The Student or the Lesson Plan?

forest of reading1

Our resource centre is in full Forest of Reading mode, with everyone super excited to read the new books.  One of the nominees for Blue Spruce this year is Oddrey by Dave Whamond (@DaveWhamond).  It’s a story about a young girl who’s a little ‘odd’, but very creative and surprisingly positive despite the fact that she does not really fit in at school.   I instantly fell in love with this character and was reminded of some of the “Oddreys” I had the pleasure of teaching over the years.

However, the reason for this post is not Oddrey, but her teacher.  This is the second picture book I’ve read in the past couple of months (first one being Al Yankovic’s My New Teacher and Me!, another great read) where the teacher is portrayed as unsupportive and discouraging of the child’s creative ways.  This made me reflect on the teaching profession, past and present.  At first I thought that these authors may be writing from experiences they had at school when they were students.  Surely, the teaching profession has moved above trying to get kids to conform at all costs.  We have long since realized the value of play based and experiential learning.  We know that drawing on our students’ strengths is the key to their success.  We encourage creativity and divergent thinking.  We do, right?

Allowing students to express who they are and build on their interests in class often leads us off our path and requires us to give up some control.  Are we always comfortable doing that or do we make up excuses so we don’t have to?  We’ve all been there; curriculum needs to be covered, units need to be finished, progress needs to be evaluated and reported.  It’s not that we don’t want to encourage creativity in our students, it’s the conflicting demands of our job.

So what do we do?  Do we make the curriculum and the tests our priority, nurturing student creativity only when we have the time to do so? Or do we make students the priority, encouraging their curiosity and creativity while allowing the curriculum to take second place?  What struck a chord with me in reading both Oddrey and My New Teacher and Me! is how detrimental the former is to the students that we serve, to the teaching profession, and society in general.  I used to think that the most important role of a teacher is to instill the love of learning in his or her students.  I now realize that children do not need us to learn how to love learning; being naturally curious, they love it already.  Our role as teachers is to feed that love through our encouragement, our support, and our guidance.  To paraphrase Sir Ken Robinson (How Schools Kill Creativity), our role is not to kill it with content they are not ready to learn and practices that promote conformity instead of exploration.  In her book Wonder, R.J. Palacio wrote: “When given the choice between being right, or being kind, choose kind.”  Similarly, I would propose that as teachers, when faced with the choice between adhering to our lesson plan, or nurturing the creativity of the students we teach, we should choose students.

My Year as a Blogger


Photo by: Cortega9

As I welcome this new year, I find myself reflecting on the old and all it had brought with it. 2013 is the year I started blogging. It wasn’t my idea though, I needed a push. Thanks to Dean Shareski, I already knew it was important for me to share, and that I probably had ideas worth sharing. But I was already doing that on Twitter, wasn’t that enough? When Jim Cash asked me to write about my first year as a technology teacher to help others new to the role, I decided it was the right time for me to start a blog.

I’ve been contemplating it for a while, but being a busy teacher I needed that extra push – the dreaded topic. Thank you Jim for providing the first one for me. I didn’t need to do any research for my first post, I was writing about my own experiences so I figured it should be a piece of cake. Surprisingly though, it still took me a while to publish it, I think I worked on it over most of March break. After all; I had to choose what blogging platform to use, decide on a name for my blog, choose a layout, and the format for my posts. Then, I had to reflect back on the year and the things I’ve done in my role as a tech teacher. As I started writing, I was surprised at how much I have accomplished over the year. Not only that, I also started to see a clearer picture of what else I wanted to do and how I could improve my practice for the next year.

When I was finally done, I was excited to share it with Jim and to post it on Twitter. Not only has it been a great experience to write, as it allowed me the time to reflect on my practice, but it was a great opportunity to share and potentially help other teachers just starting out in a similar role. You can read my first blog post here: Tips and Tricks from a First Year Tech Teacher

As happy as I was with how my first blog post turned out, I really did not have much hope for following it up with another anytime soon. Time was the main factor; but also, I didn’t really think that I would have much to write about. I’ve been getting many of my lesson ideas through my Twitter PLN, people who have done really remarkable things in their schools. What I was doing seamed like small potatoes in comparison, what could I possibly contribute? Yet, here I am – ten months and eight posts later. Here is what I wrote about:

blog cloud 3

My blog has been viewed in 47 different countries, and my posts have had over 3000 views so far, so maybe I have contributed in some way. Maybe someone out there has delivered a lesson to their students that was based on one of mine and saved some time not having to re-invent the wheel. Maybe they have been inspired by one of the topics I have written about and had a meaningful discussion about it with their students. That is my hope, at least. Regardless of whether or not I have been successful in ‘paying it forward’, I know that writing a blog has helped me become a better teacher. It has forced me to reflect, organize, and even to plan ahead (as was the case with my latest post: I know it’s true…I read it online)

So if you are thinking of starting a blog, stop thinking and just start it. If you’re thinking you don’t have anything worth sharing, think again. What have you got to loose? Whatever time and effort you invest in it, it’s worth it. Besides, you just never know how far your efforts will travel and who they will impact.

