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One Best Thing

Discover how to keep parents informed, connect globally and link to your curriculum. This One Best Thing leads your primary classroom students through the creation of a learning network on Twitter.

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Connect, Collaborate and Create with Twitter in the Classroom

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2014 issue of ETFO Voice.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Free 3-D Geometry iPad Activities

I am currently working on a iTunes U course for my grade 2's on 3-D geometry.  I wanted to share some of the activities I have created, as well as a few student examples from this past year.  For quick access, I have placed the activities in the iPad Stations tab at the top of my blog for you to download for free.  Enjoy.

Student Example

Student Example

Listen to the video here.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

How To Create QR Codes To Use In Your Classroom

What are QR Codes and How Can I Use them in my Classroom? 

A QR Code is a type of barcode that is readable by dedicated QR barcode readers and camera telephones. The code consists of black modules arranged in a square pattern on a white background. The information encoded may be text you want students to read, websites, or video.

Ideas For The Classroom

A very quick way to incorporate QR codes in your classroom is to simply create a QR code so students can get to a website quickly and efficiently.  How many times have you written a website on the board for your students to go to and you get 10 students saying that they can’t get to the website because they have typed it incorrectly?  

I love creating bookmarks for my students with QR codes so that it takes them to todaysmeet or maybe a padlet wall that I have created for students to share their thinking. 
All I do is create a bookmark in Word or Pages with the information I want the students to have and insert the QR code into the document.  Then I print it for my students to use. 

Along the same lines, I have used QR codes for a KWL chart, where students scan the code, it takes them to a Padlet wall where they can add their knowledge, their 
wonders and their learning to 3 separate walls with 3 
separate QR codes.  

How about using QR codes in your classroom library books?  Little learners love to open a favourite book and see a QR code to scan that takes them to a Youtube video that sings their favourite book. Or better yet, older students could create book trailers so other students could watch their book trailer to get a glimpse of what the book is about.  I also use the audio boo app to have children record themselves reading a story and create a QR code of the audio so others can listen to the book by their fellow classmates.

Do your students do literacy or math stations?  Their are infinite possibilities to use them in this way.  Here are a few that I have pinned from Pinterest

How The Heck Do I Create A QR Code?

First, you can use an app or a website to create your QR code.

I personally use QR Stuff to create my QR codes.  It is free and easy to use, but there are many free sites you can use.

You have many choices on what to link your QR code to.  I mainly connect my QR codes to either a URL (website) or plain text (words or phrases). 

If you are connecting to a website, all you do is copy the URL you want to use and paste in the designated area and the site generates a URL.  You can download the QR code or I take a screenshot of the code and insert it into the document I am creating.  Or I will use the print option that I LOVE because there are so many print options right from the site. 

Now that you have your QR codes created, all you have to do is download a QR reader onto your devices.  I personally use Qrafter on all of the iPads in my classroom.  It works well and it’s Free!

All you have to do is start creating!  Let me know if you have anymore questions or leave a link to a QR code activity you have created.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Creation of My Classroom Learning Space

When you think of a learning space in a school, do you automatically think of desks, blackboards and textbooks?  As the world changes and the way we deliver and receive content changes, why do so many of our schools continue to look the same?

My classroom is a collaborative environment, where problem solving, questioning and feedback is encouraged.  Gone are the days where you could hear a pin drop in a classroom.  My classroom is noisy, full of energy and always changing.  My students choose where they want to sit, choose who they want to              work with and what tools they want to use.  I needed my learning space to reflect that.

Last year I spoke to my teaching partner about changing our classroom.  She was all for it, so the first thing we changed were the desks.  We were able to swap out our desks for tables.  We used furniture that wasn’t being used in other buildings in our district and traded them for our desks.
The second thing I wanted to change was our meeting area.  We had a large carpet for the students to gather on. (We have 40 students.)  I made a few milk crate stools, my mom donated a large ottoman and we had two high bar stools that sat at our observation window to view our bird feeders.

The students chose the non traditional seating over their tables every time.  They loved working together seated on the ottoman or around it.  They loved reading and collaborating on the high stools.  I don’t think the furniture increases learning directly.  However, I believe your mood does.  When you are comfortable and happy it contributes to your productivity.

As a result of this, last August I tweeted to our local furniture companies asking them to donate furniture to my classroom.  A couple of the companies responded asking me to email them.  I did and one local company was eager to hear my story.

