Thing 37: DIY via Thing 28: Emerging Tech

Flipping the Classroom

Flipping classrooms has been around for a few years and is slowly emerging in the elementary classroom but it presents a different set of problems at this level. First and most obvious is that it is unrealistic to expect young students to view coursework at home that they will need for the next day. Why? There are lots of reasons but a few that come to mind include after school activities, no access to a home computer, or daycare followed by dinner and an early bedtime. More common in an elementary school is flipping in school and having the students watch a video independently at their own pace while the teacher walks around providing support as students complete the worksheet associated with the video. Other teachers are taping their lessons and having absent students watch them upon their return to school. While attending a conference, I saw a new device that I think would be perfect for use in a flipped classroom: Swivl Robot.

maxresdefaultThe Swivl robot works with a tablet and a microphone on a lanyard. The robot turns and follows whoever is wearing the lanyard device and it records the audio of the person with the lanyard. Multiple lanyards can be used to record input from students. Although it isn’t cheap at $399, it is in line with other options that my school has considered like a wireless microphone, good quality video camera, and a tripod. The Swivl Robot would be a good place to start for a teacher that wants to begin flipping but doesn’t want to record all of the videos ahead of time. I am hoping to provide a demonstration of this device to my faculty in the fall and also hoping that my principal will find some money to buy one or two for my teachers to use. Fingers crossed!


I have been hearing about STEM for years with the increasing emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math instruction in school but recently I have been hearing more about STEAM which is adding in the arts so that our students are well rounded. As someone who loves technology and math (not science or engineering so much), I can appreciate that there are some students who aren’t interested in STEM but STEAM gives them something to look forward to. But as I was reading more about STEAM, it got me thinking — isn’t this really a different kind of way to say ‘Liberal Arts’? A Liberal Arts degree is a broad spectrum of classes including science, math, and the arts. Whether I’m right or not, I definitely agree with the need for students to have a well rounded base of learning that includes STEM and the Arts — otherwise known as STEAM.

This year I created a Makerspace in my library where students may visit after eating lunch or during the last period of the day. I have robots, legos, art supplies, electronics kits, and idea books for students to use. The robots and electronics are very popular with many of the students but there are other students that prefer to use the art supplies to create something for themselves. I will continue to expand the Makerspace to provide STEM activities but I also won’t forget the importance of arts to some of my student population. Many some musical instruments is where I should expand next!

Arts & Crafts in the Makerspace
Ozobot in the library


Authentic Learning Opportunities

I don’t begin to pretend that I am an expert on this topic but I do know that it is something that my school is struggling to provide given the constraints of teaching using the New York State Modules which I feel take away a teacher’s creativity and flexibility. I believe that Project Based Learning (PBL) is a similar concept where students explore a topic and follow it wherever it leads even if it seems irrelevant to the original topic. As I only see most of my students one day a week, it is difficult to provide them with authentic learning opportunities.

The closest I have come to creating authentic learning opportunities is with my 5th grade classes using the Genius Hour or what I prefer to call it — ‘Passion Projects’. I have adapted the concept to fit my 40 minutes classes and the only limit I set is that they must provide written feedback on their progress before the end of each class. I told students to think of something they wanted to learn about and if they couldn’t think of anything then to learn about then they needed to think of something that makes them angry or upset.

I decided to do this project with these classes because they are unmotivated and tend to be lazy and I was hoping that research where they choose their own topic and when they were ready to present would provide them with the intrinsic motivation to actually do something. Boy have they surprised me. So far, every single student has found at least 2 facts about their topics and 3 students have already presented and are working on a new topic. Topics chosen by the students include the Yulin Dog Meat Festival, Dolphin Slaughter, Bullying, and Donald Trump.

Is this an authentic learning experience? Probably not in the true sense of the words but in the end because the students chose a topic they were passionate about, I think real learning has been accomplished. After students present we discuss the websites they used, bias, opinions vs. facts, and what other information that they might have missed. This is the first time all year that I have truly seen passion in these student’s eyes. To me, that makes it authentic.


I only picked a few of the topics that I felt were most relevant to my school and where I think we need the most work. Other trends included teaching complex thinking and adaptive learning technologies and these are areas that I think my school is on top of if not ahead of the ball game. We still have a long way to go and need to keep looking forward but I am optimistic that we are headed in the right direction.


Thing 36: Flash Cards, Quiz Games, and More

So many tools are available for quizzes and flash cards that it is impossible to just pick one. I have used Google Forms, Quizlet, and various crossword puzzle creators.