I know it’s true…I read it online

real or fake

Photo by: Phillip Pessar

Recently I came across an interesting article.  The headline read: “Lawsuit Paid In Full: Samsung pays Apple $1 Billion sending 30 trucks full of 5 cent coins” (from The Blade Brown Show). Outrageous, right?  Well, this got me thinking – how would students react to this article?  Would they question it or accept it at face value?

I’ve been meaning to do some lessons with my junior classes on website evaluation, and this article just reminded me how important that skill is in today’s digital world.

I’ve dug up some great resources I’ve found over the past few months and I’m currently attempting to organize them so that I can teach the lessons in January.  Here is what I have so far:


To introduce the lessons I plan to show my students some photographs and have them assess if they are real or photo shopped.  Here are a few examples:

A tornado sucking up a rainbow

Photo by: Barnopottamous

For an interesting article about the authenticity of this photograph click here.

Michelle Obama


Click on the picture for more photo shopped pictures of the first lady.

Two websites about extraordinary animals:

The Jackalope Conspiracy

The Jaglion Hybrids

One website is full of ‘information’ that is totally fabricated, the other is amazingly true.  My goal in the lesson is to have students read and discuss the information from both websites, then decide which one is true and which is false, with reasons why they think so.  I’d like students to collaboratively come up with a set of guidelines for evaluating the validity of information they find online (see below for a great guide to help teachers moderate the discussion).

Michael Gorman’s (@mjgormans) Seven Steps to Website Evaluation for Students:

A is for Author

B is for Bias

C is for Currency

D is for Domain Anatomy

E is for Effectiveness for Purpose

F is for Facts and Content

G is for Good Links

This is That:

This website is full of articles ranging from plausible to totally ridiculous, all in a news style format, that students could evaluate using the criteria they created. Here is a sample:

California paramedic told he can no longer use his bicycle as an ambulance

Ontario politician shocks her constituents by getting face tattoo

Standing-Room Only Airline Announced

Finally, I’ll have students visit the website I mentioned at the beginning of this post:

The Blade Brown Show

They will be asked to read the article from the website and convince me and their classmates that the information contained there is true or false, giving reasons for their choice.  I’m hoping through these lessons students will think twice before taking everything they see online at face value.


Copyright support postcard (front)

(photo design by Liene Karels, from the University of Michigan Library)

Okay, so it’s a made up word – doesn’t mean the fear is not real.

I have been teaching for nine years now, a little over a year in the capacity of a tech teacher, and I have just recently begun to face my fear of teaching about copyright.  Not that it never came up.  On the contrary, there have been plenty of teachable moments over the years that I have always chosen to ignore, ‘sweep under the rug’, and hope it goes away. Why?  Not because I don’t care or don’t think it’s important. Truth be told, I never quite understood copyright laws.  Not only are they written in legalspeak, they are riddled with hypotheticals and exceptions.  Also, they are constantly being amended to keep up with the ever changing landscape of the Internet.

Another reason (excuse) I gave myself for not teaching about copyright is that I never believed kids would ‘buy it’ (no pun intended). Although perhaps it had more to do with my ability to ‘sell it’ so that they’ll ‘buy it’.  How do I convince kids that it’s not okay to download copyrighted music from the internet for free?  Or that just because you pay $5 for a DVD copy of a movie that’s still in theatres is illegal despite the fact that you ‘paid for it’? How do I explain that they cannot just copy and paste any image they found on the Internet into their slideshow/presentation/movie without the owner’s permission.  And even if I convince them that it is wrong, will it change their bahaviour?  Will they stand up for what’s right, or will they ignore, ‘sweep under the rug’, and hope it goes away like I have done for so many years.  Sadly, I didn’t really believe that me teaching about copyright would make much difference in their lives.

But I did it anyway, given a nudge by various circumstances and one conscientious colleague.  After all, facing your fear is an important step in overcoming it, right?  And in order to face copyrightophobia, I needed to learn more about it.

I went online and got more information, found some kid-friendly websites, and started to make some sense out of this copyright business.