A meeting was set with Noah Tepperman.  He is the Director of Social Media and a Partner of Tepperman’s Furniture store.

When we met, I told him about our space and that my students did most of their learning on an iPad.  I explained that we were looking for a more comfortable space for not only my students but their parents as well.  On Tuesdays and Thursdays for the first half hour of the day the families of my students are invited to come in and read with them.  This has evolved since we received the iPads.  Students now read or show their families work they have done on the iPads.  Our guests always had to go into our library because we didn’t have enough seating to accommodate our families.

After meeting with Noah, he came and visited my learning space and spoke to my students.  We then met one last time to look at furniture for the space.

This past June, 2 large sectionals, an ottoman and a 50 inch flat screen were donated to our learning space.

The new learning area provided by Mr. Tepperman  can accommodate around 20 children comfortably and we can now use our Apple TV to share the students’ work on our new TV.

The students love our new space, reading time is a lot quieter, work time is a lot more comfortable and parents feel welcome to join our classroom.

Why can’t our classrooms look closer to our homes?  I know that when I’m reading a book or doing something on my iPad, I don’t sit at my kitchen table.  I sit on my couch in my living room. 

When you start getting ready to go back to school next month, think about your learning space.  Do you have different areas in your room that are meant for different tasks?   Do you have quiet areas to get away with a book or to do something independently?  Do you have other areas where seating can easily be rearranged to meet the need for collaboration?  Do you have any non-traditional seating, if not, can you get some? 

Hopefully you can find someone as generous and genuine as Noah Tepperman to make that a reality.  Thank you Noah for the amazing donation and for taking time out of your busy schedule to visit my class, and to comment on their blogs.  My students and I couldn’t be more happy with our learning space!

A student's blog post and the response from Mr. Tepperman

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Using Social Media as a Teaching Tool

Teaching Social Media as a tool is imperative in todays day and age.  Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Youtube are all applications that many of our students frequent everyday.  We also hear horrible stories of mistakes teens and adults have made that they can't take back on social media.  A snap of a picture that is sent via text could be detrimental.  Saying something inappropriate on Twitter or Facebook can put you in a lot of hot water or worse....jail.

This is why I teach social media norms and etiquette in my classroom. Do kids make mistakes?  Of course!  I encourage mistakes, because we learn from them.  I want my students to make those mistakes while they are in my class.  An inappropriate comment on someone's blog is a lesson learned in my class and hopefully not repeated.  The mistakes that are made in grade 2 are a lot less harmful than when that student is in high school.

My students see Social Media as a teaching tool.  Twitter is embedded into the daily instruction in my classroom.  As well as posting their learning on their personal blogs or uploading their work to our Youtube Channel.  Our classroom Twitter norms were created with my students to ensure ownership of our norms.

A few weeks ago we were working on writing a persuasive letter.  I wanted to make this an authentic task so as a class, we brainstormed a list of things that we could persuade our principal to buy or let us do.  My students agreed that they wanted to persuade our principal into buying us a bird feeder to put outside our observation window.  My students came up with the idea to post the letters on their blogs and then tweet them directly to our principal on Twitter.  Students tweeted their letters and got responses from not only the principal.  We received a bird feeder and birdseed on behalf of our Director of Education, a bird house that one of our students made and a humming bird feeder from my mom.

One of my student's letters on their blog.  (Check out the response).

I think the above tweet says it all.  The connections being made in my classroom that day was amazing.  Students were discussing how powerful social media can be.  They spoke about how quickly the message got around and how if they would have delivered the letter to the principal's office we would have not received all of this support from other people.  This also sparked a conversation about if you were to post something that was harmful or inappropriate on Twitter, how many people could potentially see it very quickly and how you can't take something back even if you delete the tweet after it has been tweeted.  These conversations help mold my students opinions and work ethic around social media.

Another great example of how social media has a positive impact in my classroom, is when I  recently received this tweet on the weekend from one of my students:

I was so excited to get a tweet on the weekend from a student that on their own, researched about our current inquiry and tweeted it to me!  (Remember, he is in grade 3).  This student isn't using social media to see what Justin Bieber is up to or to ramble on about his weekend.  He is using it in a purposeful way to show his learning.

 After the weekend, my student was all set with two QR codes printed out to share with the class.  Amazing!

