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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.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Join The Global Project #kidscancreatechange

We (my teaching partner and I) are embarking on an inquiry that we hope will promote innovation, empowerment, risk taking, commitment, and skilled problem solving in our students. 
Using Fullan’s six elements of character as our framework we are attempting to measure the impact of focusing work on social and global issues on students’ ability to demonstrate the 6 C’s.

The six C’s are:

  • Character education: building resilience, empathy, confidence and wellbeing.
  • Citizenship: referencing global knowledge, cultural respect, environmental awareness.
  • Communication: getting students to apply their oral work, listening, writing and reading in varied contexts.
  • Critical-thinking: designing and managing projects which address specific problems and arrive at solutions using appropriate and diverse tools.
  •  Collaboration: working in teams so students can learn with/from others.
  •  Creativity and imagination: to develop qualities like enterprise, leadership, innovation.         

In developing this inquiry, we wanted to keep to a theme “Make something in the world better.”  This could be:

  • In the school
  • In the community
  • In the world

We wanted the children to identify a need, to create a plan and then reflect on the outcome.

 It was December when we began this project, so it was the perfect season to embark in this journey.  There was a food drive at our school for local families and we also had a Christmas tree in our front hallway that students and teachers decorated with hats and mittens for children in need.  This was our first step in building empathy in our students.

We then started introducing our students to issues that many of them had no schema about.  We explored the following questions through the LivingOnOne Change Series:
·      What is it really like to live on just $1 a day?
·      How big of an effect could not having clean water nearby have on your life?
·      What kind of food can you afford on $1 a day and what does it really mean to be malnourished?
·      What options do the poor have to get back on their feet after a natural disaster?
·      What barriers do the poor face in finding work and how do they make a living?

·      How is it possible to budget just $1 a day for immediate costs like food and shelter and still save for long term items like your kids’ education and emergencies?
·      What prevents kids from going to school and how can education respect traditional culture while also teaching modern skills?

We noticed that the students were very engaged in the content and were hungry for more.  We invited  Emily Hime has a non profit organization called Hime For Help.  Emily opened and runs Maison Ke Kontan Children's Home in Port Au Prince where seventeen children currently reside. As well as running the Children's Home she also sponsors over ten children and families who are living in extreme poverty and gives these children an opportunity to attend school.   She also supports a tent city consisting of 76 people where she provides clothing, food, and medical treatment as well as a remote village in the mountains of Montrouis where she personally sponsors a family of nine and provides care packages, medical care, clothing, and food for other Haitians in the village.  Twenty two year old Emily Hime was gracious enough to come and talk to our class about her journey, her passion and why she is moving to Haiti indefinitely this February. 
someone from our local community to come in to speak to our students.

Emily and the background knowledge we provided our students through read alouds, video and pictures ignited a spark in our students that was contagious.  Students began bringing in spare change to send to Emily.  They began brainstorming ways they could help Emily and her organization. 

This is where #kidscancreatechange came from.  Our students want the world to know that even though they are young, they can create a huge impact.  An impact, that can change the world. 

We want you to join us.  We want you to prove that you don’t have to be rich, or famous, or old to make a difference.  We want the world to know that #kidscancreatechange. 

We are asking that you identify a need in your school, community or in the world that you want to make better.  Then let us know by filling in the google doc and documenting your journey with audio, text, pictures and or video.  If you have an iPad, create a page using the book creator app with all of your documentation and send it to us so we can create a global collaboration book on how #kidscancreatechange.  If you don’t have an iPad, we still want you to participate!  Send us your documentation through email and we will create the page for you!

We know that this project will take some time, we would like your documentation by April 13th so we can create the collaborative book and get it back to you before the end of the school year.

If you are asking the question, “Where do I start?”  We have created a google doc with some resources to get you started.

When you are ready to show and tell us your journey on how #kidscancreatechange check out the following information for easy instructions on how to send us your book creator pages.

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask!  Email me at

Let’s empower our students and show the world that #kidscancreatechange

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Show Me The Money!

