Predicting “Enemy Pie”

With my 1st grade students, I recently worked on the concept of prediction based on visual and text evidence as a comprehension strategy. We discussed the importance of making predictions while reading and supporting those predictions with evidence, including the book’s cover, illustrations, or specific text passages. Enemy Pie by Derek Munson served as our mentor text. We studied the book cover, then took a picture walk, and read aloud the story, stopping after certain passages to make predictions based on visual or text evidence.


If you are familiar with this story about friendship, I stopped reading just after the narrator tells his new friend, Jeremy, to not eat the enemy pie. “Jeremy, don’t eat it! It’s bad pie! I think it’s poisonous or something!” My question for the kids, “What do you predict is going to happen next? Will Jeremy eat the pie, or will he listen to his friend? What is your evidence?”

The students completed an organizer:


They then used the BookCreator app for iPad to write, illustrate, and audio record their prediction and evidence.


We then exported the student creations as movie files to our school Vimeo account and uploaded to each student’s blogfolio.




Liquid Learning: Cool Word Vocabulary

Students are always eager to get hands-on training in how to use new tools. In this exercise, I was inspired by the “Cool Word Vocabulary” activity published by Tech4Learning to create an opportunity to use the company’s software, Pixie, with my 2nd grade students. I love using Pixie with my students (see, for example, biography research, how-to tutorials, and states research) as it allows them to be creative while also exploring the features of a great digital tool.

Using an organizer, students each chose a word from their current spelling lists and wrote a sentence or two using the word in context.


In Pixie, students searched the copyright-friendly images available from Pics4Learning for images that represented the meaning of their chosen word. In some instances, this required them to think more broadly. For example, one student’s word was “stirrup”. Since there were no pictures of a stirrup, he had to think of other pictures that represent the meaning of the word and settled on “horse”.


Before students began working in Pixie, I modeled the steps and showed them an example. I also gave them the step-by-step instructions in writing. Most students did very well working independently to create their cool word vocabulary words.


As Pixie was new to this group, they really enjoyed playing with some of the software’s creative features, including the paint can tool. Some of the background students created were quite amazing. The finished products were exported as image (.jpeg) files. In sum, this exercise expanded both traditional and digital literacies. Liquid Literacy at work!  And we had fun.

Morgan's Cool Word



ChatterPix: Creative Assessment in the Lower Grades


I recently came across a really fun and free iOs app called ChatterPix by Duck Duck Moose. The app allows you to take a photo, add an animated mouth, and then record up to 30 seconds of audio to make the image talk. Here’s the official description:

ChatterPix Description

Our Kindergarten students recently studied panda bears, so the simplicity of ChatterPix seemed the perfect tool to allow the students to share their learning. With their Kindergarten teacher, Arlene Yegelwel, each student had created a panda picture made of pieces of black construction paper and cotton balls. To create the ChatterPix, students took a photo of their panda bears, with their fingers drew a line across the image to create the panda’s mouths, and then recorded what they had learned about panda bears in class. The final products were saved to the Camera Roll and then uploaded to our school’s Vimeo account. This was a super fun and easy way to assess learning while practicing oral language skills.

I also used ChatterPix with our 1st grade students to record a Chanukkiah song. In Hebrew class, the kids had created Chanukkiahs from pasta in various shapes and sizes glued to wooden boards and then spray-painted in gold. Using the ChatterPix app, the students each took a photo of their creations, drew a line for an imaginary mouth, and recorded a song. While I don’t speak Hebrew, the students’ teacher was able to use the recordings as a quick assessment of student pronunciation and usage of word endings indicating feminine and masculine word endings.

A couple of days ago two of my 4th grade students were playing around with ChatterPix. One of them had heard about it from her younger sibling. I love that the app is not only simple to use but allows students to be creative–as well as inspires students to have a go at it for extracurricular purposes. And for teachers, it is definitely an easy assessment tool.