Remember mistakes are welcomed in our classrooms and when children make mistakes it creates new learning.  Don't be quick to "shut it down"  when a mistake is made on social media.  Be thankful it was made in a controlled environment where students can learn from their mistakes without it being detrimental down the road.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Registration is Open for The Primary Blogging Community September Session

The Primary Blogging Community is currently accepting classes that blog for the September rotation.  The last rotation was a huge success with over 80 classes participating from all over the world.  I have made a few changes for this rotation.  I have changed the rotation schedule from 8 weeks to 5 weeks.  I've done this because I feel that the most important part of this community is to have students commenting on each others blogs to generate excitement to write!  Instead of taking 4 weeks to read and comment on the class blog, I have shortened it to 1 week.  Here is a brief description of what the blogging community is:

What is the Primary Blogging Community?

The PBC is a community of primary teachers that want to share their students' learning via their classroom blog and their students' personal blogs.  Classrooms will be grouped with 3 or 4 other classrooms from around the globe.  The program is 5 weeks long.  The first week will concentrate on the classroom blogs only.  During this week, you will visit the other classes class blog.  This is a chance for the other classes to see what is happening in your school and class, to discover where in the world you are located and to learn about how to write a good blog post and to watch how you model and work together to write a good comment.  After the first  week, we switch the focus from your classroom blog and concentrate on student blogs.  The second week, one class will will be the focus class with the other 3 classes commenting on the first class' individual blogs.  The cycle continues for 3 more weeks.   The focus is solely on your student's individual blogs. 

Why join the Primary Blogging Community?

1.  You will be collaborating with other like minded educators on this project and in return will build your PLN.
2.  PBC creates enthusiasm in reading and writing.
3.  It gives your students a voice and lets them be the teacher to their peers.
4.  Your students will have a built in audience that will provide authentic feedback to what they are writing about on their blogs.
5.  On some days in the last rotation, my students had over 100 comments on their blogs!  The excitement and engagement piece to this blogging community is huge!  

What is the difference between the Primary Blogging Community and Quadblogging?

Quadblogging -  Each week one blog is the focus blog with the other three blogs visiting and commenting during that week. In week two, another school/class blog is the focus with the other three visiting and commenting. This is repeated until each of the classes/schools has had their week in the spotlight. The cycle is then repeated. (from

Primary Blogging Community - Is the exact same as above except  we concentrate on your student's personal blogs, not your classroom blog.

What do I need to have to begin?

You need to have a classroom blog and your students need their own personal blogs.  If you do not have an edmodo account, I highly suggest you sign up for one and join our blogging community.  This is where you can ask questions and collaborate with the other teachers in the group.  The link for our group is here.  The code to our group is 2n9zci.  We also communicate frequently on twitter, use #PrimaryBC on twitter and follow me on twitter for news and updates @mrswideen.

Where do I sign up?

Please fill in the google doc here.

When do we begin?

I will be closing registration September 15 and we will begin September 22nd.  

Monday, June 16, 2014

Why I Abandoned Genius Hour

Genius hour is an amazing concept that children respond to because they get to learn about any topic they choose.  I had a few rounds of Genius Hour last year and the kids thought it was awesome.  On Fridays, the question was always, "Are we doing Genius Hour today?"

With a grade 1/2 classroom last year, it got difficult to keep up with Genius Hour for a few reasons.

1.  My students were very young, so they still needed a lot of teacher direction and guidance.

2.  The range of projects was huge!  There were students learning to knit, creating paper mache animals, learning magic, painting on canvas, making wedding cakes and cooking pizza to just name a few.

3.  We asked my principal for a small budget to cover the costs of all of these projects.  My principal was very supportive and agreed.  (In reality, how many times do you ask for money for Genius Hour)

The Knitting Group
These were all minor issues, my major issue was that my students did not know how to properly research and I as their teacher did not effectively model this.  I let my students basically do whatever they wanted and helped as much as I could to direct them to resources in the library and online.  My students craved Genius Hour and I dreaded it.  It was me running around like a chicken with its head cut off.  Think of 40 students, 2 teachers and as many people that I could rope into to help out during that hour and a half of time.  There was glue, paint, flour, sugar, yarn, knitting needles, magic wands and pizza dough flying around the classroom.  (And you think your classroom looks like a circus on somedays!)

I needed a better plan, I needed to be better prepared and I needed my students to have the skills needed to research an idea or topic, produce not only a product but also be able to share the information they learned from researching the topic.

