When is Technology Most Effective in the Classroom?

At the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference this summer, there was a great deal of discussion about how this year’s sessions addressed the use of technology. While there are still plenty of “60 apps in 60 minutes” sessions that always draw a crowd (and can help us find great resources), I was glad to see the focus begin to shift in 2015.

We’ve heard for a long time that technology should not be separate from instruction (C’mon kids, let’s all go to the computer lab, and “do” technology!), but should be integrated seamlessly. But for quite some time it seems, we’ve been going at it the wrong way.

EmPOWERed Kids by Consumers Energy, on Flickr

How many times have you been asked to take a lesson and find SOME way to integrate technology? This feels a bit backward to me, and it’s time to see technology integration become more organic. I was glad to hear an administrator say while leading a session, “I don’t walk into classrooms to see what technology the kids are using. I walk in to see what they are learning!”This may seem a bit obvious, but a key question arose during a session, and it helped me a great deal to think about the answer. The question? When is technology most effective? Whoa! Now we’re talking. If technology is just another tool, then we need to think about when it should be used.

You don’t pull a hammer out of your toolbox when you need a screwdriver, so why do we try to “force” technology into lessons where it is not the right tool for the job?


Technology is the right tool when…

1. It helps students visualize concepts. This was particularly true for me when teaching geometry to my middle school students. If you can see and manipulate transformations of shapes, it is much easier to understand them. Looking at animations of scientific processes or reactions is another way to help students truly see and interact with learning, as opposed to relying on still text and images.

2. It allows students to be creative, innovative & personalize their work. My 5th grade English students loved creating their research projects in Glogster, where they could design their own posters, link to related information, and embed images and videos to support their research. My 7th grade World Geography students had a blast creating narrated iMovie “infomercials” on the South American country they researched, choosing their own music and images.

3. It makes work easier for students (and often teachers). Does the tool help students keep work organized, or make work flow easier? My English students used web-based NoodleTools for their research papers, which allowed them to keep note cards and sources digitally, and easily link sources to information. All projects were shared with me, which made it easy to provide feedback or comments while they worked. This meant students could keep working during our snow days last year, and never had to worry about losing index cards or copies.

4. It promotes collaboration, provides students with a larger audience for their work, or connects them to peers or experts in a new way. Blogging is an excellent example. My students love reading the work of other kids and learn through practice how to provide constructive comments. They are thrilled to receive comments on their writing, and begin to think much more about their audience when writing. Skype is another example of how students can connect and learn from a more diverse, global audience, including experts.

5. It enables more students to participate, better engages them, and makes learning FUN. Surely we’re not so far removed to remember that these are kids, right? If technology gives a quiet child a voice, allows a child who needs more thinking time to participate, or just makes the process of learning more fun and engaging, we should provide these opportunities to our students whenever possible.

As the new school year begins, I encourage you to look at your curriculum with these five opportunities in mind. Then use technology to support your students in ways that take both teaching and learning to a new level. Your “new and improved” classroom will support creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, and communication, and most importantly, will celebrate the gifts of every child.

Thoughts from My First Year “In the Middle”

Is the middle ever a good place to be? We hear about the woes of being a middle child, hate being stuck in the middle seat on an airplane, and dread the inevitable “middle age.”

And then there is middle school. Ugh. Jeff Kinney, author of the popular Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, writes, “I’ve never run into a person who yearns for their middle school days.” So true! Middle school brings back memories of struggling through the awkward years of puberty, cruel and judgmental classmates, and school pictures I would have paid my parents NOT to order.

Actress Zooey Deschanel said, “Nothing could be as hard as middle school.” Yet this year, after many years teaching elementary grades (3-4) and leading a high school youth group at church, I ventured bravely into the middle… the “Land of the Gland.”

Venturing into the Middle

In the months before I began this new adventure I met with our guidance counselor who had a slideshow to share with me, depicting a wonderfully hilarious look at what it meant to be a middle schooler.
Despite the lighthearted tone, the tug on my heartstrings was powerful as I was reminded of the struggles middle school kids face. I suddenly wanted desperately to make middle school better for my students – to give them a safe person to confide in – to help them love themselves and each other through these difficult years.