Fostering Critical Thinking With State Research


My 4th grade students are studying Florida and its history in social studies class this year. Their teacher, Michelle Lewis, asked me to introduce them to digital resources related to the subject. Here in Florida, the Florida Electronic Library (funded by the State) makes available free to all its citizens a variety of electronic resources, including a Florida History database. After a brief introduction, I let the kids explore this resource via a scavenger hunt. They had so much fun with this that I decided to expand this project to a mini-research unit. Key elements of the mini-research unit are researching facts on two states, synthesizing information into a short written report, and creating a final digital report.

To facilitate the exercise I replicated the model report laid out in Liz Allen’s Research Without Copying presentation (2009)–a fabulous compilation of research presentation ideas, some of which are adapted from Nancy Polette’s book by the same title, challenging students to think critically about what they read and then synthesize the information learned in a variety of creative ways. Its a higher-level type of engagement with the material that ensures students better retain the information.

So on their next visit to the library, I introduced my students to the If…But Report. The idea was for them to research two different states, compile four facts for each state, and then compare and contrast the states in a one-page report, consisting of a written portion and a non-linguistic representation of the facts.


The students scoured three pre-selected websites (,, and as well as the Kids InfoBits database for information. They were to find something interesting from each source and record the information on a graphic organizer.



Using a template, students drafted their reports. In a mini-lesson, we looked more closely at some student’s writing to discuss mainly style. For example, one student listed the state name in every sentence. Is this necessary? Is it interesting? Another student used big numbers to express the populations of his states. What would be a better way to tell the reader?


Report Creation

Using Pixie for iPad app students created their reports, which had to include a written portion as well as a non-linguistic representation of the facts gathered for each state. Even though I had originally planned three 40-minute sessions for this quick research and report project, it took five sessions. It was harder for some students than others to retrieve interesting facts from the sources. Also, the report writing was easier for some than others. All students, however, quickly created their reports using the Pixie app.

IMG_2412 IMG_2413

My students know that I expect quality work, so as a final step, they had to use a checklist. Those students who finished early, also had to write a brief reflection on their student blogs.


Here are some of the wonderful examples of the final product.

SaylorBy Saylor S.


image2-e1413909231942By Eliana M.



Are We Doing Enough? Library Leaders As Extracurricular Learning

Last year, my 5th grade students volunteered 10 minutes after school to help in the library mainly shelving books, but also with other needs as they arose, including labeling and stamping books, sharpening pencils, straightening the books on the shelves etc. Most of the students in the class regularly volunteered throughout the school year. While my initial purpose was to fill my selfish need for help, I quickly realized that the students profited from this work as well.

This year, I decided to take things up a notch. I distributed an application form to both 3rd and 4th grade students (at only half the size of last year’s class, this year’s 5th grade is too small to volunteer in the library on top of their carpool duties) calling for Library Leaders. Students had to commit to any or all of the four school quarters and were required to answer three questions:

  • Why do you want to become a member of the Library Leaders team?
  • What qualities should a member of the Library Leaders team have?
  • What do you think will be the most important thing you do as a member of the Library Leaders team?

The application had to be signed by the student, a parent, and the classroom teacher.


There were 12 applicants for this first quarter (our K-8 student population totals less than 130) and I already have several more lined up for the next quarter. Because there are so many volunteers, each student is able to work only one afternoon a week.

We spent our first week in-training. The students each practiced shelving skills using the Order in the Library game produced by the University of Texas.


It was quickly apparent that we need to work on alphabetical order! So for these first weeks, I’ve assisted all my Library Leaders shelving books. I’ve been gradually releasing some students as they are becoming more independent. But especially some of the 3rd graders still need a lot of help.

