Learning and the Brain

I recently attended an in-service workshop presented by Dr. Lindsay Sides from the Buck County Intermediate Unit. The topic for her presentation was helping teachers to understand the development of the brain so they can prepare better lessons for their students.

Neurons are what make the brain a thinking and learning organ. It is only when neurons make connections with each other that learning occurs. Enriched healthy neurons will make many connections. Here is one of her slides showing what activities enrich the neurons.

Neuron health

The brain is shaped by both its inherited genetic code AND by its environment. In order for learning to occur, teachers need to help the brain stay calm in school and get its attention with a combination of novelty and meaningful routines and ritual.

The Amygdala is the emotional center of the brain. It plays a big role in motivation, emotional processing, and the formation of long term memories. Dr. Sides shared these ‘P’ strategies for getting through the Amygdala.

P Strategies

She also mentioned that constant attention limits learning. Students need internal processing time to create new meaning. In order for students to remember something, it has to be meaningful. Meaning is personal.

This presentation seemed to go hand in hand with our readings and discussions in the Flat Classroom Teacher Certification course. I am now working to give students a choice whenever I can because I know that can lead to increased student engagement. I am also trying to better personalize the learning in my classroom by using more differentiated instruction and project based learning.

Syncronous and Asynchronous Communication – Challenge 4

During the 2011-12 school year my students and I had a connection with a class in Bucharest, Romania.  It evolved from the reading of Flat Stanley and the exchange of paper Stanley’s in the mail.  The other teacher and I decided to set up a shared wiki so we could exchange information and connect the classes further.  We started by posting introductions and questions that the whole group generated.  We had fun sharing videos and photos using sites like Voicethread, Animoto, PictureTrail and Youtube for this asynchronous connection.  It was a year long connection where we shared stories and holiday celebrations and eventually put the children into small groups on the wiki so they could get to know each other better.  Although this connection was great, I was really hoping for at least one synchronous meet up before the end of the year.  After some research I found that because the USA now changes to Daylight Savings Time 2 weeks early, it made a Skype between our classrooms possible during that time.  The students in Romania stayed after school for an hour and we had the children speak to their wiki partners to share a hobby or special item.  Although we enjoyed our asynchronous sharing, it was such a delightful experience to connect in real time and a great culmination to our year long connection.

Make your own slideshow at Animoto.

Going Mobile – Flat Classroom Challenge 5

Last week on Twitter I stumbled upon an article written by a teacher who was looking for a way to take part in International Dot Day.  This project takes place on or around September 15th and it is based on the book The Dot by Peter Reynolds.  The Dot is a heartwarming story about not being afraid to express yourself.  Teachers everywhere now celebrate this as a day of global creativity and courage as they read the book with their students and encourage them to express themselves in some way.  This sounds like a fun “beginning of the year” project to take part in with my 3rd grade students.  


The blog post I read was from the blog of Van Meter Library and in that post, Shannon Miller shared about how she had her students use the app coLAR to celebrate International Dot Day.  Each student colored their special dot on this paper and then they used the coLar app on iPhones and iPads to make that drawing 3D and interactive.  From the photos, it looks like the students really enjoyed it.   


I also liked her idea of filming the children as they interacted with their dot on the tablet.  For filming she used the Vine app which could be done on a tablet or mobile device.  Vine is a social media site that uses 6 second looping videos as their interaction media.  My teenage daughters use it but I never thought about using it in the classroom.  It looks like Shannon was able to embed her Vine into the post.  That would be a fun way to add video to my Classroom Blog.  


UPDATE:  Here are some photos of this activity with my students.

International Dot Day on PhotoPeach




Connect and Reflect – Flat Classroom Challenge #3


My first connections with other teachers started 2 1/2 years ago when I began using Skype to meet with other classrooms in real time and share information about our state or country.  I joined the Around the World with 80 Schools group organized by Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano.  From a teacher in that group, I learned about the Flat Classroom Projects and I joined my first AWL.  I was so excited because this project took us to a new level.  We weren’t just talking to other students in different areas – we were collaborating!  From there my thirst for connections grew and I found Twitter and the Global Classroom Project after taking part in the Edublogs Teacher Challenge.  I was beginning to understand the power of building my PLN.


How am I continuing those connections?  I did set up Google Reader but I am not good with checking it.  I visited it today to find out that it has now shut down and I’ve lost all of my feeds.  I do check Twitter daily but after reading this chapter, I am seeing the need to keep up with an RSS reader to “surround myself with the best.”  I have a daughter who just started college this week so we’ve been discussing the idea of finding the right kind of friends who will help her to be her best.  I realized that the same does apply in education.  Even though I check my Twitter daily, I don’t make use of my Tweet Deck for following specific hashtags.  Instead, I just read whatever comes up in my feed.  This is probably not making the best use of my time.  So I need to invest time to set up AND CHECK my RSS reader.  


