PuppetPals and Sock Puppets

These are two iPad apps that I truly love.  The possibilities for activities are endless and the ease of use it far better than many of the web-based animation suites.

Here are some ideas that we have tried or will be trying in the new year:

  • French dialogues between two characters
  • an interview with a character from a book
  • creation of original media texts (we did informercials – they were hilarious)
  • role playing social skills
  • sock puppet conversation of the birds and the bees (seriously…)
  • animation of a chapter of a story
  • explanation of a math concept and it’s application in the real world

The list keep growing and growing.  What have you used these apps for?


Linking Gallagher with Technology

Earlier this year, I attended a session put on by my board that focussed on many of the strategies Kelly Gallagher wrote about in his book “Teaching Adolescent Writers”. I loved many of the ideas shared but was frustrated by the lack of examples that used technology. I also have read the book and found that most of the examples that Gallagher uses are done by hand.

One of the Principle’s the the author presents is that “sometimes we have to take a step backward before we can move forward” and that “before we can get reluctant students to write well… we first have to warm, them up to the notion of writing.” (pg.92-93) Through the use of “writing games”, students participate in tons of “safe practice” and to get their “feet wet” in the writing world.

As I teacher of many struggling and reluctant writers, I know that a written expression disorder is not easily remedied through simple strategies or techniques. Many of the ways Gallagher suggested, although amazing, did not address fine motor issues or a developed sense of helplessness. I wondered how can we accommodate these writing games to work better for our students. Technology seemed like a great way to achieve this.

Tonight I am presenting to a group of congregated and itinerant teachers who focus on students with behaviour exceptionalities. I plan on sharing these strategies and will be asking them to send me their feedback and exemplars of student work so I may see the results.

I compiled the list below with a summary of the activity and the tool that you can accommodate it with. I have shared it here for you! It is a draft and I intend on adding more.

View this document on Scribd

Debate 2.0

In my first year teaching, I had my grade 8 class participate in a debate.

It sucked.

Not because they didn’t try but because it didn’t seem real.  The topic was decided by me, their stance was decided by me, I was the judge and the format was created by me.  Needless to say… not authentic enough for a positive learning experience.  Plus, it was my first year teaching and didn’t really understand how to do this type of thing.

Over the last several years, I’ve thought about having my students participate in a debate.  Working with at-risk learners means I need to make things extremely relevant and meaningful for them.  Debating always seems like a good idea but I can’t find a topic to commit to or a format that I think will work.

I came across Debate.org in my travels on the internet.  Upon exploring, I became excited about the opportunity to debate with people from all over the world.

The format is perfect.  Create a debate or enter into a debate with someone else.  Once you get started their are numerous rounds to engage in a debate.  In addition, you can comment on a debate going on.  Before sending me students to do this by themselves, I would model how it can be done by starting a debate with someone, somewhere in the world.

These small tidbits of writing are great for my reluctant writers – especially as they can debate each other.  Before starting the debate and during each round, I would have them write out their main argument with their proofs.  In addition, I would have the rest of the class include their feedback in the comment section as a form of peer assessment.

My only concern with this site is that it is not really intended for elementary level students but instead as an open debate site for all.  I can imagine what might happen if you get linked up with someone who was not taking the debate seriously.  My suggestion is to stick with pairing up students.

Teach, Play, Design, Share

It’s time for another presentation!  My administration has asked me to present to a number of senior school staff at an upcoming PD session in February about technology in the classroom.  I’m the only teacher presenting so I feel honoured.  However, I have given the “Web 2.0 chat” to numerous groups and am feeling like I need more than just the tools (they are very valuable but you can only introduce the same things so many times without losing interest.)

In my attempt to retool some things, I plan to focus on is how to introduce a new piece (or pieces) of technology (hardware, software, web 2.0 tools) to students. An tool that has been presented well will engage a student to learn and present continue in new and interesting ways.  My experience has been that the best way to do this is to teach, play, design and share.  In that order. Usually.  This type of introduction is an adaption of the three part lesson model (mind on, actions, consolidations and connecting.)


In my opinion, you should never teach one tool exclusively.  In most situations, I show students numerous options for “getting the job done.”  For example, I will demonstrate and teach PowerPoint, Keynote, Prezi and Google Docs Presentations when I’m having the students complete a presentation.  When creating comics, I will show Comic Life, Bitstripsforschools and other online comic generators.  More than one tool allows for choice with students choosing the one that best meets their learning needs.