So how did it go? Yesterday was our last day of school, and I think it’s safe to say I survived and mostly prospered. It would be tough, though, to determine who grew more this year. Probably me.

Here are a few things I gleaned

If you’ve spent years as a middle school teacher, this likely won’t be new information – but a reminder is always a good thing. If you’re new to teaching or just new to teaching in the middle, you might find my new-found insights can help you along the way.

  1. PRAISE IS CRUCIAL. Middle schoolers have huge self-confidence issues – even if they cover them well. Compliments, both personal (notice the new shirt or the haircut) and academic (praising an assignment or test that helps bring up their average), go a LONG way. They crave the positive attention and the realization that you notice AND care.
  2. MAKE YOURSELF AVAILABLE. Offer to meet before school, during study hall, or after school for extra help, and open your room for students to “hang out” in the morning or during breaks. Give yourself this opportunity to get to know them. They will inevitably begin to trust you and share with you.
  3. SNIP THE SNARK. Although middle schoolers try to act “cool,” they are incredibly sensitive and will take your sarcastic or snarky comment to heart. They can dish it out, but can’t take it. They’ll laugh it off now… and then dwell on it for weeks. Weigh your words carefully.
  4. PATIENCE IS A VIRTUE. For reasons we cannot totally understand, middle school students are, by nature, inconsistent. They will ace one test and fail the next. Hormones are coursing through their systems, causing a wide range of issues regarding maturity, commitment, emotion, and ability to focus. They are painfully disorganized and distractible. This too, shall pass…
  5. LOVE THEM. Their parents are yelling about messy rooms and grades, their “friends” are judging their every move, and their bodies are changing faster than they can process. Don’t judge them. Encourage them. Smile. Laugh. Have fun with them. Be the oasis in the middle of these tumultuous years. The joy will be returned to you tenfold…

5th girls 580

Photo credit:
Drawings & feature image (State College Middle School)

ISTE Bound!


After years of asking, the planets have finally aligned and I am headed to ISTE this month!!! I am positively GIDDY. The technology grant our school received not only covers the conference, but also allows me to register for some paid workshops. SO COOL! On top of this, I’m hoping to catch up with some of my Twitter colleagues, whom I’ve only known virtually for years now. My husband refers to them as my imaginary friends, so I’ll have to be sure to take pictures!! 😉 I’m following #ISTE2015 on Twitter, and am excited to hopefully meet some of the educational leaders I’ve admired from afar for many years.

Now the overwhelming part… I’ve been searching the sessions (SO MANY), and trying to determine how best to use my time. I went to FETC last year, so I feel I’ve dipped my toe into the “mega-conference” waters. But ISTE… Wow.

So I have been reading “ISTE Tips” and other posts, trying to make sure I don’t miss anything. (Who knew EdTech Karaoke was a thing?!?)

Here’s the few things I’ve learned – If you’ve got other tips for me, please leave them in the comments below – I need them! Hope to see you there!

1. Read the information at the conference website – as much of it as you can. Learn how to click the star in the circle near the session title and “favorite” the sessions you are interested in. When you go to your dashboard, you can look at and print your favorites. Know that some sessions (like the BYOD ones) don’t cost extra, but have limited space, so be sure to register for them early!

2. Follow the Twitter hashtag #ISTE2015, find ISTE on Facebook – Gather as much information as possible! That’s how I learned about “Slice of ISTE“, a cool way that educators are giving back and helping to feed the homeless of Philadelphia.

3. CONNECT – ENGAGE. That’s what this is about! Join the conversation and get prepared before the conference. Make a name tag with your Twitter handle. Sign up to attend evening events. Plan to share by tweeting and blogging about the conference. Make the most of your experience!


A New Kind of “TACKIE” Day

This year our middle school guidance counselor started a new group called “Student Voices”. Students were invited to use their club time to meet and discuss ways they could improve middle school life. A wonderful group of 5th-8th graders was formed, and their efforts culminated in a special day at school.

