an eLearning folder, downloaded videos to the photos, and made separate albums for the videos so that the students do not get them mixed up with photos/videos that they may have taken themselves. Even with with five helpers, it still took over an hour to download all the content to the devices and get the materials organized for two kindergarten classes.

Last year, I implemented a "tech team" that probably wasn't quite as organized as I need it to be. (My flyer from last year can be viewed here.) It was the first year that I tried it. This year, I plan on creating a tech team again. They will have one main role: help primary teachers maintain their devices. Their responsibilities will include: 
  1. Cleaning 
  2. Charging
  3. Checking and maintaining name labels
  4. Checking and maintaining organization of apps
  5. Checking and maintaining student backgrounds (We like to use designated backgrounds in our district) 
  6. Preparing devices for eLearning days
I think this year I will create a work schedule so that they give up one recess a week. This will reduce the burden. I will also plan on training the students thoroughly the first few weeks. That way all students know exactly what is expected and can accomplish the tasks as efficiently as possible. 

Have a suggestion? Comment below. 

Monday, October 20, 2014


Kahoot is a fun, interactive game that teachers can use to match any content area. Much like the sports trivia games that you find at restaurants like Buffalo Wild Wings, users gain points by answering correctly and quickly. Now with a classroom set of Internet enabled devices, you can do the same with your lessons.

Teachers have the choice of either using it for a quiz with a specific answer being correct, a discussion starter, or a survey to collect data. No matter how you choose to utilize this tool, it engages the student and offers opportunities for the teacher to take advantage of some teachable moments. I've even used it for a digital citizenship discussion for a parent night my fifth and sixth grade teachers.

To get started, teachers will need to create an account at As teachers create Kahoot sessions, they will remain saved under their account name. Teachers also have the option to search through thousands of shared Kahoots if he/she would rather not reinvent the wheel. However, students will need to access through Students will then punch in the "game pin" that is displayed upon the teacher launching the game session and typing their name. The teacher will need to project their game screen from their device as students will only have color coded boxes with the choices on the main screen. I would advise making the first question a practice round so that the audience has a feel for how the process works.

After the session is over, the instructor has the option of downloading the content into an excel sheet. This is convenient as it makes it easy to sort through the responses and analyze the data. This information is valuable whether the purpose is for a quiz, review, or a discussion.

Want to know more? Check out these videos on how to create a Kahoot, get students involved, and download the data after the session:

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

ICE Conference

I'm excited to be presenting tomorrow and Friday at the Indiana Connected Educators (ICE) Conference. There will be some great educators from around the state sharing their expertise in utilizing technology as a teaching/learning tool. There will also be a strong lineup of keynote speakers as we will hear from Leslie Fisher, Kevin Honeycutt, Dave Burgess, and Sylvia Martinez.

I will be providing two sessions: SAMR Tools (Thursday) and Organized Chaos (Friday). I have experience presenting at several conferences, but this will be my first for ICE. Here is a quick overview of my sessions:

SAMR Tools

SAMR stands for: substitution, augmentation, modification, and redefinition. It is tool for leveling the use of technology in your classroom to change it from enhancing to transforming the learning experience. I'll chat a bit about the SAMR model, but what I really want to do is dig into some fun and exciting tools that students can use on iOS devices. (Some of these tools are also available on Android.) I want people to bring their iPad, open up the App Store, and explore the digital playground. 

Organized Chaos

Teaching in the elementary classroom is already tough enough to organize. Throw in a class set of iPods or iPads and now things get really interesting. What do you do to help get things organized? How in the world do you keep students on the app you want them to use? This collaborative session will give teachers an opportunity to discuss how to build a positive digital culture.

I look forward to the opportunity to meet Indiana educators, hear about the exciting things happening in classrooms, and getting a few new tricks to try out with my schools.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

There is no doubt that is a powerful tool. Students love the opportunity to share, dialogue, and practice their writing skills in a blogging format. It gives them a sense of audience and voice. It is also a great platform because they provide you with many controls and options for free that require a charge from other blogging platforms.

I've worked with numerous classes in creating accounts and also getting the ball rolling with quality posts and comments. The tricky thing with a blog is that you really have to invest the time to communicate expectations when students post or comment. Otherwise they will naturally aim below the expectations for quality work. I blame that partially on the examples students see on various examples of social media (Youtube, Facebook, Twitter). Setting the expectations early is key to your blog's success.

For an idea of where to start, I posted about my experience with two fourth grade classrooms in the spring of 2014. To summarize the ideas behind that post, I always follow this format to get started:

  1. Signing in and general orientation of the site/application
  2. Modeling quality posts
  3. Modeling quality comments and when it is appropriate to comment
  4. Setting rules for comments
  5. Revisiting quality posts and comments to reinforce the expectations
  6. Including images to enhance the post
It doesn't end with these first six steps either. "Revisiting quality posts and comments to reinforce the expectations" is an element that is practiced throughout the year in order to achieve success with your Kidblog.

If you would like to get started with Kidblog in your classroom, you'll need to get quite a few things to set it up. To help you get the ball rolling, I have an entire Kidblog module created on my training site. If you are a teacher outside of my school district, you can ignore the assignment that is posted there unless your district approves it for license credit. Training Module