From edmodo to Google Groups

I have used and blogged about edmodo before as a learning space for literature discussions. Since our school has gone full speed ahead with Google Docs and Google Site Portfolios, I decided to try and use Google Groups this year instead of edmodo for my Grade 3 Literature Circles.

I set up a 3SS Reading Group with our school gmail accounts. The students didn’t have to remember another username/password as they were already comfortable with their school gmail accounts. In Groups, they easily click on the discussion prompt and respond to the questions/thoughts as well as reply to each other.

So far this has been successful. I have added our Literacy Specialist as a member of our group so the students are collaborating with others outside our classroom too. The students are able to communicate with each other on the novel we are reading together whether they are in school or at home.
They are-
-explaining their thoughts on the novel
-interpreting character’s actions
-applying their prior knowledge from other texts
-understanding different points of views

For our next novel, the students will take turns posting the initial questions/prompts for the group.

The following snapshots show a few examples of student’s thoughts on our current novel, Poppy by AVI. As always, if you and your students are reading Poppy or another novel and would like to connect, please let me know!






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Reflect with VoiceThread

One of my teaching goals this year relates to Reflection.
-more time for my students to reflect in the classroom
-making available other tools to reflect with beside pencil and paper
-reflecting on the process as well as product
-ensuring time is spent on reflection in the planners for my UOIs.


My G3s are currently working on a summative piece in our unit of inquiry, How We Express Ourselves. While they work on their summative, they are logging their progress and reflecting along the way via VoiceThread.


I have used VoiceThread before to share student work in Readers Theatre, field trip reflections, and other student experiences. This year, I introduced VoiceThread to my G3s earlier in the year so the students were familiar with the tool and how to comment on other student’s slides. Although this time, they are keeping their slides to themselves for the time being as a means of self reflection.

Below are a few samples from my G3 Students

This has been an effective way for students to stop and think about their progress. For my ESL students, they have found they are able to share more of their thoughts and feelings for they are not made to write everything down.

I am sure many of you have used VoiceThread before, but I thought the benefits behind using it as a reflection tool were worth sharing. When these are complete they will simply embed into their Google Sites Portfolios.

Do you have any other ideas to share on how you use VoiceThread?


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A little help from friends

Nothing Ever Happens on 90th Street  by Roni Schotter is a story about a young girl named Eva, who has trouble coming up with something to write about. After she receives some advice from her fellow neighbors she tries to use the advice and has another go at writing.

This book is referenced in as a mentor text when working with the revision stage of the writing process with your students. Below, I will share what I took from this idea and how I implemented it in my Grade 3 classroom.


First, my students were asked to write about a time when nothing happened to them. We brainstormed different possibilities; waiting in the car for mom or dad, waiting in line for lunch, waiting for the school bus. Each student then wrote a draft.

I then read the beginning of the book to the class, including the part where we meet Eva, who is supposed to write about what she knows, but finds nothing ever happens to her. I also read about the advice she received from several of her neighbors.

After that we talked about each neighbor and the advice they gave.








We posted the neighbors and their advice around the classroom for students to refer back to.









After that, I read the rest of the book, and we looked at Eva’s revised writing and tried to figure out whose advice she was using.








I then asked the students to take their draft of a time when nothing happened and visit the neighbors around the room. They were to think about their advice and write down any revision notes in their notebooks.








After the students wrote down their notes, they were ready to rewrite a revised piece on a time when nothing happened. They didn’t share with any of their peers whose advice they were using, for a peer would later read their published piece and try to figure out whose advice they followed.

Below you will see a sample of  a draft piece of writing, the notes taken from the neighbors advice, and a revised piece.



These are the notes the student took as she went to visit the neighbors for advice.


Here is her revised version



We were recently practicing for our oral presentations and one of my students said his presentation was too short. Another student, walked over to Mr. Sims on the wall, pointed to him and said, “Mr. Sims would tell you to add more detail!” What a great connection!

The revision stage can be very difficult for students as they are often attached to their draft and don’t want to change anything. After introducing our new neighbors, the students have really begun to understand this stage and how they can revise their writing.

What have other ideas do you have to help students understand revision?

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Graphing Sentence Fluency

I wanted to share another great idea from on sentence fluency as this is currently our writing trait focus the next few months. My grade three students drafted a paragraph on a special time they shared with an adult; mom, dad, aunt, uncle, or grandparent.

I then shared the story Owl Moon by Jane Yolen which describes a special time between a young girl and her father as they go owling.