When considering the issues students faced in middle school, the group came up with a list of qualities that students should strive for, and made a fun acronym (TACKIE) to help others remember. We’ve always reminded our students to follow the “kind, true, necessary” filter before speaking, but this took things up a notch.

TACKIE stands for Tolerant, Accepting, Considerate, Kind, Inspiring, and Extraordinary. I like how these words “pair up” to help drive the point home.

* Don’t just be tolerant, but be accepting of those different from yourself.

* Don’t just be considerate of others, but go out of your way to be kind.

The last two are my favorites, as they encourage students to be individuals.

Be Inspiring. Wow. This is HUGE! What does it mean to make your actions such that they will inspire others? What does that look like?

Be Extraordinary. Let your light shine! Celebrate individualism and those things that make each of us special…

We had a “TACKIE Tuesday” to celebrate these initiatives. The Student Voices group handed out “I’m TACKIE” stickers to everyone in homeroom, and students wore tacky clothes in a fun dress-down day.

I was so impressed with their efforts that I took their message and posted it on my white board – It remained there until the final day of the year as a reminder. We could all use to be a little TACKIE, don’t you think?

It’s About the Challenges…










With school beginning in a few short weeks, it was time to send a welcome email to my new families. I smiled as I created the new distribution list in my Gmail account, as I’ve had the pleasure of working with several of these families before, when I taught their older children. Shortly after I sent the email, I got a response from one of these families. They’ve had some issues with their little one, and wanted to pass along their feelings about the year ahead. The note said,

I hope he matures a lot this year, and learns to focus. He has a lot of potential if he controls his frustration and concentrates. He’s going to be a challenge, but I know how great you are at getting the best out of your students.

I appreciated the compliment, but also felt there was almost an apologetic tone to the note. Their older child was “easy” – very bright, very sociable, very responsible. It seemed they were almost feeling guilty that they were sending this “challenge” my way. They were clearly hopeful, though, both that I would recognize his potential and be able to help him grow this year.

I’ve seen this little guy come up through the ranks… I’ve noticed how bright he is, and more importantly, I’ve seen the issues that must be addressed before I send him on to middle school next year. I honestly can’t wait to have him in my class. I really want a shot at helping this kid. I think I can make a difference.

Then it struck me. Isn’t THIS what teaching is about? The challenges? There is no greater joy than when I can successfully solve the puzzle of a particular child and find a way to reach them. Would I even enjoy an entire class of “easy” students? How much work is necessary with a child who is already motivated, bright, and eager to learn?

No… Little guys like this are what make me look forward to each year in the classroom – the opportunity to discover the hidden gifts in each child, or help them work through difficult academic, emotional, or social issues. The joy in helping each child feel confident and capable. It won’t be easy… There will be some tough love, lots of parent contact… and no guarantee of success. But maybe this child is suddenly at that crucial time when things can turn around with the right balance of high expectations and loving support. I’m up for the challenge.

I AM A TEACHER. I love, I care, and I’m willing to take the time with your child to make this his or her best year ever. That’s all it really takes…

Wishing a rewarding year of challenges and joys to all of my fellow teachers across the globe. We are so fortunate to be able to do what we love, and love what we do…



Image courtesy of [image creator name] / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Never Stop Learning…

It all began in the fall of 2010, when I took part in the Powerful Learning Practice Connected Learner Experience. Not only was the experience a blast, but it transformed my way of teaching. I remembered seeing that graduate credit was offered for PLP, and thinking that it would be useful for my license renewal, I looked into it. I found out that I  could get credit for two courses at UWOSH, and learned about a Masters program focus entitled “Teaching 2.0” – Now THIS was right up my alley!! Combining a study of 21st century pedagogy with technology integration was the perfect focus for my MSEd in Curriculum and Instruction. I jumped in, taking two classes per term, and have been hard at it ever since.

I am excited and proud to say that I completed my studies this term – and graduated with a 4.0!!




Aside from the many benefits of an advanced degree, I believe it is very important for educators to put themselves in the position of the learner on a regular basis. Working with a group of other students with a wide variety of backgrounds and abilities reminded me of the importance of individualized instruction, and how “life” can get in the way of a plan to stay on top of assignments!!

