Custom Search Engines

I was on Facebook and saw this from TeachThought. It is something I’d like to do with my students to save time when they are researching. We have a content area reading unit soon that involves looking up information about nutrition and other wellness topics. I think this might be a great way to streamline the research for them. It looks easy enough to do. I like the suggestion that the kids could create their own custom search engines.


All students are required to keep a reading log. Sometimes those have questions and/or prompts on them as well. The idea is that kids keep track of how much they read, how fast they read, what level and what genre book they read, and so forth. This information helps the teacher know how to guide the student, and it helps the student set goals. I agree this practice is useful to both student and teacher. However, I am not a fan of the paper log, especially when so many tools exist that allow it to be recorded digitally.

For the last couple of years, I used Reading Glue. I liked it because parents had an account as well. It was easy to use and allowed the Guided Reading System, A-Z to be tracked. Well, as of this year, Reading Glue is no longer operating, so I went searching around for another digital tool. I found Biblionasium which was a tool I used with my classes over six years ago.

It is good that it is still around because now it is associated with Follett and Destiny which is our library’s system for check-out. My students can log into their library accounts and within a few clicks, get to Biblionasium. It reminds me of Shelfari, which I loved, (Sadly, it is gone, too.) because the book covers are on shelves. There is a read list and to read list and since it is tied to our system, students can see books in our library that are in and those that are out. It does allow the entry of books read not in our library.

The log is easy to use and has a place for student thinking in the comment section. It is easy for me to check student logs. I can move through by clicking on Next Student so I don’t have to return to the group page and click on a new student every time.

sample log.jpeg


Inside this program, students can make recommendations, write reviews, and set goals. There is a challenge option that either students or teachers can use, too.

We have been using the log and comments for about two weeks.  I am anxious to get them into the social book club aspect of the site. We have recently started our own book clubs so it would add another dimension to the idea of sharing thinking about a book.

If you are looking for a digital way to collect reading logs, you might give Biblionasium a try.

Alan November Gives His Thoughts on Teaching and Technology at ISTE

This is the first summer in three years that I haven’t attended an ISTE conference. Going through my Facebook feed while sitting on a couch in Arkansas, I saw this article. After I read it, I thought these are the questions teachers should be asking themselves. The technology uses November suggests are transformative. Looking at SAMR or other models of technology use puts transformation as the goal. I prefer Scott McCleod’s approach to transforming teaching. He suggests moving from teacher-centered to student-centered; from low-level thinking to high-level thinking tasks; and from analog to digital. But it isn’t necessary for every lesson to incorporate all three at once. For instance, you can have a high-level thinking task and not use digital tools. Your lesson won’t be transformative just because you are using technology. November’s first question gets at the concept of shifting from teacher-centered to student-centered.

I love the idea of students designing their own problems. I have heard this at other workshops and conferences before and yet as teachers we are reluctant to have kids create problems for themselves. Is it because we are afraid we can’t solve them? I hope not.

I score very well on question 2–creating your own professional development. I love taking online classes of all sorts: poetry writing, areas of science, and technology. Last year I was part of the inaugural cohort of Future Ready Teachers–six courses offered by Google. It is great when you have a class of students game for anything. I like attending conferences when possible. All of my professional journals (NSTA, ASCD, ISTE) are available online. Fortunately, there are also many free ways to add to your learning: webinars, sites (Mindshift, Edutopia to name a couple), Edshelf (an app where users contribute apps on different subject area shelves), podcasts, and courses via iTunes and other organizations.

Student self-assessment seems like an easy concept to implement but I have found that without the proper understanding of the rubric or the expectations, students don’t take it seriously or it may be more correct to say, they can’t take it seriously because they don’t understand what they are being asked to do. I will look into Prism, a tool November mentions to see how it might assist students. I ask my students to highlight aspects of their writing that meet the criteria and if they are missing, to revise, but since that is a directive from me, I’m not sure it qualifies as self-assessment. From time to time, students reflect on their work and set goals, usually before conferences. The pre-tests for reading units they take are self-assessed. Again, these are assignments I give. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if students checked themselves without prompting? The publishing aspect of this is especially important. The idea that someone other than the teacher or their parents reading their writing or checking out their project is highly motivating. My kids keep blogs but rarely are they read by anyone other than me. If anyone reading this wants to do some kind of blog share, I’m in. I know my boyfriend, a fanzine writer himself, would love the idea that kids are writing fan fiction. Perhaps this year, we will have an online fifth grade magazine. !!

As for question 4, I have tried Twitter class accounts a few times. I’m not sure I will try it again. The impact just doesn’t seem to be enough to justify the time it takes since I have to monitor and approve all tweets going out. Then I have to remember to find time to share the class feed with the class. I won’t say never again, but I remain unimpressed by Twitter’s power for my students. (I use it periodically as a professional.)

I love the idea of question 5–purposeful learning and will think about how I could make that happen for my students. Question 6 isn’t tough for me since I am a life-long learner and a poet. I share my learning process quite often. My kids know I take classes and are interested in how I learn as well as what I learn.

