Imagine… Exploding the Faculty Meeting

photoAs the school year began, we presented an idea to our department chairs. What if we replaced faculty meetings with professional development groups that were passion based? What if we followed these 4 simples guidelines: choose, collaborate, create, and share? As we start this journey please help- let me know if you have tried something similar and if you have any advice or comments. Watch the video here:

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Manning Scores a Touchdown- Kent that is!

Kent Preparing

It was easy from the beginning. I had a full day to plan appropriate tech workshops for the lower school faculty. We were in the middle of developing our writing curriculum so digital storytelling seemed like a wonderful idea.  I asked Kent Manning to facilitate- not only an expert in DST but also fascinated with literacy and boys– a no brainer. A few weeks later I met him in our lobby, gave him a tour, and plomped him down in a classroom full of first grade writers. A few minutes later, two young boys were eagerly sharing their stories (and their valentine snacks) looking up at Kent as if he were Father Christmas. What he was doing was following Jeff Willhelm’s social contract- get to know me, take an interest in me, and make sure I learn.  I wondered if he would have the same success with our faculty the next day.

An hour in on Friday and I knew he had  them hooked. Sharing his experiences, giving us tips for techniques, helping us with subject choice, and above all, showing us some stories- there wasn’t a fidget in the group- and by the end of the day, not a dry eye. The day was about writing and it was about using technology to produce some wonderful stories- but more than that, it was about a writing coach helping his students find meaningful stories to tell. With his guidance, some switched from writing about a dog or a trip, to about 9/11 and adoption. We spread out and got to work. We wrote, wrote and wrote some more. Then we had to revise and share. Finally we recorded and found images. At 3 Kent closed our day- but only those with planes and trains to catch left- the rest stayed to continue sharing and chatting.

We had learned about digital storytelling. But we had also learned about ourselves and about each other. How often does a professional development work day truly do that?

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Is the first time the best time?

In 2008 a group of us got together for our very first digital photography project on flickr. We were part of a plp and undertook to take a photo a day for 31 days in October. We knew most of our Twitter followers well, had not yet heard of Pinterest, and were not wasting (for the lack of a better word) time playing Words with Friends. Now that our pln’s our huge, I sometimes miss those more intimate days. The days are gone when I put a question on Twitter and receivea plethera of replies. It has evolved into a different animal. I especially miss my international friends. So as an effort to reconnect, we are bringing back our October project.

The theme? Very simply- share something from your life each day so we can reconnect!


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How to be essential about Mysteries?

It is that time of year again. We have begun creating our new collaborative unit. Last year we developed our K-4 integrated unit on Rivers.  After a hot debate, we have chosen Mysteries Around the World. We are collecting our enduring knowledge and moving on to essential questions. And this is where I get nervous. I can guide the teachers in many things- but I never seem to succeed with essential questions that can be used across disciplines. So we end up with only a few using them.. and they end up dull (for rivers: Why are rivers important? How have we affected rivers….)

So this year, I’m trying something new. I want one big essential question and several sub-questions. The sub-questions can be straightforward and tailored to disciplines but the big one has to be a good essential question. By this I mean:

  • reflects a problem that is interesting and relevant
  • can have multiple solutions and a variety of answers
  • could be controversial and challenges students to solve real world problems
  • requires collaboaration and thinking beyond recall
  • crosses disciplines

So if you had to develop one great essential question for children in k-4 school for Mysteries Around the World, what would it be?

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Ipad a Story

As I began to investigate ipad apps for story writing to introduce to the faculty, I realized they fell into two groups.  There are those that allow you to create your own story and use images, sound, and text in your own way. Then there are apps that guide you through the story making process with the help of steps, scenery, and props (often that are rather commercial and rather cutesey). Here are the ones we are going to investigate and use with our students.

Group 1: Open-ended ipad apps to tell stories using your images

StoryKit  Meant as an app to read stories, it has the capability for you to create stories. You can use photos or draw your own illustrations and write and record text.Here is a slideshare on Storykit with an example of a story.

Sonic Pics Another easy to navigate app that uses a series of photos with a recorded text.  Read how Maria Caplin has used this app in this post.

Storyrobe An app that uses photos and your recording and turns them into a video.  See some on this blog from a school in the UK.

Here is a wonderful screencast showing Wesley Fryer demoing all the last three apps.

Strip Designer  I have used this with boys in grades 1-4 and absolutely love it. The app is easy to use and the results were incredibly creative. Here is a slideshare from Lucas Gillispe.

Story Buddy Some good updates have improved this app.


Group 2: Create a story using our “stuff” apps

Toontastic A truly intuitive and engaging app for all ages K-4.  Here is Kathy Burdick’s review and a post about using Toontastic in the math classroom by Andy Russell.

Story Patch Build a story by following a road and making choices. Here is a simple overview on the Apps for Learning blog.


