Picking a Good Book

At the beginning of the year, before I talk to my students about how to pick a book, their book selections are all over the place. Some students will be trying to read and comprehend a book way past their level and others will be cruising on auto pilot with simple text.  Sometimes students don’t know how to find a book they will be interested in.  This is the presentation I will use to help them to choose books independently.


When creating this presentation, I used the rule of thirds, I limited the text, I used a simple design and I used memorable images. The images on slide 4,5 and 6 were not particularly memorable.  I struggled with using stickier more memorable images or using images that display the idea being shared.  I went with the images that more accurately display the ideas.

This is the presentation I created for my class.  Giving the students clear and practical advice on how to choose a book has always proven useful in my class.  I want my students to choose what books they want to read because they will be more motivated to read if it is their own selection.  I also want them choosing books that are interesting and fit them well.


I have made notes on the Google presentation for each slide:

Slide 1: Picking a good book at the right level is the most important step in reading.

Slide 2: Ask your friends for recommendations. Most of the books I read come from recommendations from friends.  After you can share about the book with your friend to learn more about the book and more about your friend.

Slide 3: What are you interested in? Reading a book that interests you will be easier and more enjoyable.

Slide 4: If a book won an award, then it will be a good read.

Slide 5: What books have your classmates recommended?

Slide 6: Is the book summary interesting to you? What have people blurbed about the book?

Slide 7: The Five Finger Rule

Read a page of the book and hold up  finger every time you get to a word you don’t know.

0-1 fingers – the book is too easy

2-3 fingers – the book is right at your level

4-5 fingers – the book is too difficult



Character Sketches in Tiger Rising

Infographics are becoming increasingly popular with the spread of computers and graphic design.  They are a more efficient way of displaying information.  Here is an infographic displaying information on infographics.


Infographics can be powerful.  I found this on at Edudemic, a website linking education and technology.  This site uses infographics frequently.  Edudemic posted, Why Should Teachers Use Infographics? this month.  It is a short article that highlights the benefits of infographics in education.


Here is another blog, Teacher’s Tech Workshop, that lists online tools you can use to create infographics. I like how she covers all the sites that can be used for creating infographics online.  By looking through the list I was able to locate easel.ly. This site was easy to use but what I enjoyed most was that the templates were very customizable.  I found some of the other sites were less customizable and I couldn’t display exactly what I wanted.


Using the easl.ly, I created a character map for Sistine, a character in the book Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo. I’ll use this as an example for the class.

Sistine title=


The students in my class worked together to complete the character sketch for Rob from Tiger Rising. The pictures were made at Easelly.  After scaffolding this process I would like the students to create their own for another character.

Rob title=


To Digital

Last year I taught first grade and used digital story telling in a unit based on The Best Part of Me by Wendy Ewalt. This is a book was created when Wendy Ewalt, a photographer, asked students about their favorite part of their bodies.  We used this book as a portal to a discussion on self esteem and differences.  We then created our own pages for a class book entitled The Best Part of Me.  I am not the first teacher to use this as a base for lesson plans.  Here is a page that is a great example.  Our class ended up creating a VoiceThread as a class.  Each student shared their favorite part of their body and we recorded it.  The transition from paper to digital media always seems to present unforeseen problems.  In this project, when recording the students background noise made the recordings a little fuzzy.  In the end I was happy with the way the VoiceThread turned out and the students loved watching it.  I always like giving the student’s more responsibility when we create projects but I found that the first graders needed help recording their entries.

Here is a link to my first grade class’s The Best Part of Me VoiceThread from last year.


In fourth grade my class is currently writing procedural texts. I would love the students to be able to create short how-to videos that they could share online. This isn’t exactly digital storytelling but it would give the students good practice turning their writing into digital output.  My students become more motivated with a larger audience and I think they would be excited to post their videos on YouTube.  I haven’t attempted a project like this before but I think it would be possible.  The obstacles I can foresee are limited supply of cameras.  I have one digital camera and I have a camera on my laptop as well.  Another issue would be storing and editing their footage.  Has anyone done a project like this before?  I would be interested in any suggestions.

Visual Literacy Ideas Inspired by Others

A few weeks ago I was reading  another fourth grade teacher’s blog. He changed the acronym describing design principles from C.R.A.P. to C.A.R.P. Ingenious. It went from something I wouldn’t want to share with my fourth graders to a useful learning tool.  If you haven’t seen his blog post yet I would check it out.  His class analyzed an infographic to highlight the ideas in C.A.R.P.


Taking the idea from him, I worked on a picture I could use in my class.