It has never been my intention to get philosophical on this blog.  My goal from the beginning was to write posts that are going to be practical and hopefully useful to other teachers.  However, I needed to get this out because I have a feeling that there might be some fellow copyrightophobiacs out there that need a little nudge themselves in order to teach this topic.  Before I lay down the practical though, I just want to share a student post that inspired me to write this.

Just a few days after I taught my first lesson on copyright I was shown this (by the conscientious colleague I mentioned before, Loretta May):

copyright student post

They were listening!  And they took it seriously! And they took action!  Now, I understand that their response here is a little harsh and misguided, but nevertheless: They were listening!  And they took it seriously! And they took action!  I’m ashamed at how grossly I have underestimated them.

So here is the practical, or what I have so far:

Media Smarts’ Raising Ethical Kids For a Networked World

This is an excellent tutorial not only about copyright issues (slides 34-43), but also about online over-sharing, cyber bullying, and plagiarism.  In it, teachers are encouraged to promote respect for the intellectual and creative property of others.

One way to do that is to apply empathy.  A good time to start teaching about copyright issues is after students have spent a lot of time and put in a great deal of effort into creating something of their own.  In our class students created a timeline using Smart Ideas for a biography assignment they were working on.  Lead a discussion about how it would make them feel if they posted their work online and someone copied it and used it in their school assignment without acknowledging the person who created it.

Another way to promote respect is to challenge some social codes students may believe are norms with respect to online materials.  One of those may be that “copying isn’t stealing” (slide 39), another that “it’s okay so long as I give credit” (slide 40).  The logical next step is teaching kids how to find resources online that they are legally allowed to use.  Here is another great Media Smarts resource where you will find information about Public Domain, Creative Commons, and Fair Dealing.

Getting the Goods Ethically Tip Sheet

Here are a couple of great interactive websites for students from a blog post shared with me by Tina Zita (@tina_zita):



Taking the Mystery out of Copyright

copyright mystery

I’ll be the first to admit that I am not an expert on copyright laws.  I know that there is still a lot to learn and that I will probably make mistakes along the way in how I use, and teach about the use of media.  However, I’m glad I started the conversation with my students about this important topic.

How do you approach the issue of copyright in your classroom?

We Can See…at ECOO13

I have just returned from Bring IT Together, this year’s ECOO conference that was held in Niagara Falls.  I really don’t know where to start or how to describe the amazing learning and sharing that took place at this conference.  I have met some incredible people, many whom I have been following on Twitter and was able to have some face-to-face time talking and learning with them.  I have also made 26 new connections which, thanks to Twitter, will only grow stronger with time. I was inspired by the keynotes and presentations of many of my colleagues.  I learned of many new programs and tools I can now utilize in my school to help kids learn. I also got a ton of new ideas on how to incorporate technology into lessons in order to make learning more meaningful to students. One of those is making a “We Can See” book that I was inspired to create based on my experience at ECOO13. It was from a workshop I attended presented by Angie Harrison and Jocelyn Schmidt entitled “We can see…all around the world”.

For more information about their We Can See project, visit their blogs:

Mrs. Harrison’s Ks

Our Kindergarten Journey

Here is ECOO13, from my perspective:

I have also had the privilege to present to my colleagues about some of the things I’ve learned and done as a tech teacher in the past year and a half. Here is the description of my workshop from Lanyrd:

bio from lanyrd1a.png

The turnout for my presentation was better than I expected, given that there were so many amazing presentations going on at the same time, not to mention – lunch. The feedback was very positive and humbling:

Here is a link to my full presentation on Prezi:

Project Ideas for Fostering Creativity

Living vs. Documenting the Moment


A few days ago I attended a lecture by Dr. Alec Couros at a Leadereship Launch for Peel educators. During his talk, Alec showed a few images of people using their phones or other PEDs to take pictures or send text messages while in the midst of important life events (a kiss, a reunion, a plane crash). He pointed out that although technology can make us more connected, there is a potential danger of missing opportunities to live in and enjoy special moments with those who are physically around us at the expense of constantly documenting our experiences for others through social media.

As he was saying this I was trying to connect to the Wi-Fi network with my iPad, and although my heart was in total agreement with his point, my mind was racing with curiosity about what others were tweeting about the lecture. As Alec went on, my palms were actually getting sweaty from pulling down my twitter feed, hoping the Wi-Fi would finally connect.  I realized, as I sat there trying to focus on the amazing lecture, that I have become like the people on the pictures, not able to fully engage in and appreciate the moment.