So, you may wonder, how is this helping me when I have to do the work with the students? I guess I realized that as students are volunteering, I am still teaching. And that’s wonderful. As students are “digging deeper” into library organization, they are taking ownership and becoming independent users of the library. From my experience with last year’s group, I learned that eventually these 3rd and 4th grade students become role models, able to assist other students. For now, I am amazed how seriously some of the kids and their families are taking the Library Leader role. For example, one family filmed (!) and cheered their student as he entered the library on his first day of volunteering. Another parent told me that her daughter was “so proud” to be shelving books. Here is what surprises me: Despite how meager a programming effort this really is and the very little time it actually takes me, students and their parents really latched on to it. It shows that our young kids are hungry for opportunities to distinguish themselves and raises the serious question: are we providing enough of these opportunities and should we develop more?



International Dot Day 2014


It’s been a busy week in our school library! Students in Kindergarten through Grade 5 celebrated International Dot Day. Originally launched by a teacher in Iowa when he introduced Peter H. Reynolds’ book, The Dot, on September 15, 2009, this event is now celebrated annually around September 15. This year, almost 2 million teachers and their students were expected to participate.

Here at the MJGDS Library we had several fun events planned. All classes watched a retelling of The Dot. It tells the story of Vashti, a little girl who believes she cannot draw. But when her teacher tells her to “make her mark and see where it takes you”, the single dot she draws and the paper she signs and then finds hanging framed on the wall inspire Vashti to be creative. Eventually, she has an art show of her dot creations and pays it forward by inspiring a little boy to be creative.

Kindergarten: Dot Art!

Our Kindergarten students just let their imaginations run wild by creating dot art using a template I created. The rhyme is from the Magic Dot Paintings by Julie Burns. Also, Ms. Gutterman, our art teacher, is working with the students on a fantastic Kandinsky-style art project making concentric circles.!


1st Grade: Trading Cards!

Our first grade students collaborated with a class at Isaac Dickson Elementary School in Asheville, North Carolina. Their librarian, Crystal Hendrix, and I asked our students to create trading cards, challenging their new friends in the other class “You Should Try…”. This was a three-step process. First we met virtually to introduce the classes to each other. Then we created our trading cards before we concluded with another virtual visit, complimenting student creativity and exploring differences and similarities about each other’s schools and cities.



2nd Grade: Dot Photo Scavenger Hunt!

Our second graders made an international connection to celebrate Dot Day! They connected with Natalia Vergara’s class at The Graded School in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Each class went on a photo scavenger hunt using iPads. Amazing how many dots one can find in the library and in the students’ classroom! When we met our new friends in Brazil, we talked all about the many things we noticed in each classroom’s videos, for example the fact that each class has dot-shaped ceiling speakers and our library books have dot-shaped labels and there was a girl wearing a dot-dress in each class! But our class also noticed that we forgot to take photos of the eye-dots on the stuffed animals in the library. We hope to hook up again with our new friends in Brazil soon to continue learning about their school, city, and country.


IMG_2196 IMG_2194


3rd Grade: Book Characters Make Their Marks!

With our third graders I tried something completely new. We focused our discussion on how Vashti made her mark in the story. There is of course the literal meaning of her jabbing the pen on the paper creating a dot. And then there is the figurative meaning of how her new-found creativity sparked an art show and eventually inspired another child to make his mark. For our lesson, I wanted the students to think of book characters who’ve made their mark. This was a very quick but fun lesson. Students first completed a template. In pairs, they then recorded each other using an iPad telling how their chosen book characters have made a mark. The results were amazing!


 4th and 5th Grades: Augmented Reality Dots!

I introduced our fourth and fifth grade students to the colAR Mix app for iPad to get their creative juices flowing! This app allows students to view their drawings augmented by computer-generated graphics in 3D format. I downloaded the Dot Day coloring page from Fablevision’s site and the kids began creating. Amazing!



Creating a Community of Readers

As part of an effort to promote reading and to build a community of lifelong readers, I asked my colleagues to demonstrate to our students that teachers are readers too. We created poster collages and prominently displayed book covers of books read throughout the year. This year, together with my colleagues Andrea Hernandez, Edith Horovitz, and Stephanie Teitelbaum, we’ve elevated the reading community idea to a whole new level. With the A to Z Reading Challenge, we are challenging our students to read through the alphabet. Feel free to read more about this challenge in our blog post recently published on Edutopia.