Photo from Flickr CC: Working Together Teamwork Puzzle by Scott Maxwell

Using Edmodo for Global Connections

Edmodo is an excellent platform for creating connections between classrooms in different parts of the world.  In the past, I’ve always had “snail mail” pen pals for my 3rd grade students, but once I found Edmodo, I realized it was the perfect place for online pen pals.  So last year I created the Edmodo Pen Pal Project in conjunction with the Global Classroom Project.

How Does It Work?  Classrooms are grouped into age appropriate clusters of 4/5.  The teachers of those students will create an Edmodo group for that cluster and take turns providing discussion topics for the children.  Sample topics might include favorite foods, holidays, school subjects, free time activities, sports, etc.  Upper grades might discuss current events or topics for a certain historical event.  Teachers in a cluster may decide to put students into small groups for a book discussion or to collaborate on a writing project.

Join Now! The next round of the Edmodo Pen Pal Project will begin in February and run until about May.  It is appropriate for students ages 7 to 18 and will help students learn to respect and appreciate the opinions, cultures and customs of others.  To get more information and sign up visit the WIKI page.

Student Blogging Challenge and Edublog Awards 2011

Jake G – Best Student Blog

This year I started an after school Blogging Club in my school. The group was composed of 4th grade students who had Kidblogs in my homeroom last year and were very excited to have their own Edublog this year. The students joined the Student Blogging Challenge and I also joined as a mentor. We only met once a week for an hour but we accomplished a lot in that short time. The kids enjoyed setting up their blog with widgets and having an avatar. Their favorite widget was the Clustr Map which tracked visitors to their blog.  It was so exciting to see those red dots show up saying that other countries had visited.  They were a bit disappointed that they could not embed anything in their free Edublog accounts, but they just added links instead.  Some of their favorite parts of the challenge were the games like the Zoom story and Pick 3.  They also liked the creativity posts where they got to use GoAnimate and This is Sand.  The club is going to take a break for the Christmas holidays, but I think we will start up again in February to be ready for the 2012 Challenge in March.  These students will be able to fine tune their blogs and write better posts. 

My students and I want to nominate Jake G’s Blog for the Edublogs Awards 2011.  Jake wrote 53 posts and received 152 comments since he started his blog in September.  I was Jake’s mentor and I really enjoyed reading his meaningful posts.  He also did a fantastic job decorating his blog with widgets.  My students think his blog is creative and fun.  We think that he worked very hard on his blog this year.  He is a dedicated blogger!  Keep up the good work Jake!

Global Connections with 3rd Grade

Last Spring my students and I participated in the Flat Classroom “A Week in the Life” Project.  It was an amazing experience for us to work with students and teachers from 4 different countries.  After that, I made it my goal to continue flattening my classroom walls and providing my students the opportunity to reach out and connect with students around the world.  This year I began doing that with our Flat Stanley project.   We joined the Global Read Aloud to share our predictions, book chats, stories we wrote, etc.  We then wanted to make our own paper Stanley’s to mail out.  Instead of just sending Stanley’s within the USA, I went on a mission to find classrooms outside of our country to do exchanges with us.  With the help of the Global Classroom Project, I was able to locate classrooms in Canada, New Zealand, and Romania to get us started.  What was so incredible was how quickly a few of those teachers jumped on board to create wikis for us to share photos, videos, maps, and information about our countries.  In Edmodo, we are able to have discussions with some of them too.  Far away places like Calgary, Auckland, and Bucharest became real for us as we saw their photos, heard their voices and chatted with them.  What was eye opening to the children was not only our differences but our many similarities too.  We love watching the videos to see their classrooms and hear the differences in their voices!  We had to make 2 sets of  paper Flat Stanley’s because we were so excited to get started and didn’t want to wait.

We are not just exchanging paper dolls, we are exchanging culture and customs.  Technology has allowed us to become friends with people on the other side of the world.  I get just as excited as my students do when we find some new information on one of the wikis.  I had to wait until I was in my 40’s to make these connections.  I wonder if my students realize how lucky they are to be having these experiences now.  Hopefully, by exposing the children to different cultures this early in their lives, it will lead to a life of acceptance and respect for other people and their countries.  After all, it is our differences that make us unique and special.  If the world were full of the same person, it would be a very dull place.

Please check out the links below to visit our wikis and see the learning and sharing that is taking place.

New Zealand Wiki

Romania Wiki

Common Core Standards and Essential Questions

This year we are implementing the Common Core Standards for ELA and Math in my Archdiocese. It is a bit overwhelming for the teachers. I wish they had chosen one subject at a time. Luckily, my principal had us join up with some nearby schools at the end of last year to begin reviewing the ELA standards. We got some lesson ideas from the Common Core Maps. They help a bit but some of us do not agree with the selection of books chosen in these maps. We are also going to use our regular reading text and just jump around to follow the standards. The standards are a bit open ended which is good in some respects because it allows a lot of time for enrichment with technology but it also makes them a bit vague to me. I am hoping that we will have a lot of in service opportunities to help us make this changes. If you know of any good websites to help us with this incorporation, please share them!