When did this happen? I used to be the person telling my husband to put the camera away during family vacations or special occasions. I constantly reminded him that we should enjoy whatever experience we were immersed in, instead of capturing everything for others to see later. Yet here I was, after looking forward to Alec’s talk for days, all stressed out and frazzled over a poor Internet connection.

As our school’s Open House was scheduled to start at six o’clock that same day, I had to leave the lecture early and rush back to school. On the short drive back I went over some of the things I wanted to communicate to parents about the use of technology in our school. However, the thought that kept running through my mind was how uncomfortable being ‘unplugged’ made me feel during the lecture, and how disappointed I was with myself for feeling that way. Was I becoming a Twitter ‘junkie’? Did I need a social media detox, a fast from all electronic devices to help me appreciate being in the moment?

Recently, students at Rick Hansen S.S. did just that, for 23 hours. The idea was to give up using all PEDs in order to raise awareness about the dangers of distracted driving. During their overnight fast, students stayed at the school and “took part in a variety of team building exercises and workshops to build skills in face-to-face communication and advocacy” ( Although some reported that being without a cell phone was difficult, the majority of tweets after the event were very positive:

That evening I spoke to many parents during our Open House, mainly discussing the use of technology in our school. However, I also ended up having some honest conversations with several parents about the need for balance when it comes to technology. As much as I am in favour of using social media to collaborate and make meaningful connections with people around the globe, I think it’s increasingly important in today’s tech-filled world not to do so at the expense of truly appreciating and experiencing real life events.  Without the temptation of using our mobile devices, it can actually be liberating to purposefully unplug once in a while (just like the students at Rick Hansen S.S. have done) and allow ourselves to fully appreciate the moment.  So, as the saying goes, I’ve decided to make a conscious effort to “stop and smell the roses” more often, instead of taking their picture to post for others to enjoy on social media.


Online Safety & Digital Citizenship from K to 6

As a tech teacher, I consider the most vital part of my job is to teach students how to use technology safely and responsibly.  Last year, in my new role as an Instructional Technology Teacher, I have discussed online safety and digital citizenship with most of my classes and assigned activities related to it sporadically throughout the year.  This summer I have vowed to find and organize appropriate resources for teaching online safety and digital citizenship for every grade level I teach so that I can deliver them in a more purposeful and meaningful manner.  Now the summer is almost over and I’m not nearly done.  There are so many online tutorials, games, and activities to choose from.  Below is what I have managed to gather and organize so far.  Most of the resources I found in this live binder that’s a goldmine of links organized by age groups.  All I had to do is pick and choose the ones I liked and thought would be a good fit for my students.  Many came from MediaSmarts, an excellent Canadian resource for digital and media literacy.  Others are resources I used last year and found effective.  Hope you find this guide useful.


Guiding questions and discussion points:

  • What is private information (full name? phone number? address? school? birth date?) and should it be shared online?  Why or why not?
  • What should you do if you see something online that upsets you?
  • What is a “pop up”?  How do you get rid of it?  Why do they appear?

Online activities:


ABCya Cyber Five: simple tutorial with 5 easy to understand rules, complete the quiz at the end as a whole class activity

Grade 1

Guiding questions and discussion points:

  • use the same as for Kindergarten, plus…
  • emailing/chatting with strangers
  • blocking unknown users who try to contact you
  • preventing computer viruses by not downloading from unknown websites/links
  • selecting a strong password

Online activities:

ABCya Cyber Five: same tutorial as for Kindergarten but have students work with a partner or independently to complete the quiz at the end (audio support provided)


BrainPOPjr: video tutorial with a easy/hard quiz at the end that can be completed online (can print results)or on paper

Grade 2

Guiding questions and discussion points:

  • use the same as for Kindergarten and grade 1, plus…
  • posting pictures online
  • privacy settings/policies
  • respecting the privacy of others

Online activities:


NetSmartKids: easy games in a sequential order, allows to save using a nickname and then go back to complete, can print a certificate at the end


Privacy Pirates: a lengthy tutorial with multiple choice questions embedded along the way (provides hints if needed), can print results

Grade 3

Guiding questions and discussion points:

  • use the same as for Kindergarten, grade 1 and 2, plus…
  • What is spam?
  • How do companies try to convince you to buy their product online? How do we recognize advertising ploys online?
  • Is everything we read online true?  How can you tell if it’s true or not ? What is the difference between fact and opinion?
  • What is stereotyping?
  • What is Netiquette?  Why is it important to follow the rules of Netiquette?
  • What is cyber bullying?
  • What are the dangers of meeting cyber ‘friends’ in person?

Online activities:


Privacy Playground: The First Adventure of the Three CyberPigs: tutorial that teaches kids how to spot online marketing strategies, protect their personal information and avoid online predators. There are yes/no questions along the way that kids answer to check their understanding.