Story Wheel is a good app for building language and practicing oral storytelling. You spin a wheel and record a story based on the objects that it lands on. The AppModo blog explains how this helps our students with imagination.

Puppet Pals allows you to create a show (or story) using puppets and scenery.A youtube video that will demo this app.

I would love to hear how you have used these apps and about other story telling apps you have found!


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Open the Windows

Personal growth is very important to me. I follow the usual routes: reading, attending conferences, visiting other schools, experimenting. This year I realized there is one other hugely important source- right in front of me. An influx of new teachers over the last two years has transformed my thinking. New ideas, new approaches, new questions, and most important of all, new energy continually keep me alive and pushing. It is so important for schools to find a way to bring in new teachers to disrupt. This disruption forces the rest of us to reflect, evaluate, and often to recreate. So thank you to the learning specialist who has helped me see the value of Orton, to the tech teacher who has helped me step back and be thoughtful, to the second grade teacher who values and nurtures independence in her students, and to all of the new assistants who knock years off my life. Finally, thanks to the science teacher who reminded me that integration in the fragmented day of our young students is worth the battle I feel I have won and lost so many times. Here is her description of her most recent project:

Having spent the last year getting to know the LS Science Curriculum, I came into this year with the goal of kicking things up a notch and finding ways to deepen the boys’ learning and keeping my teaching fresh. One of the best ways I know how to do this is work with others to build bridges across the curriculum. One project particularly stuck out in my mind as being ripe for integration, so, with an idea in mind, my fingers crossed and a willingness to throw caution to the wind I broached the idea of revamping the 2nd Grade Fish Flipbook project with the Second Grade Team, our Librarians and the Second Grade Art Teacher. To my great delight (!), everyone responded with a resounding ‘yes’ and we set to work figuring out how to make the logistics work. I am happy to say that, at this moment, we are now poised to begin the project at the beginning of November with the science classes focusing on fish adaptations and fish morphology, the library classes focusing on conducting fish research, the art classes focused on creating fish renderings and the homeroom classes focused on turning research into writing all culminating into a beautiful final product (we hope!) that will be scientifically sound, grammatically correct, artfully designed and most importantly a vehicle through which our 2nd graders learned more deeply about key topics in science, art, writing and research. On a professional note, this project has given me the opportunity to work with and get to know colleagues whom I usually just pass in the halls – deepening my respect for them and understanding of how their work contributes to educating the ‘whole boy’. It has also inspired me to be more creative in my planning because I can now use time that was once spent in science class correcting grammar or having the boys sketch fish to focus on developing a scientifically rich curriculum on adaptation. I am also comforted in knowing that if the end result is not what we hope it to be, I am amongst peers who are full of brilliant ideas and a willingness to tweak and push forward until we have created a unit that has achieved all of our goals and served our boys well. Of course…regardless of how the end result turns out, there will be a celebration for all involved…because who doesn’t love a fish party?!?




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Through My Female Lens- Boys Part 1

My Female Point of View

I work with boys but I also work with a lot of women. These women, and I, are in charge of all of the boys. A few years ago we learned about how we are actually quite different from our male pupils and that we view their behavior with our own gender, and often over protective, lens. Wrestling on the playground, swinging from the high bars, being shot by a lego gun, frightened us- not the boys.
Hiring male teachers was the first step. I would lean over to a male faculty member and ask , “Are they just playing? “Yes,” was frequently the answer.
We also listened to the boys. As I reprimanded a group for pushing during a catch game, one exclaimed, “You just don’t understand us!”
As we learned about our lens and examined our own feelings, we realized it was our own discomfort that was bothering us- not the boys behavior. A strange thing happened. We all relaxed. In consequence, the boys relaxed. The did not become out of control. They became themselves. We allow talking in the hallway (even running), we allow movement in the classroom- and we allow more aggressive (oops my interpretation) play.
We still cringe at certain times- and speak up when we are really uncomfortable- but learning about our gender filters has helped us become a boy friendly community.
Next installment.. guns!

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Before and After: Changing my Environment

The Before: Clutter, Standard Furniture, Old Carpet

I moved into my closet like office over 10 years ago. I attempted to make it bright and cheery and had plenty of visitors, both young and old. Three weeks ago and after a couple of weeks on pinterest, I realised I was not looking forward to being in this little hole. I had to do something. One sleepless night on the internet and a 3 hour design star moment in Ikea was all that it took ( and a few little trips elsewhere). Have to say, I’ve blown the socks off at everyone at school- we are not a school known for our decor! We mustn’t forget how important our environment is.




Step 1: Find something to pull the space together and to set the color scheme. Mine was the rug.

Step 2: Buy things you really love. I found 2 unique but complimentary chairs.

Step 3: Clear out the clutter and store your stuff in containers and on clean, bright shelves.

Step 4: Add in accessories and decoration that will make you smile.