It was the busiest time of my life, and balancing my many commitments was incredibly stressful. I’m grateful though, for the experience, and proud to have achieved this milestone!

If anyone is interested, the UWOSH online cohort program was fantastic, and I highly recommend it.

Virtual Classroom Visits – A Great Opportunity!









Last night I took part in something both powerful and exciting… A Virtual Classroom Visit. I had received an email from Powerful Learning Practice (PLP) co-founder, Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, asking me if I would be interested in being one of three “peeks” into classrooms implementing TPACK (Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge). If interested, I would have to videotape a TPACK lesson in my classroom, upload it to YouTube, and write a description of the content, pedagogy, technology, and how inquiry was embraced in my classroom. PLP would post the video online, and I would respond to any comments or questions for a week. Then I would participate in a 30-minute webinar in Blackboard Collaborate where folks could come discuss the lesson with me and ask questions.

I was truly humbled by the request to be one of these three Virtual Classroom Visits, and yet I was a bit nervous airing a video of a lesson and opening it up to feedback from both strangers and people I have a great deal of respect for! Despite my anxieties, I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to share what I have been working on since I completed PLP’s Connected Learner Experience professional development program two years ago – integrating technology in a way that cultivates connected learning in my classroom, and focuses on student-driven learning and inquiry. I chose a Mystery Skype session, and quickly set up a Skype call and recruited a videographer.

My Lesson

Briefly, Mystery Skype is a fun activity that supports our study of states and regions in 4th grade. Students receive a Mystery Skype call and use yes or no geography questions to determine the location of the other class. Students are in teams with different roles, and must use reasoning skills to determine the next question that will help them narrow down the class’s location. After the exciting moment when each class correctly guesses the other’s location, the students share interesting facts about their state.

The video turned out well, and I was excited to show others how I merely had to facilitate, and allow my students to drive. I couldn’t wait for folks to see their engagement and visible learning!

Despite this, I was quite nervous going into the webinar session. I had no idea how many folks would come, or what questions I might be asked to answer on the fly! Of course, my fears were immediately assuaged when I realized I found myself immersed in a wonderful community of dedicated, enthusiastic, and supportive educators. The thirty minutes flew by!

So What’s Next??

These Virtual Classroom Visits are unique opportunities to watch teachers in action, obtain information and resources about their lessons, and chat with them about the work they do. Next week, on March 14th at 8:00 p.m. in Blackboard Collaborate (Click Here), PLP will host another webinar based on the practice of middle school teacher Alan Fletcher. Alan’s lesson is packed full of great topics such as using technology to find and share current events, creating Google presentations to inform others, and the art of commenting on student blogs. Although he works with middle school students, the information and methods he’ll share are applicable to all grade levels. I’m looking forward to hearing more about the great things he does in his classroom.

One more session will be held on April 11th, with high school teacher Beth Sanders. So mark your calendars for these remaining two sessions. Make the time to step into some innovative classrooms, and learn from these great educators in only 30 minutes! In the meantime, if you missed my information about Mystery Skype, click here for information, resources, and a lesson plan.

My deepest appreciation goes out to Sheryl and to Lani Ritter Hall for this opportunity – They are brilliant leaders, inspirational educators, and they never fail to push me out of my comfort zone!


Image courtesy of [digitalart] / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Rethinking Content in the Digital Age

I recently read a blog entitled “Back to School: A message to high school students who hate high school; Here is why you hate it.” The author of this post, Roger Schank, also penned an article entitled, “No, algebra isn’t necessary — and yes, STEM is overrated” for the Washington Post Answer Sheet.

No surprise that Schank has received a wide range of responses to his strong opinions. Personally, I’m grateful he has put them “out there” because it has forced me to really think about how I feel.

What we’re talking about here is content. With the huge changes the digital age has brought, I think it is more imperative than ever that we re-think content.

I’ve already made some small changes in my 4th grade classroom. For instance, when teaching states and regions in Social Studies, I no longer make my students memorize state capitals. I would rather my students know the location, landforms, climate, historical significance, and resources of the states in our country than spend their time memorizing capitals that they can look up any time they need them (do we ever need them?).