This summer I went to Readers Workshop at the Teachers College.  My favorite workshop was on analyzing nonfiction text to determine author’s purpose by Kate Roberts.  Here is a blog post she did titled Losing Facebook Friends and Other Tragedies: Close Reading Nonfiction for Point of View. I really liked how she uses commercials to illustrate author’s purpose in nonfiction texts.  This is where it ties into visual literacy as well.


In my class we analyzed a non-fiction text on sharks.  The author of this spent a large portion using a narrative nonfiction text structure.  We determined that the author used this text structure to highlight why people should be scared of sharks.  The students really became animated when I played them commercials on YouTube and tried to figure out the creator’s point of view.  The commercials are so over exaggerated that the students can clearly see the biases and enjoy pointing them out.


Learning that nonfiction is not the truth is an important step towards individuals becoming media literate.  Analyzing commercials helped the students in my class realize this. In my class we watched an Easy Bake Oven Commercial and a Nerf Gun commercial. I thought the gender comparison  in the two commercials helped to add to the discussion.


Link Back


Low Tide

cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo by Witness King Tides: http://flickr.com/photos/witnesskingtides/8275630179/

cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo by Witness King Tides: http://flickr.com/photos/witnesskingtides/8275630179/

High Tide

cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo by Witness King Tides: http://flickr.com/photos/witnesskingtides/8275629853/

cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo by Witness King Tides: http://flickr.com/photos/witnesskingtides/8275629853/








In my fourth grade class the big question in the unit we are studying is, “How does water move?”  We are looking at the water cycle, waves, tides and currents.  I have found some of the students are a little confused about tides.  In order to better illustrate tides, I found some pictures from a creative commons search to use in class.


I have used these images in a Prezi explaining the four ways our class is looking at the movement of water.  To involve the students actively, I will have them complete the Prezi our class has been working on.  We have worked together on the definitions of each term used in the Prezi and I have added some images from creative commons.  I will break the class up into four groups.  Each group will further explain either the water cycle, ocean waves, tides or ocean currents.  You can see the start of our Prezi here.


I linked back to my blog in the Prezi. I linked back to the images on our class website.  My friend recently shared with me that he often links back to his website to control search terms on Google.  He links back to his own site to be the first website shown in a  Google search for certain terms.  He calls it search engine optimization.  It is something I was only familiar with in theory, so it was interesting to try it on my own blog.  He recommended linking a YouTube video to the blog but that will have to wait for another week.


Photo Credit: vgm8383 via Compfight cc

Simpler Design

When I first created my class website I chose a template I thought was cute. It appeared to be a bulletin board with different papers on it. When I used it for my class website I think it looked cluttered and confusing. This week I switched the template to a cleaner and simpler look. I think this will make it easier for others to navigate the page.

Here is a screen shot of the old home page:

Screen Shot 2014-01-17 at 9.35.55 PM






Here is what it looked like after I switched to a simpler template:


Screen Shot 2014-01-17 at 10.06.14 PM






I ended up making the header blue to keep it separate from the rest of the page.  I found it relatively easy to manipulate but would like to change the font size and location of the title in the header.  Harder to work with was this WordPress supported blog site.  I went through four different themes each presenting a different and unique problem to the visual layout.  One of the themes wouldn’t let me attach thumbnails to the posts and would.  Another one wouldn’t show the title of the blog correctly.  Eventually I returned to a simpler theme coming full circle in my search for the perfect WordPress theme.



Respect the Tech

RUA Poster


This is a poster I created to remind students about the responsible use agreement.  While the RUA is comprehensive, I wanted something smaller and with simpler language to remind the students of the agreement. I thought posting this around the computer lab would be a good reminder for the students.

I started my Responsible Use Agreement by looking up what an RUA was. I was unaware of the term when I began the project. I also researched my schools current RUA. My school had a policy in place for middle school and secondary students but the primary students did not sign it.  At my school the agreement was called the “IT and Internet Acceptable Use Policy”. My partner and I both shared our schools’ policies and began our design from these ideas.

I wanted to differentiate between the different times that the students use the computers.  I broke it into three categories, always, at school and in class.  It was easier for me to cover all of the ideas when split into three different parts. My partner and I also wanted to make sure all the agreements were written in the form of positive statements.

My partner and I never needed any live meetings. We found that using Google Docs, we were able to create, edit and comment effectively. We both took turns changing the document until we reached a comprehensive policy. The final copy is embedded below.




What is the web?