I introduce the tool in a similar way as I would introduce a new unit, I hook them in.  Some suggestions for this might be:

  • Ask leading questions: How do you present information after you have complete research?  What problems have you encountered using Microsoft Word in the past?  What is Skype?
  • Show Samples: Showing what other students have done in the past using the new tool is an amazing way to get students interested.  Draw out the unique features of the tool and they have been used.
  • Real Life Application: Why is this tool important to the student’s real life – answer this before you start?  I will sometime show how I use the tool in my personal or professional life

Next, I would show some basics of the tool (software and web 2.0) in the classroom using a SMARTboard or by linking the iPad to the laptop using AirDisplay.  I find the touch capabilities a huge advantage when going step-by-step through things – especially when including the students in the actual “doing” of the steps.

In some cases, students decide that they don’t want to use the technology but instead compete the assignment the “old-fashioned way.”  I love when this happens.  The students always seem to look for my reaction to this display of power and are surprised when I don’t give them a negative response.  Letting students choose the type of technology they use means that they may choose to use no technology at all. It is about their learning goals – not you forcing what you feel is best down their throats.

This is where I usually get the “Yeah, but I don’t know how to use that technology myself.  How am I supposed to teach it?”  I have helped teachers out with this one by going into their class to teach a specific technology or spend some time one-on-one with them to get them up to speed.  Once immersed in the tool, it is amazing how quick it is learned.  Also, many teachers learn Web 2.0 tools rather quickly once they play themselves.  Finally, students will find many of these tools extremely easy and might even be able to assist the teacher in their learning.


In the “play” step, you allow the students to experiment on the tool without focussing their attention to the assignment itself.  This will be a hard for some teachers as lab space and classroom time is extremely precious. It is amazing what happens when you lets students experiment with a new piece of technology – they learn things that you would never have expected.  It ends up minimizing the complications in future periods and allows the student to focus on their assignment without trying to navigate something they have never used before.

The best part of this play period is the learning that takes place among students and staff.  On many occasions, I have been taught something new by a student about the tool that I did not know going into an assignment.  There is nothing better than the pride shown on the face of a student when they share something new.

Yes, things can get nuts during this play period.  As with the image on the right, you will get the things you don’t want during this period (in addition to the things that you do what).  I feel that it is better to get it out of the way, deal with any issues and move forward without issue.  Also, it gives you a chance to work out the “kinks” in the system before you get down to work.


This is the independent part for students.  They get to create a final product that is usually extremely impressive.  I’m always excited to see the reactions of students who have traditionally struggled in school when they complete their first assignment using a new tool.  They are often surprised at their work and comment about things not being that hard after all.


A salient feature with Web 2.0 tools is the ability for students to share their work with their peers and the world in addition to submitting it to their teacher.  This provides an authenticity to the assignment.  One student in my classroom, in preparation for a presentation to school board staff, commented “Doing something for a purpose, where you know you will have to present to real people, makes an assignment more interesting.”

Furthermore, I usually have a discussion with the students about the technology used and how the assignment went: what went well?  how did the tool work for you?  would you use this tool again?  etc.  This reflection on the technology allows student to decide if it something that can be placed in their Digital Toolbox for the future or if it wasn’t worth the aggravation.

Thoughts?  Is this method similar to what you use in your classroom?  Does it make sense?

I’ll let you know how it goes…



Social Media + Writing = Engagement (I hope).

December is always really busy but I begin feeling overwhelmed when it comes time to start thinking about January.  For me, it always feels like it is a fresh start as you can retool some things that you have not liked since September.  With my students, we begin looking at more independent tasks as our integration schedule for many starts escalating in preparation for high school.  I find it really hard to balance everything.

This morning, I went searching for a language assignment that would be hook the kids upon returning from break.  I was disappointed that my Google search really didn’t turn up too much that made me say WOW.  I was thinking about blogging but find it superficial as the students don’t often engage with an audience outside of their classroom.  Their motivation decreases once they realize that nobody is reading their work – I don’t blame them.  I was about to give up when I saw a post on my Twitter about a website called Figment.

What is Figment?