CyberSense and Nonsense: The Second Adventure of The Three CyberPigs: this tutorial teaches kids how to authenticate online information, observe rules of netiquette, distinguish between fact and opinion and recognize bias and harmful stereotyping in online content. There are yes/no questions along the way that kids answer to check their understanding.

Grade 4

Guiding questions and discussion points:

  • review discussion points from K – grade 3, focusing on…
  • digital communication and digital security/safety

Online activities:


Webonauts Internet Academy: an engaging game based tutorial that deals with issues of good digital citizenship such as identity‚ privacy‚ credibility and web safety. Student make choices along the way by clicking on different options provided, can print a certificate of completion at the end.

cyber criminal

The Case of the Cyber Criminal: an interactive game about protecting yourself online.

Grade 5

Guiding questions and discussion points:

  • review discussion points from K – grade 4, focusing on…
  • digital literacy and digital law

Online activities:

search shark

Search Shark:  this interactive reviews how to conduct a good search.  Students have to choose the best key words to use for a search on provided topics.

Share Jumper

Share Jumper: this challenging game has student answer questions about digital citizenship by choosing one of two possible scenarios for each question.

Grade 6

Guiding questions and discussion points:

  • review discussion points from K – grade 5, focusing on…
  • digital commerce and digital rights and responsibilities

Online activities:


Passport to the Internet: need a username and password provided through a licence agreement


Top Secret!: comic format tutorial about posting/sharing media and online purchasing, with multiple choice questions embedded throughout (no way to track the results though)

Furthermore, I have recently found a great blog post by Craig Badura (@MrBadura) describing a Digital Citizenship Kit  filled with everyday objects (such as a padlock, toothbrush, sheet of paper, notebook) he uses to draw parallels between the objects and online behaviours.  For example, a toothbrush should never be shared, and neither should a password.  What a great way to start the conversation about responsible online practices – I cannot wait to try this with my students this year.

Finally, as I was recently reminded in Matt Gomez’s (@mattBgomez) post “We Should Be Doing More Than Teaching Digital Citizenship“, it is not enough to teach Digital Citizenship through discussion and online activities, we must also model it and provide students with authentic experiences of it.  So along with trying all the wonderful resources mentioned above, I hope to do a lot of tweeting, Skype-ing, blogging, and online chatting with my students this year.

Using Picture Books to Teach Tech

It does not matter how high tech the world gets, I firmly believe that there is no greater teaching tool than a picture book.  A good picture book, in it’s simplicity, opens up our minds and allows us to see things in a different light.  It is the ultimate springboard for conversation about different viewpoints and perspectives.  That is why throughout my teaching career picture books have always been my ‘go to’ tool at any grade level and for any topic.  It is no wonder then that in the past year as a tech teacher I have relied heavily on my trusted, tried and true picture books to start many conversations and provide ideas for the tech projects we have worked on.

I want to share a few of the picture books that I used last year in my capacity as an Instructional Technology teacher that have inspired me and my students.

1.  I started the year off with reading The Computer Teacher from the Black Lagoon by Mike Thaler:

black lagoon

This book is a great introduction to many of the different computer and technology terms students need to be familiar with when using computers; such as mouse, monitor, Internet, virus, menu, window, etc.

2.  My greatest discovery last year has been Goodnight iPad by Ann Droyd (love the ironic but oh so clever pen name):

Modeled on the classic Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown, this book offers a more updated list of tech terms to discuss, such as screensaver, LCD, WiFi, HDTV, Blackberry, Facebook, viral, e-mails, Tweets.

3.  One of my favourite picture books of all time is Ten Black Dots by Donald Crews:

ten black dots

I have used it in the past to introduce many concepts in math, art, and language. Last year I have read this book to my grade 3 classes during our technology period.  As I read, my students enjoyed predicting what could be made using the different  number of dots, each coming up with a unique idea.

This sparked a  discussion about the value of different perspectives, as students could now see  the dots in a new way and as part of a picture that others’ imagined.  It wasn’t  important to get the ‘right’ answer, but to come up with creative ways to  incorporate the dots into their environment.

After we finished reading  the book, students were wondering about other shapes, and if they could create  pictures with them.  I suggested that we make our own book using a different  shape.

After a discussion about what shape we should use, the class decided on squares.  The book starts with, “What can you do with ten black dots?” so we changed the  question to “What can you do with ten black squares?” and students began  working.

Usually, I ask my students to write text first, and then create  an illustration. However, for this task the reverse seemed more logical.  So  instead of choosing a number first, I asked students to draw an image that  contained squares and see where that would lead them.