Perhaps the most exciting question of all is question 7. I work hard to create independent learners and thinkers. If I could, I’d let them have more control over what they learn. I have to teach the curriculum given but within that, I give the kids as much choice as I possibly can. For example, for the past two years, I have opted to teach the independent writing project instead of personal narrative because the students get to choose how they want to improve their writing. I love the idea of video tutorials. Having the kids create those for others sounds like a marvelous idea. Adjusting the level of the video script for an audience, determining what is most important, and finding the most succinct way to say it is meaningful work and applicable to writing and reading. At the NSTA Minneapolis regional conference in October, I attended a session where research was done that showed when students have to write for a younger audience, they retain more of what they learned. The older kids had to break down the vocabulary and ideas to a level the younger ones could understand. Breaking concepts down into component parts helped the writers fully comprehend them.

I realize this is a lengthy post but since it is summer, I have plenty of time to write! And because it is summer, it is a good time to reflect on how I might implement some of these transformative ideas into my teaching come August.


In my last post, I shared TeachThought’s Six Digital Tools. I decided to try one of them even though it is the end of the year.

I am reading Wringer by Jerry Spinelli aloud to my class. We are about 50% of the way through the book. I wanted to stop and see what they were thinking and to find out what some of their predictions were. I thought this app, Recap, would be great for that.

Recap lets you record a video so I could have read a section of the text or done something else to set up these questions, but this time I didn’t do that.

My students’ laptops are four years old which may not sound too bad, but they are limping to the end of the year. What this means is that activating the camera and the microphone often resulted in errors or long wait times. Recap is an app so recording on an iPad would most likely be much faster. Even so, about ten of my kids persevered and finished recording all five questions.

A student can join a class using just the class PIN or via Google. We use Google so we signed up that way and then added the class PIN to access the assignment. That part was smooth. Creating the assignment was very easy as well.

A student can listen to their recording and decide it is fine or decide to re-record it. If they are happy with it, they click on next. A red bar moves across the top of the screen and then the next question pops up.

There are a couple of features I really like. One is a share feature which allows you to email the student or anyone else with the video or you can get a weblink. And the other feature is called a Daily Recap which combines some responses. I have a few links I will post so you can see what it looks like.

Student One

Student Two

Daily Recap

A blog post about Recap

Formative Assessment Tools That Really Work

One of my favorite tools to use to assess what kids know in science is Padlet. I also really like the 3-2-1 format. Combine those with Google Draw and the results are pretty amazing. I can tell at a glance who gets what and who doesn’t quite grasp the concepts. Padlet lets you edit the post, too. Getting a shareable link is a snap in Padlet. (I remember when it was Wall Wisher.) It is very easy to use.

Today we watched a lesson on atmospheric pressure using Nearpod. Afterward, the kids were to complete a 3-2-1 (3 vocabulary words, 2 facts, 1 drawing) to show something they learned. I have the kids snip their Google drawing but you can actually download it as a jpeg. We have a few hiccups with picture sizes but otherwise, I like what they were able to do. Many are not yet finished but this gives you an idea.

WellCon–Presentations on Wellness

We have this great short unit in reading where the kids research a topic concerning wellness. They start out learning general information and then narrow their focus as they learn more. We use this unit to reinforce Webb’s Depth of Knowledge question levels.

This year we decided to showcase the learning with a conference-type activity that we call Wellcon. Tomorrow is the big day where one or two presentations from each of our classes will be shown to all fifth graders in a common venue.

The class has seen all groups’ presentations and voted on the one to represent the class. After Wellcon, another class will come and view our projects and we will view theirs.

My students used freemium versions of Biteable, Powtoon, and Thinglink. They used Google Slides and Poll Everywhere too.

Some of these need some proofreading. Also, because they were created with free versions, they can’t be downloaded or shared in certain ways. We also ran into some access issues so if you aren’t allowed to view it, I apologize.

Project 1

Project 3

Project 4

Project 5

Project 6

Project 7

Project 8

Project 9

Stop Motion Animation as an Assessment Tool

It has been quite a while since I posted anything to this blog. The kids have been using technology but not near as many programs and apps as classes in the past. Part of that is because of what they need and part of that is me deciding which ones really do the job and which ones aren’t worth it.

One tool I like to use is the Stop Motion app on the iPad. For this unit in science, I ask the students to create a Stop Motion video that explains a sea breeze, a land breeze, or a convection current.  I could have easily asked them to show the water cycle or to explain uneven heating of the Earth, too.

Here is a video created by some of my students this year. Keep in mind that they are fifth graders just learning about these concepts and all of the vocabulary may not be just right. For example, they say the molecules are heavier instead of denser. I will work with them on that.

I think you might find this an effective tool to use to assess your students either formatively or even as a summative assessment on a concept. It has the visual and the verbal aspects to it.



Prisma Follow-Up

I did use this filter app with my students and they were able to easily select something they felt reflected their personalities. I printed the filtered pictures out and posted them on the outsides of the classroom doors. Other students from other classes still stop by to look at and comment on the pictures. I love this app and will use it again.