Acknowledging the fact that every reader has different reading preferences, students are participating in a more personalized reading experience, allowing them a choice of titles they find most interesting and meaningful. In all, we’ve designed four different challenges: bronze, silver, gold, and platinum–each requiring a minimum number of books and genres read depending on grade level. Students will earn a badge for their reading efforts.


Only three weeks into the new school year, we are off to a fabulous start. The following image shows a mere snapshot of one student’s reading completed since June 2014. At the rate she is going, we may have to create a Double or Triple Platinum badge!


To continue the theme of building a community of readers, we are also challenging our colleagues to participate in a variation of the student challenge. Faculty must read at least two professional development books in order to earn a bronze badge. Reading five professional development books plus at least two books for each of the 26 letters in the alphabet will earn a faculty a platinum badge.


The first faculty reading posters are up and quickly filling out! We are checking out each other’s posters and inquiring about books read. Informal conversations ensue–and community is enhanced! I’ve observed students and parents doing the same and asking about various titles. The reading community at our school is alive and well!



Toolbox: Exploring Animated Media for Primary Education

As an educator striving to empower my students through new digital media, I’m constantly on the lookout for 21st century tools available to accomplish traditional tasks, like book reports.  The objective is always to strive for those Higher Order Thinking Skills, while socializing students to the power of digital media tools. Through their ToonUp5M campaign, PowToon for Education is currently giving away over 50,000 free classroom accounts. Each account is worth about $96 for one teacher plus 60 students and is good for one year. PowToon lets users create animated presentations and is currently including two free templates (with the promise of four total soon) with their EDU Classroom accounts.


I edited the School Rules template to create my animated version of our library expectations. This year the resource teachers at my school agreed to implement the same classroom management plan based on Michael Linsin’s rules. While PowToon offers a number of video tutorials to help you get started, I decided to jump right in as I’ve always been one who learns best by doing. Although I initially had some issues figuring out the duration bar, I quickly realized that it is the most important tool when creating a Toon. It’s where one determines those nifty presentation effects, including when and how objects enter and exit the screen, if the text should be added one letter or word at a time, or the type of slide transition to insert.

PowToon Screenshot

One of the soon-to-be-released templates will be to create animated book reports, which I am hoping will be a user-friendly tool for my savvy 3rd grade students. I’m just a bit concerned that PowToon’s limited library available with the free account may not offer a great enough variety of characters, props, or backgrounds. The good news, however, is that images and audio can be uploaded, giving me the opportunity to teach the kids all about finding free-to-use files.

Currently, you may download PowToon in the Chrome store. If enabled by your organization, you can also install it as an add-on in your Google Drive. Since we have several 1:1 iPad classrooms, I would love to see a PowToon app. Please stay “Tooned” for my follow-up post on  using this tool for creating book reports with my students.

Books by their Covers: Book Sharing with Personal Collages

Edith's PosterWhile there are certainly advantages to sharing one’s reading experiences globally using Goodreads or a similar social platform, to show my students that teachers are readers too, I purposefully chose the old-fashioned route: poster collages. My initial goal was to create a visual record of my and my colleagues’ reading in order to model for our students that their teachers embrace their roles as readers. Moreover, based on the premise that reading is social, I also wanted to foster a community of readers within our small school. The poster collages are a quick analog way to identify, inform, and share information about the books in our lives.

So at the beginning of the school year, I invited my colleagues to participate simply by emailing me the title and author of books (professional and pleasure) read during the course of the school year. I printed the images of those book covers and glued them to posters I had created for each participating reader. Since many of my library walls are floor-to-ceiling glass, they lend themselves perfectly for display. On their way to lunch or PE, our students would regularly walk past those book posters. I noticed them looking, pointing to different book covers, and commenting that their teachers were reading a lot. In fact, one boy seemed to think that our Vice Principal and I were in a competition–one I was quickly losing as Morah Eta read at least two books weekend after weekend.

