Category Archives: Ed Tech

Our Mystery Hangout

I’ve wanted to try a mystery video conference ever since I first heard about it on Twitter. As you may know, it involves two classes from different places asking yes/no questions about each other’s location and trying to figure out where the other is from. This game offers so many opportunities for learning that I just had to try it with my students.

So I researched it further and started laying the preliminary groundwork for myself and my grade six students.  First, I got on Twitter to find a teacher that would be willing to try this with us. Once I found a willing participant, Kari Schroder, we agreed to take some time to prepare our grade 6 classes.

In order for my students to start thinking about specific locations in a way that would force them to zoom in from the largest land mass they are on (continent) through to the next (country, region, city), I introduced an activity I call ‘Google Earth Photo Story’. Students had to choose a location, then use Google Earth and Power Point to create a slide show that showed what continent, country, region, and city the location was in. The final product looked like this:google earth

Next, we did a couple of mock ‘mystery’ conferences where students first had to question me then each other about a chosen location. At first they were getting stuck pretty quickly, so we started to developed strategies to overcome that.  We started to think more critically about the questions we were asking and how we were wording them.  We looked at a map of the world and talked about what other features (other than political division lines) we could use to help us zoom in on a location, such as lines of longitude and latitude or using the first letter of the name of the country (“Does it start with A-M?”). We had to talk through what getting a yes or no answer meant for many of the questions, about what we could eliminate.  For example, if the country’s name did not start with the letter A-M, they could deduce that it had to start with N-Z. So their next question could be “Does it start with N-S?”, and so on.  Students soon started developing their own strategies and ways of keeping track of the answers.

The day finally came when we were supposed to have our first Mystery Hangout. I assigned roles to each of the students based on the strengths I observed they had during our mock sessions.  We had a greeter, questioner, answerer, two runners/communicators, photographer, two recorders, and the remaining students chose to be either Google researchers or part of the think tank that sat on the carpet and looked at the wall map, globe, and atlases we had available.  Because of timetables and different time zones, the two classes only had 20 minutes in common. Soon after we made contact we discovered that the other class could not hear us. We tried to troubleshoot and get the technology to work but we just could not get them to hear us. Disappointed, we had to wave goodbye.

Two weeks had passed before I saw this class again. Since that morning, students from this class have been coming up to me and asking if we were going to try another Mystery Hangout. Thankfully, although I secretly questioned whether the students would still be excited after the flop two weeks earlier, I did arrange for another one (through Twitter, with Jessica Weber). This time we would have more time (about 40 minutes), and I made sure the microphone was working properly. The kids wanted to do another quick mock hangout, but I soon discovered that they did not need one. They remembered their roles and worked well together to communicate information and come up with questions. We only got to Province/State in out mock hangout before we heard back from the other class that they were ready. It was show time, and we were super excited (and me – nervous). I spoke to the other teacher for maybe 5 seconds before we turned it over to the students, thankfully all the tech cooperated this time.


Then I stood back and watched the magic happen. It was incredible, they were so engaged and eager. Everyone knew their role and did their best, and supported one another.  Even though we had a few students get overly excited at times, calling out their question/answer or frustrated when they felt like they were not being listened to, they were quickly able to follow my non-verbal cues to pass on their messages to their respective ‘runners’ as we practiced during our mock sessions. I was so proud watching the students work together researching the location on the computers, helping each other along. They pointed out facts if someone made a suggestion that contradicted them. They re-grouped and backtracked if they got a ‘no’ answer to their question. Most importantly, they worked together with very little interference from me.


So What Did I Learn That Day?

  1. Student enthusiasm does not fade easily if given a chance to do something they are really interested in.
  2. Adopting a “Growth Mindset” is just as important for teachers as it is for students. Had I given up after the first failed attempt at a Mystery Hangout and not scheduled another, the students would have been very disappointed and we would have missed out on a great learning opportunity.
  3. Giving up control and trusting the students to take charge can lead to magic.

Here are some student reflections of what they learned:

gho pic collage 3

This post was originally published on the Peel21st Project 188.


Using Picture Books to Teach Tech, Part 2

A while back I wrote about my love for picture books, and how I’ve used them to introduce various concepts (especially ones related to technology) in a post titled Using Picture Books to Teach Tech.  Since then I came across several other great books that I have used in my tech program  (or that I can’t wait to use soon) that I wanted to add to the list of Great Books to teach Tech.  Here they are:

But I Read it on the Internet by Toni Buzzeo

but i read it on the internet

This book is about evaluating, verifying, and citing sources.  Although it deals with primary, print and online resources, it focuses on website evaluation and provides a handy checklist for that purpose.  It also explains the meaning and importance of URL endings (.com, .edu). It’s a great book for introducing kids to online research.  For more about this topic, see my earlier post: I know it’s true…I read it online

The Dot by Peter Reynolds

TheDotThe possibilities are endless for using this book by Peter Reynolds.  It’s about motivation, determination, creativity, believing in oneself, and ‘passing it forward’.  In my tech classes I have used it to inspire students to create their own dot pictures, as seen here: Grade 2 Dot Day Art

It Looked Like Spilt Milk by Charles G. Shaw


Although not new, I recently discovered how this gem of a book can inspire young artist to see and create different objects from ‘spills’.  Take a look at how we have modified this classic with my students, giving it a different spin: It Looked Like Spilt (Chocolate) Milk


The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt 


In this fun book, the different colours of crayons write a letter to a child about why he should use them more or less often.  Students can have a lot of fun writing a response letter to a crayon of their choice, explaining why it’s needed and why it shouldn’t quit.  See our grade 1/2 example here: Dear Crayons




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

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.

This post was also published on the Creative Educator website.

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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