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August 10 for 10 (or 20)- My Take

Here is my contribution for this marvelous project– teachers listing their top 10 picture books and blogging about it. My reasoning behind some of my choices:

  • Being a curriculum coordinator, I’m not in a classroom but might be called into numerous ones without warning. I like to have books that I can rely on to hook  a variety of age groups.
  • I miss the connections that you can form with your own class.  I look for books that will quickly engage and involve the students.
  • I work with boys so  I love to find a story that engages them but also widens their experience.
  • I strongly believe picture books can be used as springboards in all subjects so I like to have a variety to recommend to my teachers for across the curriculum.
  • I’m committed to a strong anti bias curriculum so I am always on the look out for new books that help kids develop a sense of social justice.
  • I have been teaching for 29 years so some of mine are rather old! Plus I cheated by adding runner ups.

1. Best book to encourage participation with anticipation and rhythm : Rosie’s Walk by Pat Hutchins                                      Runner Up: Jump Frog Jump By Robert Kalan

2. Best book to discuss environmental issues: Just a Dream by Chris Van Allsburg             Runner Up: The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton

3. Best book to involve the students and incoporate music: Abiyoyo By Pete Seeger           Runner Up: The Missing Piece by Shel Silverstein

4. Best book for math: Ten Black Dots by Donald Crews                                                  Runner Up: The Grouchy Ladybug by Eric Carle

5. Best book when talking about values: Elmer by David McKee                                  Runner Up:  The Empty Pot by Demi          

6. Best book for social studies: Encounter By Jane Yolen                                                         Runner Up: The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson

7. Best book with no words: Tuesday by David Wiesner                                                        Runner Up: The Red Book by Barbara Lehman

8. Best book to laugh with: We are in a Book (and entire series) by Mo Willems           Runner Up: No Jumping on the Bed by Ted Arnold

9. Best book you can read and listen to over and over again: Frederick by Leo Lionni  Runner Up: Dr. DeSoto by William Steig

10. Best book to show boys they can break stereotypes: The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf                       Runner Up: Max, The Stubborn Little Wolf by Marie- odilie Judes

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I-P-A-D Marks out of 10!

I start with me- I am the I. I was given my own ipad a year ago- I then introduced a set of eight to be used in our Lower School. I oversaw their use, the purchase of apps, and was responsible for  professional development with the teachers. I presented about our work at a conference. My goal, of course, was that the I should fade and it should become them (the classroom teachers).  I began by suggesting which apps could be used for certain projects.  I made sure plenty of apps were installed regularly onto the devices. I created a list of all the apps that was readily available. I worked closely with the assistant teachers so they could take the lead in the classroom. I showcased successful projects. I used ipads in faculty meetings, giving them time to play and explore. As the last couple of months approached, hiring ate away a lot of my time, so I stepped back- a good test to see if I had taken out the “I.” I will give myself 5 out of 10.  While some wonderful things were still happening, the sign up sheet had more blanks in it and requests for apps fizzled. On reflection for the majority of time I had been the one suggesting uses and while we all found it an easy tool, most of my teachers weren’t yet understanding its potential or the need for integrating technology into the classroom. I have to steer some away from seeing it as a “fun thing for the kids to play on when they are finished” to “this can really improve learning and tap into the creativity of my boys.”

Practicalities. High scores here for ease of use, storage, charging, reliability, connectivity, durability, sign up, app management. Our laptop cart  paled in contrast. But the practical problem we deal with is the fact a large number of students are using a small number of ipads. The result is all sorts of work and photos are saved- or not, and some of our projects are limited. We also can’t print and while we can work around that using email, it is not always ideal.  Overall score: 8.

A is for Applications. Being a lower school, we are definitely using the ipad for apps. I searched high and low for good apps, reading many wonderful blogs and my twitter feed. We have quite a collection listed here. While a number of apps are skill driven (the more effective ones often being math), we have also had success with some that tap into the boys’ creativity. For example all of the boys in the entire lower school used doodle buddy to write a page of a book about river animals. The work in music class and in my after school photography class (documented in earlier posts) was great. Frequently we were reminded how easy it is for our students to navigate the apps and produce wonderful work. Toontastic and Strip Designer are still two of my personal favorites. So for apps, I would have to give ourselves a 9.

Finally D. Y0u have to be determined to lead the way and integrate a new tool. Now I am determined that with the addition of 25 new ipads for 1-4th grades to share, and our original 8 moving permanently to Kindergarten, that I will continue to focus on fostering independence in the teachers and of the development of worthwhile projects. This will require working closely with our new tech teacher, planning some pd, and building on the aha moments that I know will be happening.  I remember walking into fourth grade as they were working collaboratively, writing brochures about rivers using books, maps, and ipad for content, while writing on a laptop. It wasn’t about the thrill of the ipad- it was about the learning. Determination: 8/10

I started writing this to evaluate the ipad but it quickly turned into an evaluation of our school’s success.  I loved working with the boys and the teachers as we traveled this journey. Overall score:

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