Andrea's Poster

Arlene's Poster

While the posters provided a fun way to see how quickly a list of books read can grow, it also became clear that many of our students liked to stop and look at the book covers to find recommendations for reading. In fact, not only were students connected with books, but parents asked about titles and faculty discussed books they had read. I found myself discussing adult books among colleagues with whom I had not discussed books before. The posters helped create a connection between faculty and students who share an interest in reading. They also helped our students see that reading is not just something they have to do for school, but rather is embraced by their teachers for pleasure.

My Poster

Liquid Learning: Using Subtext as a Digital Learning Enhancement

I was very fortunate to spend some valuable reading time every week during our third quarter with seven 5th grade students. Their language arts teacher, Andrea Hernandez, wanted to provide these students with a more personalized approach to close reading instruction. All seven students are excellent readers and we decided to challenge them with an unabridged classic, Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne. Since these students are in our pilot 1:1 iPad classroom and because I’ve been looking for a reason to give it a try, I decided to immerse our little group in a digital reading experience of this classic novel via Subtext for iPad app.


Subtext is a product of Renaissance Learning company (yes, of Accelerated Reader software fame), designed as a “collaborative ereading experience for K12 classrooms.” I chose to use the free, basic version of the app, which provided us with enough functionality. Alternatively, for a fee, users can upgrade to the premium features, offering access to CCSS-aligned assignments, text-to-speech option, and access to leveled nonfiction and informational texts. The only premium feature I would have liked to try out is the ability to track student progress. But since my group consisted of only seven students, it probably would not have made a difference. The basic version provided us with enough adequate functionality to upgrade our novel study to a new form of a social reading experience.

The app offers access to a large collection of ebooks, some for a fee and some are free. Since our classic is available in the public domain, we all downloaded a free version of Around the World in 80 Days directly into the app. I then created a “5th Grade Reading” group, inviting all seven members to join. Instructors have the ability to “enable student restrictions”, effectively preventing students from navigating the Web and sharing notes. I am not sure what the point of such restrictions is in an ereading environment, so opted to not turn them on.


Mostly students read outside of our limited class time. To ensure students were reading more deeply and to assess understanding, I built discussion questions, multiple choice assessments, and polls directly into the text. These features allowed me to view and assess student responses prior to our next meeting in order to then focus on those parts of the text that needed clarification. As the teacher, I had the option to hide all responses until students submitted their answers.




Another value-added feature of Subtext is the ability to embed links to websites, images, or videos. To help build background knowledge, I linked to information about the author, the Suez canal, a map of the British colonies and another of colonial India, an image of a cow catcher mounted to the front of the old American locomotives, and more. Students also were able to embed links into their comments.


While reading, students highlighted words or entire passages and added notes. They then had the option to share the notes with the group. Simply tabbing a word pulled up a built-in dictionary, complete with audio pronunciation of the word and links to search both the Google search engine as well as Wikipedia.


The last feature we used is Subtext’s build-in link to Google Drive. Since our school uses Google Apps for Education, all our students have Gmail accounts and access to Google Drive. We shared a Google Doc of our schedule and this build-in link allowed us seamless access.

Would I use Subtext again? Yes! Using the app as a tool allowed students a different way of connecting with our text. Reading in groups is a social activity where students are learning with their peers. But using this digital tool elevated our small-group reading to a more inclusionary/participatory level by giving even those students who are usually not very vocal an equal voice. The lesson also demonstrates the power of liquid learning–most of the work was done outside of class. Also, the ability to build-in questions and to embed links facilitated active reading–although some students complained that the “the discussion questions…got in the way when there was a good part.” Most importantly, liquid resources like Subtext enable teachers to transcend the classroom and even school boundaries. Spending time together with a good book can include students across the room or literally across the world!