I’ve made the tough decision to stop requiring cursive, and instead have made time for keyboarding instruction/practice. We have 1:1 netbooks in my classroom, and the students do not have a computer resource class, so I spend time talking about Internet safety, digital citizenship, Internet research, validating sources, and copyright. These are all changes to content that I feel are appropriate and necessary for my students.

How do we discover our passions?

But Mr. Schank is talking about high school, so let’s think about that for a minute. In his post, Schank systematically explains why most of the subjects taught in high school are completely unnecessary. Does he suggest alternative content? Not so much. His advice? “Know what matters to you. Learn that. Nothing you learn in high school will matter in your future life.”

While he makes some valid points in his article, I have a few issues with his approach.

My first question is this – How “deep” into a subject such as Algebra, Biology, Chemistry, or Physics do we need to go for students to identify a passion for the subject? If we stopped teaching them all together, would we have as many doctors and engineers? At what point do we allow a student to say, “This is neither a strength nor a passion for me. I don’t care to pursue this subject further”?

Schank’s “throw it all out” position to me does more harm than good. I think we DO need to consider whether students should be required to take upper level Math and Science courses in high school, but I feel his post does not encourage conversation about curriculum reform and passion-based learning. It is extremist and calls what we do “ridiculous” and “beyond silly.” That confrontational language will not encourage the dialogue that is so desperately needed to bring about a truly student-centered, interest-driven education system.

What happens instead?

Second: If we change the content in our high schools – if we drop requirements for certain upper level courses or for foreign language – what will take the place of these courses? What could we be offering to meet the needs of students who find their passion in the arts? Music composition and theory? Audio engineering? Script writing? What about athletics? Sports training? Sports medicine? What if students are interested in pursuing a passion that involves technology? Graphic design? Computer programming? Web design?

Third: When we learn certain subjects, we are not only learning content, but we’re learning a certain process or way of thinking. Reading good literature helps us identify what makes good literature. What does the writer do that makes his writing engaging? How can we use this in our writing? The methodology used by scientists or mathematicians is more important than the specific “facts” we ask students to memorize. How can we reform our instruction in these subjects to focus on the things that are most important to take away?

What’s missing now?

Finally: What should we be offering? What is missing? I believe we need entire courses created around Internet research, verifying sources, copyright/licensing, digital citizenship/Internet etiquette, creating an online identity/presence, and branding ourselves so that when we are inevitably “Googled,” it is clear who we are and what we believe.

Our so-called “tech savvy” students (in 4th grade or in 12th grade) are typically NOT well informed in these areas, and we would be negligent if we continue to send them out into the world — to college or the workplace — without this knowledge and skill set.

Students don’t need the “ammunition” in Mr. Schank’s article. High school isn’t going away any time soon, and I don’t advocate that students simply get on the Internet and learn about what interests them in lieu of a formal education. Mr. Schank does, however, give us food for thought.

We do need to make changes to what we teach and how we teach it, both in public and independent schools. We need decision makers to consider important reforms to the content we teach that reach well beyond the traditional curriculum or “common core.”

Change is made by developing a consensus, and I’m hoping we’re moving closer toward that consensus every day.


Image 1: FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image 2: FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image 3: FreeDigitalPhotos.net


Originally posted at http://plpnetwork.com/2012/09/04/rethinking-content/. Many thanks to my editor, John Norton for his brilliant editing and images!

Our Skype Adventures: Creating Connected Learners in a Global Classroom

students skype with IWB

This post was originally published at Powerful Learning Practice’s Voices From the Learning Revolution. Many thanks to my editor, John Norton for his genius that makes me look good! 


The familiar sound comes through our computer speakers, and instantly my 4th grade classroom comes alive.

“Is it him?”

“Can I talk first?”

“Can we turn off the lights?”

“Can I move so I can see?”