Photo Credit: Marc_Smith via Compfight cc

I like thinking of the web as a brain.  The brain is the most amazing and complex network around.  The web is like a brain and the websites are the neurons.  The links connect the websites much like the neurons are connected by synapses.  The users on the web could be looked at as the electrical signals passing between the synapses in the brain.  Ideas can grow on the web just like they grow in our minds.

The web is a collective consciousness for the connected world. It holds our ideas, demonstrates our connections, and reflects our values.  Humans are social animals and need to interact with each other in order to thrive.  I think the rise of online communication and connections shows this.

In my fourth grade class I started a short discussion. The first question I asked was, “What is the web?” Using the student responses I made a mind map on the white board.  Here is a picture.

photo 1

The students shared great questions and were able to build off one another’s ideas. When one student said, “The web connects everyone.”  I wrote it on the board but I asked them, “Does the web connect everyone?” After some discussion I changed the entry on the white board.  I am often conflicted about whether to speak up in situations like this.  In our book talks the students have been learning to build on one another’s ideas before moving to a new topic.  The students were doing a little of this while we were building the mind map but I was afraid of documenting incorrect information.  In the future my goal will be to bite my tongue.  At the end of the discussion I could have them look over our entries to see if we all agreed on everything.  I would like to take the role of a scribe in these activities and let the students speak more.  I especially liked when they brought up the topic of top level domains (.org, .edu, and .com) in the discussion.  It seemed to be a little bit of a discovery for a lot of the students.  


Cyber Bullying


gerund or present participle: bullying
    1. to use superior power or influence to intimidate or harass (someone)


In my class I like to start a discussion on bullying with the definition.  I find a lot of students have misconceptions about what the word means.  A key to this definition is the balance of power or influence.  Online bullying can be more serious because the number of people who can be reached is much greater.  Another way the internet can magnify the bullying problem is by keeping the comments or offending material accessible online.  Instead of a short comment made on the playground, the student may be faced with an undeletable webpage, video or comment.  This prolongs the stress of the student being attacked.

As I was completing the weekly reading this article caught my attention.  The article describes a case in which students in Iowa filmed another student at school and posted it online.  The student that was filmed has autism and ADHD.  The video has since been removed but apparently it contained scenes of the boy getting hit and teased. The article caught the attention of Gawker and was retold on their website. To deal with this outrageous case of bullying, a commenter on Gawker poster the name and address of the father of one of the kids who posted the video.

Gawker Comment

In this move, the commenter is basically suggesting more cyberbullying in order to fix another case of online bullying.  I feel like this was pulled directly from the Southpark episode “Butterballs”. In this episode characters bully each others to stop bullying.

While I agree that cyberbullying needs to be addressed, I do not think that it should be addressed with more bullying.  As with most issues today, open and honest discussion seems a much more appropriate response to the problem of online bullying.

Discussion starters:

  • How do people bully others online?
  • Why do people bully others online?
  • What are the consequences of cyberbullying?
  • Have you ever sent someone a mean message because you were mad?
  • What would you do if you’re the target of online bullying?
  • Who can you talk to about cyberbullying?

I found the Common Sense Media Toolkit to contain some helpful lessons on addressing this idea as well.

Photo Credit: splorp via Compfight cc

Fair Use Has a Posse

Photo Credit: CHRISTOPHER DOMBRES via Compfight cc


It is important for everyone to be aware of intellectual property rights.  Giving credit for pictures or other media used online is a good introduction to this concept.  My students picked up on citing other’s work quickly.  Explaining copyright law to elementary students might prove more difficult.  I will give them the basics and see if we can have a discussion on the balance needed and the importance of being able to share media.

Here is a site that helps to teach students about copyrights.

There are a few sites that make finding royalty free images easy:

  • Stock Exchange – This site was started in 2001 as a way for people to exchange photographs and avoid royalty fees.  It contains many images but requires you sign up as a member to download the images.
  • Flicker – This site makes it a little more difficult to find creative commons images.  You need to go into advanced search and click the box before searching.
  • Pixabay – This site was easy to use.  Just search your image and it provides all the royalty free images right under the sponsored ones.
  • Compfight – This is another easy to use site for finding royalty free images.


I liked seeing Larry Lessig show a video in his presentation that has Julian Sanchez presenting remix videos.  It was like an Inception moment, a video within a video within a video.  At the center of this was the the point was, if we concentrate too much on using copyright policy regulate commercial interests and not enough on individuals freedom to use popular culture as a form of expression we lose control of our social realities.  Remixing is using our shared culture as a language to express ourselves and also to relate differently to each others.  We need to balance the commercial culture with the sharing culture through fair use.