All of our lessons are now to revolve around the “Essential Question” of the lesson. What are essential questions and how do you write one? Here is an answer to that from Mary Alice Osborne.

I see many examples of essential questioning for upper level students but I am teaching 8 year olds. So I am still struggling with bringing it down to their level as we still work on many basic skills at that age. Can anyone share some ideas for essential questioning with younger age students?

My Classroom Blog Turns One

YES as a birthday cake #2

I created my first classroom blog in August 2010 as a way to keep in touch with other classrooms that we were meeting on Skype and to share photos and info with the parents of my students. I started with a free Edublogs account to see how things would go. I began posting photos of things we were doing in the classroom and writing posts and story starters that my students would comment on in class. After a month or so, I upgraded to a Pro account so I could embed videos and have more widgets. The parents and students were really enjoying it.

The best widget that I added was the Clustr Map. My students loved seeing where people were logging onto our blog from. It became a geography lesson to figure out the location of each new red dot.  In just one year our blog has received 2,247 hits! Our Clustr Map now looks like this:

As my blog moves into it’s second year, I get excited thinking about my journey and the new friends we will make. Because Edublogs has now reached the 1 million mark, all basic blog accounts will be advertisement free. Thank you Edublogs for creating this wonderful learning platform to help my students and I flatten our classroom and make connections with others around the world!

Making Connections

I began making connections with other teachers a few years ago when I started using Skype in the classroom. My students and I were trying to meet one 3rd grade classroom from as many different states as we could. It was so much fun to see their classrooms and hear about our similarities and differences. The main website that I used for those connections was Around the World with 80 Schools.  If you are new to Skype, this is an awesome website to get you started with the how to’s as well as making connections with other members.  Because of our Skype calls, I was able to “meet” some great teachers and hear about the fun things that they were doing in their classroom.  During that first year, we were able to connect with 17 difference classrooms as well as 2 authors in just 4 months.  I was also inspired to create my own classroom blog to keep in touch with these classes.  This is a blog about my first adventures with Skype.  If you are interested in other websites to help you find Skype connections, check out this Skype page on my Exciting  Technology wiki.  This past year, we began doing Mystery State Skypes which was so exciting!  I can’t wait to try Family Feud Skype Style this year!

Last year, through the Around the World with 80 Schools website, I was contacted by Nancy Von Wahlde, a 3rd grade teacher at the International School of Prague in the Czech Republic.  After a fun filled Skype between our classes, I learned about a wonderful global collaboration project that Nancy had participated in called “A Week In the Life,” a Flat Classroom Project created for students ages 8-10.  I signed up my classroom and we worked with over 300 students from 4 different countries last spring.  Students were put into teams to discuss their similarities and differences in 6 categories: School, Language and Clothing, Environment,  Leisure Time Activities, Food and Celebrations, and Transportation.  At the end, each group created a final project showing photos and videos about their topic and uploaded it to our project wiki.  My students and I had a wonderful experience and I look forward to taking part in the project again this year.  During the project, the teachers had weekly Elluminate meetings to keep things running smoothly.  As I result of that, the other Flat Classroom teachers are now a part of my PLN.  We also Skyped with many of the classes involved, including a class in Korea, which was so much fun!

Another way that I have found to make connections is with Epals.  It is a website where teachers from all over the world can find email pen pals for their classes.  You can work together on projects like “The Way We Are,” Natural Disasters,” “Holidays and Celebrations, and “Digital Storytelling,” to name a few.  My 3rd grade students connected with a Year 4 class from St. John’s School in Dapto, Australia last year.  We had so much fun sharing about our lives and customs.  They told us about celebrations for their first Australian saint and we told them about Thanksgiving.  As we were in the snow on Christmas, they told stories of a celebration at the beach during their summer time Christmas celebration.

A final collaboration tool that I’d like to share is Edmodo.  I would describe Edmodo as a secured online learning environment.  It is a Facebook like site where kids can have a profile and avatar.  Teachers set up groups and allow only the students he or she chooses to join the group.  You cannot access the group at all without a code.  I had heard about Edmodo but I thought it was inappropriate for my 3rd grade students.  However, when I started using it as a part of the Flat Classroom Project, I realized its potential.  The students could easily connect and chat with the other project members in different parts of the world.  Using Edmodo, we shared photos, videos, podcasts and more.  This past summer, I found out that Edmodo is also a great place for teachers to connect and share ideas too.  I found a class from England for my students to get to know this fall.  Edmodo is also a great way for students to collaborate with their own classmates on group projects as well, both in school and from home.  Many teachers are having their students submit projects through Edmodo, thus helping their classrooms go paperless.

I have listed a few more collaboration type websites on the Connecting with Others page of my Exciting Technology wiki