It’s a Skype call from a student in my class who moved to Hawaii at the end of April. The kids miss him dearly, and at 2:00 p.m. this afternoon (8:00 a.m. Hawaii time), Cody has just woken up and is Skyping the class to tell us all about his new home. The kids have questions galore about the time zone, the climate, the islands. We laugh, share what we’ve been up to, and enjoy a great visit with a good friend.

Skype became a new and exciting way to learn in my classroom this year. It began with Mystery Skype. Since our 4th grade Social Studies curriculum focuses on states and regions, I was excited to learn about this fun activity. Our class would receive a Skype call, but the caller’s location was a mystery. We took turns asking questions and sharing clues about geography, climate, history, attractions, and famous people before guessing the location of our mystery caller! With students on netbooks, asking questions, providing answers, writing information on the board, and manning the maps, all hands were on deck and engaged as we learned about states across the U.S.

I was hooked…

We continued to share and learn using Skype as we participated in the Global Read Aloud. Sharing a literature experience with thousands of students across the globe was exciting enough, but my students were on fire when it came time to Skype with another class and share our predictions about the story.

The students actually wrote their own comprehension questions to ask the other class, and then discussed their interpretations and feelings about the story. We found a class that wanted to Skype weekly to discuss the book, and started to build a relationship with them. It was magical.

When the opportunity arose to Skype with a celebrity for Anti-Bullying Month, I got on board! When other classes heard that we were going toSkype with Nickelodeon actors Nat and Alex Wolff from the Naked Brothers Band, my classroom filled with students from our lower school division. Nat and Alex were sharing music from their upcoming CD and talking to kids about bullying. Engaged? Totally.

Our further Skype adventures…

In February, I saw a tweet from Twitter friend Paula Naugle in Louisiana. Her students had completed research projects about Mardi Gras and were offering to share their presentations via Skype. Who better to learn about Mardi Gras from than students in New Orleans?! I purchased green, purple, and gold beads for my class, and we surprised Mrs. Naugle’s class by being beautifully adorned for Mardi Gras when they called! The students had also created glogs and embedded them on Edmodo. My students were able to backchannel with the students in her class using a “Skype Collaboration” group in Edmodo during the presentations, and view their glogs online.

Another Twitter friend, Jan Wells, “called” the other day. Her students had created “State in a Container” reports, and knowing that we were studying states and regions, she wondered if we would like to watch a presentation about Tennessee. How could I refuse?! My students learned a great deal about Tennessee as a creative and articulate fourth grader pulled items out of a guitar case. She explained that she chose a guitar case because of the strong musical associations in Tennessee — the Grand Ole Opry, and of course, Elvis! The kids enjoyed a great lesson, and I got a cool idea for a project next year!!

Skype is a magic window…

Skype enables students to connect, collaborate, and communicate with students across the globe. It creates an opportunity for students to learn from each other, to have authentic audiences for their work, and to meet musicians, authors, and others who can further their learning. Imagine reading a book and then Skyping with the author! Or inviting working parents into your classroom to talk about their careers, from their job sites. The possibilities are truly endless.

On May 16th, Skype announced that it is joining forces with Penguin Group, New York Philharmonic, Science Museum London, Peace One Day, and Save the Children with a view towards giving teachers educational content and access to expert speakers via video calling. This collaboration represents Skype’s latest attempt to reach its goal of connecting one million classrooms globally.

Skype in the classroom will now feature each organization’s content, projects, and available guest-speakers, with Penguin Young Readers Group connecting authors with students for discussions about books, reading, and writing. The New York Philharmonic will offer live interaction with musicians and educators. Save the Children and London’s Science Museum will have individual projects on Skype in the classroom by the end of the year. Skyping is no longer a novelty — a once-in-awhile special event. It’s becoming a routine part of being an effective 21st century teacher.

I look forward to finding more ways to create “connected learners” using Skype in the coming years. If you’ve had positive experiences or can share other ways to use Skype in the classroom, please share them in the comments here. If you want to give it a try, just let me know. Mrs. Grayson’s 4th graders are always eager to make new friends!

How We’re Using Our Own Private Classroom-Focused Social Network



Edmodo is a social networking tool for schools. It is especially designed to be a safe, Facebook-style community where students can communicate and share. Unlike Facebook, Edmodo is highly secure. A teacher can set up a class and obtain a group code for students to use to join the private class group.