Games can be a good way for students to learn something that they need to memorize. For example, the Quizlet below was created to help my 5th and 6th grade students memorize the titles of the books and authors for Battle of the Books. I also print out a simple set of cards so that students can play a sort of memory game using them especially if they don’t have the Internet at home.

I have seen Kahoot being used in a very active 3rd grade classroom. At the time, the students were in pairs but only one student at a time could answer the question and the teacher grouped  teams separately from the game. Kahoot has since added a team function which would increase collaboration and also competition. Creating a new quiz in Kahoot only took me as long as it took for me to find pictures and decide on questions as it was that easy to use. It only took me a few minutes to create a quiz on the parts of a book that I could use with my 1st or even 2nd grade students. The drag and drop feature for adding pictures was a simple and quick way to add visual appeal to the quiz although it did add to the time to create the quiz. If you weren’t worried about images and already had the questions ready, you could have a Kahoot created within minutes and ready for your students to use. I have created a similar quiz using Google Forms but I think the students would love the competition that Kahoot  provides.

Although I didn’t create a quiz using StudyStack, I did check out a few of the premade quizzes and enjoyed playing them. I found flashcards about nonfiction terms that I could use with my upper elementary students sort of like a pretest to see what information they know and what I still need to teach (or reteach). While exploring further, I discovered that these flashcards could be turned into different types of quizzes such as hangman, matching, and crossword. These options would allow a student to choose the method that would help them learn the best which is a big plus over some of the other options I explored.

Last year right before 4th grade science testing, I collaborated with a 4th grade class to have them create flashcards to go along with the various science terms they would need for the test. We used an app called Lifecards – Postcards by Vivid Apps to create them and students were able to add at least one picture, the definition, and a sentence using the vocabulary term. The process helped them learn the terminology and they had fun finding a picture that would help them remember — not one that I thought would be best. Below is an example of one created by one of my students.


Flashcards, games, and quizzes are a great way to engage students in something that might otherwise be tedious to them. A student creating a quiz for the class would also be a roundabout way of assessing how much that student learned without them necessarily knowing they are being assessed. Although I primarily use quizzes as an exit ticket or summative assessment, that is not the only use for them and I’ll have to remember to use them the next time I find my students bored with their current assignment..

Thing 35: Student Digital Portfolios

When I was in graduate school for my Library Science degree, one of my last tasks was to create a digital portfolio filled with work I completed for the different standards to show that I had addressed all of those standards. At the time, there were very few options so I chose Google Sites. Please be kind as I haven’t updated this site since 2009 and I had to follow a very specific formula but if you’d like to check it out, here you go: Deborah S. McHugh’s Portfolio.

It was interesting to read that people have different ideas of what should make up a portfolio — only best work, all student work, only assessments, etc… What I would like to see in a portfolio is a collection of as much of the student’s work as possible so that you can see growth along the way but you might also catch where a student is struggling or where they are excelling or even a skill they have mastered and don’t need any more instruction. A student’s portfolio should also include work from all areas of the school including music, art, P.E., and the library since significant learning also takes place in these area of a school.

The thought of the need for students to being able to comment on work from their classmates never even occurred to me. Students today are very social in nature and allowing them time to read and comment on other student’s work can provide many hidden benefits: increases their reading and writing time but if implemented correctly requires students to use their critical thinking skills. How you ask? By teaching students that when they are providing a comment on another student’s work it needs to be more than ‘I love this!’ or ‘Great job’ but more along the lines of ‘I love how you used evidence from the text to support your answer’. This is a skill that is assessed on the standardized tests and this would be a great way for students to get practical experience using it.

In “The power of digital student portfolios” by Matt Renwick, the author mentions that we need to redefine data. There is so much more to student learning than a score on a test. Since I work in an elementary school, I have long believed that students should be given different methods to show their learning including verbal responses and/or videotaped responses. I have found that many of my students can provide the correct answer verbally but when I ask them to write the answer or pick a response via multiple choice, the students often pick the wrong answer. When I have raised this point with different teachers, I always get the same response, “They need to be able to write the answer.” But no one has been able to provide a good reason why this is the only truth. Providing students with a platform to record themselves is a great way to differentiate especially with shy or struggling students.