Each student used  Pixie to  create their illustrations. They created two different pages to give us more  choices for the final version of our class book.

Students then had to  write a matching sentence that described their illustration and followed the  pattern from the book we were inspired by (# black squares can make….).  We  choose not to make the two pages for each number rhyme like they do in the book  because each student created a page for two different numbers.  When students  were finished I asked them to create a title page for the book.  Since we had a  few title pages to choose from, the class voted for their favorite.

Here is our final product:

Ten Black Squares

Here is another class’ book about triangles:

Ten Black Triangles

4.  Another one of my favouries is Red is Best by Kathy Stinson:

red is best

In this book a child and her mother’s perspectives collide as they disagree on what the girl should wear and the reasons for their choices.  This book is great for teaching perspective and voice.  For our book inspired by Red is Best, students were asked to choose a personal object of significance and describe the emotional (versus practical) reasons for why it is important to them. Here are a couple of our finished books:

Colour that is Best

Colours that are Best

By using picture books as a starting point for discussion and as inspiration last year students were able to learn many different computer skills within a familiar and fun context.  They had many great ideas for their pages and felt free to experiment with the different features of the programs in order to achieve just the right effects for their own page.  Everyone was very excited to see the final products and read what each student has come up with.

Have you used any other picture books as a teaching tool in computers class?  Have any other picture books inspired you and your students to create your own digital books?  I would love to get your feedback and some new ideas for next year.

Stop – Collaborate and Listen: How to Make the Most out of One Tech Period a Week

Vanilla Ice had a point, although I think he got the order wrong and missed a couple of verbs. When it comes to teaching technology to every class in the school within a limited time frame (for me, it’s one period per class per week); it is imperative to Stop, Ask, Listen, Suggest, and Collaborate (but that would have wrecked the flow of the song, I get it).

After the initial couple of weeks of school, filled with introductions and diagnostic activities, the Instructional Technology teacher really needs to stop and decide how to teach the various technology skills for each grade level. Usually, in a classroom, I would teach new content or a new skill, but never both at once. If I wanted to introduce new content, I would utilize the skills that students already possessed. If I wanted to teach a new skill, I would do so using familiar content. When teaching tech, I mainly focus on skills and I don’t have time to teach new content as I only see each class for one period a week; therefore, I have to use content that they are already familiar with. Knowing the curriculum for each grade level helps, but in order for student learning to be authentic and meaningful, I need to know exactly what and how they are leaning in their classrooms.

That’s why it is crucial to ask the classroom teachers about what is being discussed and taught in class before planning tech lessons. This is not always easy as classroom teachers are very busy, trying to manage all of the subject areas that they need to teach, not to mention all of the things not related to curriculum that come with having your own classroom. A good starting point is to attend grade level meetings to get a general idea of what topics are being discussed and when, but I found it more effective to approach teachers during their ‘off’ time (recess, lunch, planning time) and casually ask what they’re working on in Math, or Language, or Science, or Social Studies. I sometimes ask if there’s a particular area that the students have shown interest in (so I can plan an activity to draw on their interest) or that they are having difficulty with (so I can develop lessons that draw on the knowledge they already have and help them further their understanding).

I listen carefully to what the classroom teachers share with me  and others during their ‘off’ time and sometimes get lucky when they suggest I help them with a particular topic. I never say ‘no’ when a classroom teacher requests my help to integrate technology with a topic that’s being covered in class, even if I don’t know how to help. Furthermore, I don’t usually ask, “What would you like me to do?”, unless they offer an idea to begin with.

Instead, I try to suggest ways that I could help, or if I can’t think of any I tell them that I will look into it and get back to them when I have some ideas. Then I do my research, ask my Twitter PLN for suggestions, and come up with ways to help the students further their understanding and the teacher to cover the required curriculum or meet other learning goals.

As long as the teacher sees the potential value in my project and how it will yield a greater mastery of content, allow students to show their learning and be creative, it is time to collaborate. There may be some preliminary work that will need to be done in the classroom, like brainstorming or drafting, but by that time teachers are usually willing to spend class time on it when they know what it’s leading up to.

This year I have had the privilege of collaborating with many teachers at my school. One of my favourite projects was making a video for a song that a grade 4 class has written the lyrics to and performed at one of our assemblies. Their teacher, Ian Douglas, is someone I’ve successfully collaborated with in the past. He mentioned to me that his class was writing a song about honesty, and asked if his kids could put together a slide show to go along with it during technology class. I loved the idea and suggested we use Frames to make a video for the song.