The students and I listened closely to the first word of each sentence and talk about what we noticed.

I then asked the students to go back to their draft and circle the first word of each sentence. As we are also currently working with Data Handling in math I was pleased to hear the students identify that we were collecting data!



In pairs we then took our data to the computer and created bar graphs of our first words using Kids Zone Create a Graph. The students discussed what they learned from their bar graphs.




I then copied a few pages out of Yolen’s book for students to work with. We circled the first word of each sentence and we also counted the words in each sentence. Yolen’s book is a great example of varied sentence lengths as some sentences have 20 words and others have 5.

After a discussion on Yolen’s pages, the students knew they would now have time to go back and revise their paragraph on a special time. Some students had thoughts like,

‘I’m going to try and not repeat any beginnings’
‘I can change sentence beginnings by joining sentences together’

This was a valuable introduction to our inquiry into sentence fluency. It even allowed us as a class to discuss starting sentences with ‘And’.
Some of my students said you should never do this and others disagreed because they found out that even published authors like Yolen start some sentences with ‘And’.

What do you and your students think?


Posted in integration, international teaching, Math, technology, Uncategorized, writing | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Taking away one thing – Google Summit

When you present at or attend a conference, you hope to either have your participants or yourself walk away with at least one new idea. After attending day one of the Google Summit at SAS in Singapore, I have walked away with a few new ideas to share with you.



1. Google Drive and Research


When creating a Google doc in Drive, you can now highlight text and search online without leaving your doc.



If you find information that you would like to include in your doc and cite, it is just as easy as copy, paste, and cite!






This is an online HTML editor tool. You can paste in urls of images or videos found online and converts them into HTML codes to embed in your blogs or even for tours in Google Earth. @nigel17 shared this tool during his session on Google Lit Trips. He also shared a site where you can download Lit Trips that have already been created for Google Earth.

Looking forward to day two!

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Mission and Vision

This summer I spent a week in Miami, Florida for my first PTC course, Creating and Administering an Effective School. The Principals’ Training Center (PTC) is professional development for international school leaders.

My group consisted of about 40 participants from various international schools. Many are already in administration positions and some were, like me, still teaching in the classroom but aspiring towards international leadership positions.

One of the topics we explored that stood out for me was the idea of a school’s mission, vision, and learning principles.

What is your school’s mission statement? Is it evident on your school’s website? Does it tell readers what you do and whom you serve? Do your staff members know what it is and what it means?

What about your school’s vision, that desired future state? Are decisions that are made in your school in relation to what you hope to become?

Finally, learning principles, those beliefs about learning that are based on research and best practice. Where in your school are those found? Are all decisions based on those to ensure the focus remains on student learning?

These may be helpful questions for you to take back and ask at your school.
As I came back for the start of this school year I met our new Head of School. Her first activity with us….. A hands on discussion regarding our vision. A good place to start I think.

Does your school spend any time on these ideas at the beginning of the year or throughout?

Posted in international teaching, mission, PD, vision | 2 Comments

Literature Circles with edmodo

edmodo is an online tool that allows teachers and students to connect and collaborate. I have used edmodo before with grade 5 students, but this is the first year I’ve used it with grade 3. I started with setting up one of my reading groups on edmodo to conduct their literature circles. So far, we have had success! The students are enjoying communicating and discussing their shared book both at school and at home.

The students are beginning to develop the skill of referencing text while engaging on edmodo.  The following snapshots show a few discussions my students had as we read Because of Winn Dixie. You can see the students referencing pages and specific text selections to support their opinions. This is also transferring over to when we meet face to face in class.

As I don’t see each reading group every day, edmodo allows the students to continue their literature circle without having to wait for face to face time with the teacher in the classroom. The students are engaged and able to connect with each other through this online tool.  They have also recently started uploading documents such as a Wordle used by one student for her role as an illustrator.

We have also recently added our Literacy Specialist and the students were more than excited to share their discussions with her as well. Next, would like to connect with another class reading the same novel.  Any grade 3 classes out there reading Wayside School series or the Poppy series?

If you haven’t checked out edmodo before, I recommend it. It is an easy tool that allows your students to continue discussions outside of classroom walls.


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Do we still need the poster?

My grade 3 students recently held their Invention Fair. They presented a tri-board of research on a particular invention and shared their own invention they created to solve a problem at home.

(Click on image to enlarge)


The home invention went through stages of brainstorming, selecting, sketching, building, testing, and reflecting.
The research at school, including questioning, planning, recording, organizing, interpreting, and presenting, resulted in products for their tri-board such as timelines, diagrams, reports, graphic organizers, and bibliographies.