One of my first grade teachers is using Seesaw with her students and is having great success with it. But she is the one who is doing most of the uploading and hasn’t really taught the students how to access it and add their own work. My district is looking into ways to integrate technology and digital portfolios is one of the platforms they are exploring. The free version of Seesaw is adequate but it does require the teacher to share their password or provide the student logins to other teachers. Also, at the end of the year, a students work can’t be transferred to the next year which is a distinct disadvantage of the free version. Although the paid version is a little pricey, I believe the benefits are worth it: access to usage statistics, a central access point, and portfolios are transferable. In a district that desperately needs to increase parent engagement, Seesaw provides a simple way for parents to be involved.

Because of the cost to upgrade Seesaw, another option that the district is considering is Google Drive. The biggest advantage Google Drive provides is that the students already have an account and for the most part, know how to log in and access it. It also is easy to organize the documents into different folders and uploading different types of documents is also relatively painless for even the youngest student. Folders can be shared with parents if they have an email address. One of the biggest disadvantages, and I could be wrong, is that it is difficult for students to comment on the works of other students in the class. Each student would need to create a group and would have to share everything with this group. Also in my district, students are given a new email address when they begin middle school so unless the tech department transfers the Drive when they create the new email, then the student loses all of their work from elementary school. Although I like the simplicity that Google Drive presents, I don’t think it is the correct solution as it really only meant as a place to store documents.

Many of the options that I explored all have the same problem: no way to transfer work when the student moves or changes grade levels. Google Sites would be a good option but it won’t work at the elementary level because you must be 13 years or older to use it.

One problem that I don’t know the solution to is how to convince all teachers in the building that students need a digital portfolio. Many teachers are struggling to keep up with everyday tasks and adding one more thing to their plate might put them over the edge. Many of the different programs are easy to use but there is always a learning curve and unless they are required to use it, I think many teachers would choose not to use it despite the advantages that a digital portfolio can provide to them.

I think school librarians should help provide basic training to students on how to use a digital portfolio but I don’t think it should be done in isolation. Depending upon the platform used, the librarian is the logical choice to be the point person on creating the classrooms and transferring files/students as needed.

The world of education is changing and we need to find new ways to get our students involved in their own learning. Digital portfolios are an elegant, simple solution that I hope more of my teachers embrace in the coming years.

Thing 34: Annual Reports

This is going to sound like an excuse but I haven’t been collecting data since the beginning of the year so a true annual report will not be possible. That said, I will begin to gather information that will be helpful starting today.

One of my busiest times for interactions with other teachers is before my day contractually starts so I would like to keep track of exactly how I am spending this time. Frequently, I am checking out equipment, providing book suggestions, troubleshooting technology, and quickly collaborating all before my day officially starts. But right now, I don’t keep track of any of this so I really need to start documenting. I know this isn’t information that is strictly directly related to student achievement but in the end, these “distractions” do take away from my time to prepare for students thus indirectly related to students.

One of the changes in annual reports over the last few years is that there are a lot of good options that allow you to include different types of media. I try to incorporate student quotes in my newsletters but the idea of a video clip stating this same information has so much more impact on the viewer.

I also wonder if the newsletters are even read or just thrown in a pile with everything else. Smore is a website that can be used to create newsletters which can then be shared via different platforms. The website it pretty easy to use and provides options to add different types of media including videos and links to outside websites. The biggest advantage to using Smore is that it captures analytics and therefore you know how many times it has been viewed. The only problem is that in order to have this feature, you need to either upgrade to a paid account or have over 30 people view your newsletter. If you only want to share with your principal, then you won’t be getting the views that you need and would need to upgrade. Now I know what some of you are thinking — why not share it with everyone? I agree that newsletters should be readily available to all stakeholders, not just the principal but this still doesn’t guarantee that 30 people will actually open it.

I decided to go to my standard platform — Canva. I like the ease with which I can create almost anything and have even used it to create pretty cool worksheets for my students. It is like PowerPoint on steroids. You can add links to other websites but you can’t include videos which is definitely a downgrade from Smore. Still, I find that I prefer this platform despite the lack of analytics. Below is what I have for April so far although it isn’t yet complete.


For my report this year, I would like to include feedback from the 6th grade interviews that I will be doing in the next few weeks. I will also include information on the various projects completed with and without collaboration. I will highlight different projects with student quotes and standards that were addressed. Pictures will help break up the text and provide exemplary examples of the work that was completed. Of course, I will also provide the standard statistics on circulation, classes taught, professional development provided, and social media updates. One thing I do know is that I need to make it visually appealing first so that it actually gets read. Otherwise, it will be lost in the pile of ‘things to read when I have time’ and that would be a waste of a lot of hard work and time on my part. Additionally, the stakeholders would be clueless about all of the learning that is taking place in the library and that is something that I can’t afford to let happen!