Each student picked a line from the song at random that they had to create an illustration for. Understandably, they were very excited about this. After all, they were contributing to the video for a song that they have written and were going to perform (sing and play guitar) in front of the entire school. I had an opportunity to teach them a program they have never used before using content that was very motivating for them. They learned how to add text, change fonts/sizes/colour/background, add clipart, animate, and choose an appropriate transition for their slide.

Once everyone was done I compiled them and put them in the right order. Their performance at the assembly was a big hit so we wanted to share the song with the world. I asked Ian if he could record the audio for the song with his class so that we could add it to the Frames movie and post it on YouTube for the world to see. He was all for the idea and his students were really excited at the prospect of having an audience beyond the school. Once the recording was done we added it to the Frames movie and adjusted the timing so each line in the song matched each corresponding slide. Once the video was ready I took the students through the process of uploading it onto YouTube, with them compiling the description and deciding on the tags for the song.

Students were very proud to see the final product available on YouTube for the world to see, they could not wait to share it with their friends and family. Ian and I were also very pleased, and we both knew that it could not have been done without our collaboration. We were proud to have given our students a great example of what can be accomplished if we work as a team.

Tips and Tricks from a First Year Tech Teacher

Jim Cash, the Instructional Technology Resource Teacher for my school, suggested I write a few paragraphs about what worked and what I wish I’d done differently this year in my new position as an Instructional Technology Teacher.  Great idea, but where to start – I’ve learned so much.  Let me begin with what worked for me this year.

1. Student Number Cards

When I got the class lists of students I’d be teaching, I wrote out each student’s login number (from Kindergarten to grade 2) on an index card and grouped them by classes.  That way when the younger students came in I gave each of them their index card and the first lesson on the computer was to practice logging in.  Keep in mind that some of the Kindergarten students won’t know their numbers yet so learning how to log in will take a lot more than one period (most should be able to log in independently by Christmas – no kidding).

2. Attached Headphones

Since most primary programs are sound based, make sure you have attached headphones to each computer. I used 3M hooks to hang them up on the wall beside each monitor to keep them all neat and untangled.  If you don’t have enough computers for all kids in some classes, make sure you buy headphone splitters so that you can attach more than one headphone if you need kids to share a computer.

3. Mini Timetable

The music teacher at my school always wore a colour coded, miniature version of her timetable on her lanyard.  I found it very helpful, as a planning time teacher, to always have your timetable with you as you’re running around the school getting different classes.

Mini timetable

4. Teaching Tech Vocabulary

This might sound silly, but despite this generation of kids being called ‘digital natives’, many of them needed to be taught the appropriate terms for different computer parts (monitor, mouse, CPU, keyboard) and simple technology terminology (cursor, double/left/right clicking, closing/minimizing a window). You might want to make this your first lesson.

5. Cursor Symbols

Similar to the above, as students begun working on different programs or navigating the Internet, they would get frustrated not being able to understand the different cursor symbols.  To help them I made a bulletin board that they could refer to:

Cursor Symbols

6. Lab Rules

Managing different classes each period can be a bit of a challenge.  Be sure to develop and enforce a set of rules students will need to follow in the lab.  Here’s mine:

Welcome to the Computer Lab

7. File Organization

Familiarize yourself with where files can be saved so that they can be accessed by the student alone (‘My Documents’ or the ‘G’ drive) or by all teachers (‘I’ drive).  This will make it possible for students to ‘hand in’ work to you via folders that you can make on the ‘I’ drive for different classes.  You can also save documents you’ve created in the ‘I’ drive that you want students to be able to access and/or modify.  Of course, you’ll need to explicitly teach your students how to do that.  For easy reference, I’ve typed up and posted step-by-step instructions for students to follow if they get lost.


8. On-line Sharing

Come up with an easy and efficient way that you’ll be able to share on-line resources with your students during class time.  You may also want students (and parents) to be able to access some of the on-line resources from home, in which case you may want to consider starting a technology blog where you can share links (see my blog Technology @ Floradale), or providing students an on-line learning space through Edmodo where they’d be able to share and collaborate.

9. Edmodo

If you have not heard of Edmodo yet, you’re really missing out.  It is “a free and safe way for students and teachers to connect and collaborate” Students love it because it looks like Facebook, parents love it because it requires a class code to become a member of the group (and allows parents to create their own account to monitor their child’s activity), teachers love it because it allows a space where teachers and students can collaborate and share resources on-line. There’s really no words to describe how awesome it really is.  I use it for all my grade 5 and 6 classes to have on-line discussions, post assignments, and share resources.  Be sure to check it out and see how it can work for you.  If you decide to use it, remember to carefully read through their Terms of Service and Privacy Policy agreements.  Also, you’ll need to send home a permission form before students sign up for an account.