  • It is a place to write, read and connect.
  • Students are able to sign up for a free account extremely quickly (link to Facebook or Twitter) and are able to connect with other writers around the world.
  • Easy way to comment on another student’s writing
  • Get feedback for your writing by giving specific people to your writing before publishing

It hooked me and I began exploring the site.

The first thing that I really liked was the “Reading” interface.  Once finding a story that you find interesting in the “Figment Library” – you are presented with a brief overview of the story, a snippet, its length, how long it takes to read and other user reviews.  My favourite part was the “This story made me:” feature at the bottom of the page.  For me, this is a simple way to have students respond to writing while having them choose stories that they feel are appropriate for their level.

The writing menu is very easy to use and looks similar many other “word” generators on the internet.  You are easily able to break the story into chapters, save or publish and share on other social media sites.

I also really enjoyed the Contest and Forum sections of the websites.  The contest seems to be an easy way to engage students in writing.  This month, students are allowed to write a short story, poem or another writing piece around 5 given words in under 500 words.  The winner is given a free advance signed copy of a book.

I look forward to using this site in January with my students.  Enjoy!


Zombie Restaurants

Zombie Restaurants?  Oh yes, that is what I said.

After the ECOO conference a couple of weeks ago, I was extremely inspired to have my boy students write more.  This has always been one of the biggest challenges.  The boys are extremely hard to motivate when it comes to writing and their “learned hopelessness” definitely causes thick brick walls to be put up when attempting these types of tasks.

At ECOO, Kent Manning (who writes the Motivating Boy Writers blog) spoke in great length about the strategies he has found successful when working with these students.  One point that particularly hit home is that we need not be afraid of letting the “boys be boys” in their writing.  Today, I really let me boys loose in their writing.

We have been working on descriptive writing over the last several weeks.  After spending time talking about figurative language, vivid adjectives and stretching sentences, they were assigned to create a menu for a restaurant of their choice.  Tying in with media literacy, we asked to students to choose a target audience for their restaurant and gave examples such as teens, seniors and zombies.

Needless to say, many of the students decided that zombies would be their audience of choice.  So far, the descriptive writing has been amazing.  I will post the “horrific” results once their are complete for you to see the amazing work they have done.

To keep with the theme of my blog, here are a couple of websites related to writing and boy writers that I have used in my classroom.  Some you may know, some you may not.

Write Source Student Models – website that accompanies the textbooks.  Has writing samples for all age groups.

WritingFix – writing website with amazing resources and information.

Bitstripsforschools – easy online comic generator

http://www.readwritethink.org/ – too many writing lessons to count

Writing Fun – numerous text organizers that help explain a variety of writing forms for students

Wordle – word cloud generator


“Yeah, buts…..”

Have you ever noticed that when you start talking about technology in a staff meeting, the “yeah, buts” really start to fly.  Teachers can be very resistant to including technology in their lessons for a variety of reasons.  My favourite have been:

“Yeah, but I never can get into the computer lab.”

“Yeah, but how would this be used in  ________ (insert subject here)”

“Yeah, but what about safety and security.”

“Yeah, but I don’t know what I am doing.  How am I supposed to teach it”

“Yeah, but using technology takes too many periods.”

Today, I would like to focus on the last “YB.”  Too often educators feel like technology must be used for the culminating task in a unit and that using it will take away from the lessons “they must get to” or cover before reporting time.  This really isn’t so.

One website that I have focussed a great deal on with these YB’s is www.bitstripsforschools.com

  • summarizing the key points of an informational text reading  (instead of the usual comprehension questions)
  • show the results of a mathematics word problem
  • create a personal narrative of a specific event
  • make predictions on a book, movie or article
  • character sketch from the novel their are reading – illustrate and label the key character traits
  • create a timeline for a historical event
  • plot graph for a short story
  • create a comic for the student’s favourite reading comprehension strategies
  • demonstrate the differences between first, second and third person voice using a comic
  • illustrate a science concept – differences between abiotic and biotic, current vs. static electricity, how to conserve energy, etc.
  • illustrate the plot for an opera
  • give examples of ways to resist peer pressure with drugs and alcohol

These are all activities that can be completed very quickly using Bitstrips For Schools.  Before completing the assignments on the website, students should know what they are going to be doing and have completed the necessary reading/planning before starting their comic.

In coming posts I will look at other YB’s and how to find ways to make things possible in all classrooms.


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