I decided to try Edmodo last year, when I found out that I would be looping with my 3rd graders. I wanted to keep in touch with my students over the summer, and I thought it would be fun for us to have a special place to communicate. I set up our class and began by using some fun tools. Because Edmodo allows you to embed creations from other web 2.0 apps, I posted a WeeMee of myself to show them how to use an avatar instead of a personal photo for privacy on a blog or website. My first big post was a Google Mapof my upcoming summer vacation for my students. Later, I embedded this Glogster poster with pictures from my travels! Of course this wasn’t just “all about me” — it began to introduce them to the possibilities of an Edmodo community.

Instead of just posting a note, sometimes I used fun tools like this Ladybug Note Generator to tell my students that I’d added some fun games and sites to our class Diigo page for them to explore! (As you can see, we were already chatting away.)

I also posted the summer reading assignment (just in case any of them misplaced it), and used an Edmodo poll to find out which read-aloud book was their favorite from the year. Any time I found a fun tool or site, such as Wonderopolis, I could embed a preview and link in our Edmodo group and share it. The students could check it out and provide feedback, or talk about it amongst themselves. It kept all of us connected and gave the students an opportunity to share their summer activities and anticipations or ask questions about the coming year.

One of the great things our Edmodo space did over the summer was help introduce us to the new students that would be joining our class in the fall. The newbies were able to join the conversation and become part of our class family before the year began. It really helped them to make a smooth transition when they already “knew” the other kids!

Edmodo also helped us share experiences when we had an unexpected earthquake in August, here in Virginia. It was not severe, but for most Virginians, definitely a new experience! I immediately started a “What were you doing when…” thread, and it was great to hear that everyone was OK despite a few items breaking or falling off walls.

This year we began a 1:1 netbook program at our school. With their own netbook, it’s easy for students to use Edmodo as a regular part of their school day. For instance, as part of the Global Read Aloud, we joined the Tuck Everlasting group on Edmodo, and shared thoughts about the story with students from all over the world. Teachers could post comprehension or discussion questions for students, and students could respond to the reading and gain insight from others.

I also set up a sub-group within our class group for student book reviews. Here students can post mini reviews of the books they have read. If a student is looking for a good book to read, they can stop by and read some reviews, or ask a student about a book they have read. With their active daily involvement in Edmodo, students are learning to write thoughtful, grammatically correct posts, and to construct comments that promote online discussion.

Recently, we had a Skype visit with Paula Naugle’s 4th grade class in New Orleans. They taught us about Mardi Gras with student presentations. We joined the Skype Collaboration group in Edmodo and so we could “backchannel” and see the Glogster posters the students had created with the information from their research. Students were able to comment and provide feedback on the great work done by Mrs. Naugle’s class!

Forbes recently posted that Edmodo is now launching a third-party platform to publish education apps to Edmodo’s 6 million users and 70,000 schools. According to Forbes:

More than 35 companies are launching apps with the new platform. The basic apps will be free. Premium apps developed by publishers will require a purchase. Teachers also have the ability to connect the apps to existing Edmodo features such as badges, quizzes and assignments.

Examples of apps on the platform include an interactive graphing calculator that can send graphs to classmates, an interactive chemistry lab service, a print your own scantron application and social multiplayer math games. Applications include BrainNook, Schooltube, StudyEgg, Third World Farmer and GradeCam. In addition, textbook publishers have their learning apps on the new platform. They’re not textbooks, but “modular” pieces of content, Borg says, and not just text but also interactive content.

I look forward to exploring other ways my students can use Edmodo to support collaboration and instruction in the classroom. I’d like to hear of more ways to connect my students using this valuable tool. And I’d also love to hear from other teachers who may be using different platforms to create student virtual communities inside their own classrooms.

1st image: Salvatore Vuono

Originally posted at http://plpnetwork.com/2012/04/10/how-were-using-our-own-private-classroom-focused-social-network/. Many thanks to my editor, John Norton for his brilliant editing and images!