When reflecting on this unit, we talked about how much the children enjoyed the fair. They loved sharing their learning with their parents, teachers, and students.  They were excited to collect feedback from the rubrics that guests filled out. It was asked though if students really still need to know how to make posters. This brought out many questions on the subject-

  • Can the Invention Fair only focus on the student created inventions and the process they went through?
  • Isn’t research skills one of our transdisciplinary skills, including presenting research findings?
  • Should there be a balance in the presenting of research between posters and digital media (if available)?
  • Shouldn’t it be more about the process and not the product?
  • If all the research was presented digitally, do we need the fair experience?
    Don’t students need experience with creating posters and presenting at fairs before Grade 5 Exhibition?

It’s all about balance isn’t it?
What do you think? Does your school have a poster-like event in various grade levels? Is there value to the poster as long as it is not overused?

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Is Santa too materialistic?

'Santa Claus Vector Image' photo (c) 2011, Vectorportal - license: of the activities at a recent PD session I attended with Lynn Erickson was based around developing guiding questions. Questions of different types (factual, conceptual, and provocative) that guide students thinking from concrete to abstract levels. For the PYP, these would be our teacher questions. We were to see the need for a balance between the different types of questions.

We were shown an activity in which a famous personality (deceased or living) is invited to sit at a table with you and be interviewed. You are to come up with examples of factual, conceptual, and provocative questions to ask the famous personality.


The example shared was with Santa Claus
Factual questions:
-Why do you think people perceive you as a jolly person?
-Why do you give presents to children?
-Why is Rudolph your lead reindeer?

Conceptual questions:
-Why do so many people believe in mythical figures?
-Why do mythical figures represent either ‘good’ or ‘evil’?

Provocative (Debatable) questions:
-Is Santa too materialistic?
-Should he switch from giving presents to solving problems such as climate change and scarce natural resources?

In groups we were to then brainstorm our own famous personality and create our questions. Some groups chose Michael Jackson, Tiger Woods, Lady Gaga, and even God.
Just an idea for a possible faculty meeting activity or even an idea to share with grade level teams as they practice writing diverse guiding questions tied to their generalizations or central ideas.
Who would you invite and what would you ask?


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I’ll have the PD with a side of Twitter please

In the past two weeks I have had two very different Professional Development experiences. I feel I was able to take something away from both, although I found I preferred one format to the other.

On February 10th and 11th, I attended Concept-based Curriculum and Instruction: For the Thinking Classroom with Lynn Erickson, Ed.D. The two day PD was held at UWC East Campus in a large hall. There were probably over 150 people there and we were seated at large circle tables, about 8 to a table. The tables were labeled a specific grade level or subject area. I ended up at a table of only 3; two grade 3 teachers and one grade 2 teacher.

Erickson spent the two days sharing her theories through a PowerPoint format. There were times we were given butcher paper tasks to do as well. She tried to make it around to spend time with each table, but that proved difficult due to the number of participants.

There was a lot to take in with only two days. I found the information on the Structure of Knowledge, the conceptual lens, and comparisons to PYP thought provoking and I wanted to talk more about it. As I sent out my first tweet, I was hoping to find others who were there and willing to engage in this PD session through the eyes and ears of twitter as well. Unfortunately, I found only one other person. (cheers @cmk1965)


On February 17th and 18th, I attended the 21st Century Learning Conference in Hong Kong. I presented there last year and was facilitating an unconference on Media Literacy this year. The conference strand I was in was the Primary Strand. Friday I was able to go on school tours and interact with teachers and students at CDNIS and CIS. Saturday included different sessions and unconferences. Even before I got there, which was a day late for I could not take more time off school, I was able to be a part of the conference through my colleagues on twitter. Infact the hashtag #21clhk had already been active for weeks before the conference, exciting participants and allowing the sharing to begin. Though I may have been sitting in one area of the hall for keynotes or in a different session or unconference than others, I was still able to share and learn from the fabulous educators on twitter throughout the weekend.

While I recognize these two PD opportunities differ in their design, I still think there was a place for twitter at both. Sometimes it helps to be in the same PD session and have that twitter conversation going on to compliment the session, allowing afterthoughts, questions, and new ideas to surface throughout.

In the end, I am glad I went to both PD opportunities, but thankful to be on twitter and able to engage with and access resources and educators around the world. I prefer to order my PD with a side of twitter! What about you?

(Twitter : @shaza33)

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