10. Get to Know Your Google Drive

During the summer before I started my position as a tech teacher I was lucky to be able to get together for coffee with Nita Shori, a close friend of mine who has been teaching tech for several years now. Among many amazing tips and ideas she shared with me was an introduction to Google Drive.  It blew my mind what I could do with a G-mail account.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about ask around and have someone show you, or view this YouTube video:

11. Weekly Links

In this job you’ll come across many great resources that you’ll want to share and pass on to the staff at your school.  It’s important to remember that the teachers’ range of tech abilities and comfort level with technology is probably as diverse as the abilities of students in any classroom.  You don’t want to overwhelm staff members by bombarding them with all the great resources you find.  Instead, you may find that curbing your enthusiasm and limiting yourself to one link a week will be better received.  For my list of ‘Weekly Links’ see the Staff Room Page on my Technology @ Floradale blog.

Looking back, there are a lot of things I could have done over the summer to help prepare me better for this year’s new role.  Here are some things I’d do if I could go back in time:

1. Get on the Social Media Bandwagon Sooner

If you don’t have a Twitter or Pinterest account yet, you really need to sign up right away.  These have been my top two sources for getting ideas and resources for teaching technology this year.  I really don’t know what I would have done without them, or if I’d be able to survive in this role.  The reason I say you should sign up right away is because it took me a few months to learn how to effectively use Twitter and Pinterest to serve the purpose I wanted it to serve. Here is a link to a presentation I did for using Twitter in education that may help you get started: Twitter: not just for ‘beliebers’

2. Read More Blogs

Through Twitter and Pinterest you’ll find many links to blogs written by other teachers that teach Instructional Technology.  Take time to read and look through as many as you can find to see what others have done.  Here are a few excellent blogs that I found very helpful:

In Tec InSights

Elementary Technology Lessons

Mrs. Hyer’s Computer Lab

K5 Computer Lab

Ed Tech Ideas

Ask a Tech Teacher

Room 121

3. Develop a ‘System’

Having been a classroom teacher since the start of my teaching career, I did not anticipate how difficult it was going to be to remember what lesson I did with which class, and how much was covered during each class time.  I soon realized that I needed to develop a quick and easy system for recording what I covered with each class on a given day.  I don’t think there’s a ‘right’ way to do this, you’ll have to find what works for you.  My advice is to start thinking about how you’ll manage that now, or you’ll find yourself lost and confused really quickly after the school year starts.

4. Determine the Tech Skill Set for Each Grade Level

Since there is no set curriculum for technology, it is important to determine the set of skills you want to teach students at each grade level.  I wish that I had decided on what those skills would be over the summer, instead of figuring it out as I go along.

5. Develop Lessons for Digital Citizenship for Each Grade Level

I believe that the single most important responsibility we have as tech teachers is to instil a sense of Digital Citizenship in our students.  There are so many different parts to this; internet privacy/safety, cyber-bullying, netiquette, digital literacy, etc.  There is also tons of great resources available on-line (for example, see: Media Smarts).  The difficult part, I found, is combing through all of these resources and finding the right ones to teach the different aspects of Digital Citizenship at each grade level.  I wish I had put in the time to sort through and organize lessons for this subject over the summer instead of teaching bits and pieces here and there throughout the year.

6. Download, Play, and Experiment

I wish that I had used the time I had over the summer months to download, play, and experiment with some of the programs I used with students this year.  My advice to the ‘one year ago me’ would be to dedicate one week to playing around on each of these:

  • Pixie:  a drawing program I used with the primary grades (you’ll need to borrow a copy of Pixie on CD from your school to install on your home computer).  For an example see my tech blog post: Using Pixie to create digital books.
  • Frames: presentation software I used with junior grades (you’ll need to borrow a copy of Frames on CD from your school to install on your home computer)
  • Edmodo: as already mentioned above, I used it for grades 5 and 6 (you can sign up for a free account at Edmodo)
  • Bitstrips: software that allows you to create a virtual classroom where students can create, share and collaborate on comics, I used it with grades 3 and 4 (sign up for a free account at Bitstrips for Schools).  For an example see my tech blog post: Bullying Prevention
  • Scratch: programming software that allows students to create interactive stories, games, music and art, I used it with grade 6 classes (download from Scratch)

So that’s if for now, be sure to check back in for updates as I continue to learn on this exciting journey as Instructional Technology Teacher.  If you found any of this useful please consider commenting on this post to let me know what was most helpful.


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