This year, Genius Hour turned into Wonder Workshop.

This year I began the year teaching the skills needed for an inquiry based classroom.  I modeled my own inquiry and taught and retaught the skills needed for my students to be successful researchers and wonderers.
From a modeled lesson on "Reading with a question in mind."

My students completed curriculum based Inquiry projects on Early Settlers where they created the question that they answered.  They also did an Inquiry on a creature of their choice.

My students learned different ways to show their learning.  That it didn't have to be a book created on the iPad.  That it could be a poster, an artifact, a presentation or a video.  When my students chose to create an artifact they new that there would be questions from their peers on the topic that they would need to know before presenting their artifact to others.

When my students had gone through the inquiry process, with how to create a deeper question, how to effectively take notes,  how to collaborate with others, this is when I introduced open inquiries.

Open inquiries is a form of Genius Hour.  EVERYDAY we have Wonder Workshop.  Students come into the classroom at 8:30 and from 8:30-9:00 each day they can work on their open inquiries.  They can work alone, with a partner or with a group.  I have students that are working on commercials to bring more students to the school, I have students that are creating non fiction books on the iPads about a topic they wanted to research.  I had a student share their paper book on healthy eating this morning.

Because, I took the time to explicitly teach and reteach the tools my students needed, Wonder Workshop goes much more smoothly.  Yes, I still have the child that has been creating the same book for the past 3 months and yes I do have children that have changed their question more frequently than they brush their teeth.  I have to keep reminding myself that this is a process and that the process is more important than the product.

My students still have that excitement like they did last year on every Friday.  Now they are excited everyday because they get to start their morning learning about something they have chosen to learn about.  They are just as excited to share their learning with their peers and families.

If you too have abandoned Genius Hour, don't give up, a great place to start is to read Inquiry Circles in Action.  It has changed the way I teach and has fantastic lessons to get you on your way to a wonderful Wonder Workshop.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Will Dance For Minecraft

As I walked into my classroom this afternoon at the end of lunch, I saw three boys on the carpet at the front of the room dancing and giving each other high fives.  There was also an excited chatter throughout the classroom.  As I went over to ask the boys what all of the excitement was all about, I heard the word, MINECRAFT.  The students had read the learning goal and success criteria for our Science project that I was going to tell them about the following period.  (I was excited that they were reading my anchor charts while they were eating their lunch, who knew?) 

What is it about this game that has young and old, girls and boys so obsessed over?  I have students playing it outside during recess, I have kids in my class that will do ANYTHING just for the chance to play it for 10 minutes on our iPads. (Do you have reluctant writers?  Give them 10 minutes on Minecraft and have them write about their adventure. I guarantee the writers' block will disappear.)   Heck, my 7 year old son sleeps with a stuffed creeper that he has named Creepy and creates things with cardboard cutouts that look like Minecraft pieces.

This past year I have dabbled with Minecraft on our iPads at school.  It took a matter of seconds for my class to notice that Minecraft had been downloaded on our 20 iPads.

Like every other app on our iPads, I wanted their to be a purpose for downloading it. Besides it being entertaining, fun and to be thought of as the "coolest teacher" for downloading it and letting them play Minecraft at school.  Minecraft had to have educational value.  I had to be able to tie it into the curriculum. I did some searching on the Internet, went to a few sessions at conferences about Minecraft, bombarded my son and husband with question and learned about the game.

So far this year, we have incorporated Minecraft into the following:

1. In science, students had to design and build a strong and stable structure over a lava river in Minecraft.
2.  To conclude our Early Settlers Inquiry in Social Studies, students were asked to create a replica of a home or town that resembles what they had learned during the unit.

3.  For a literacy component, students were asked to create a replica of our school with a group of 4 other students.  The tricky part was that the students were only allowed to communicate by using the messaging option in Minecraft.  My room is usually pretty noisy and you could hear a pin drop during this activity!

4.  Our current Science Inquiry about Soil that students have to identify and describe the different types of soil.  (I had a couple of students ask if they could do it at home for homework.  I bet I wouldn't have had that question if I asked them to create a diagram on paper.)

If you have not used Minecraft in your classroom before, I encourage you to try it.  It is like Christmas morning every time I tell my students that we are going to use Minecraft.  There is dancing, smiling, cheering and lots and lots of learning!   If you are using Minecraft in your classroom, I would love to hear how you are using it.