The past few weeks we have been working on money.  My second graders are expected to be able to estimate and count money amounts to one dollar.  Funny that our math program only has one lesson covering money.  As my good friend Erin Mastin says, it was time to "Wideen" it and go off course and do my own thing.

My students were ranging from little or no knowledge of what the names of the coins are to being able to count money to around a dollar.  Here are a few activities that we did and a few ways I differentiated the activities:

Get your kids moving with Frozen People Coin Tag!

  1. Label your students with a coin amount, either 1,5,10 or 25 cents.
  2. Have children run around the playing area.  
  3. Yell out an amount of money.
  4. Children work together to find the total value represented by the coin labels on their bodies.

I have shared the following activity before, but I needed to differentiate the activity for some of my students so instead of everyone showing me a dollar 4 different ways, I had some students sorting coins, and others were showing smaller amounts different ways.  Students would then use Draw and Tell or today they used Explain Everything to take a picture and record their thinking. All the following activities are available on my website, just click the tab that says iPad Stations, then choose the math option.

A student example of the activity

As you know, Explain Everything is one of my favourite apps and you will love what I am going to show you next.  I came across a file that was created to use with Explain Everything.  This file was created by Tim Pelton.  He made a project that I saved to my dropbox (dropbox is on all of my class iPads)  Students go to dropbox, choose the file and choose to open it in Explain Everything.  Presto! You have a screen with movable coins that students can use to show their learning.  Here is the link for the file.
We used this application in many different ways:
  • I would call out an amount and they would make it on their screens then tweet it.

  • They would show a certain amount different ways on different screens. 

I also created another activity called Trading Up!

Believe it or not, all of the above actives were going on at the same time in my room, except for tag of course.  The students were engaged, busy and excited to do the activities and it gave me some time to work with a group that needed extra help.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Changing the World by EMPOWERING my Students

I have been reading other blogs tonight and seeing the pattern of choosing "one word" to really focus on this year.  This couldn't have come at a better time as I wrestle with getting my big Global Project ready to launch.  My "word" has everything to do with my students, the teachers near and far that I connect with each day and my own children.  My "word" this year is to empower.  

I have been encouraging my students to create positive change not only in our local community, but on a global scale too.  Before the break, I began showing my students a documentary titled Living On One.  It is about four college students that flew to Guatemala to see what it would be like to live on just one dollar a day, for 56 days.  There are six 5-10 minute episodes on the most pressing issues Guatemalan people face everyday.  My students were enthralled with these videos and asked me every morning if we were going to watch another episode.

Emily with my class.
I then invited an amazing young woman into our classroom that lives near us who is running Maison Ke Kontan Children's Home in Port Au Prince where seventeen children currently reside. As well as running the Children's Home she also sponsors over ten children and families who are living in extreme poverty and gives these children an opportunity to attend school.   She also supports a tent city consisting of 76 people where she provides clothing, food, and medical treatment as well as a remote village in the mountains of Montrouis where she personally sponsors a family of nine and provides care packages, medical care, clothing, and food for other Haitians in the village.  Twenty two year old Emily Hime was gracious enough to come and talk to my class about her journey, her passion and why she is moving to Haiti indefinitely this February.  

I am so proud of my students for wanting to create change.  We have decided as
Two children who are in Emily's care wearing our
school t-shirts.
a class to support Emily and her non profit organization Hime For Help.  Before the break my students were brainstorming ways to raise money and how to share and ignite other children to "Be the Change" using social media.  Now this is empowerment.  When my students are showing commitment to act for the common good and problem solving for a better future.

I am going back to school tomorrow with an arm full of mentor texts to share with my students about empowerment and changing the world, one person at a time. 

I can't wait to continue this journey and to invite you to also encourage passion and possibility in your students.  Stay tuned for a Global Project that will empower your students to create, innovate and problem solve in the service of a better future.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Need an Authentic Audience for Math? Use Twitter

For the past couple of weeks my 2nd graders have been learning about data management.  This past week they have learned about collecting data through surveys, how to create bar graphs and how to analyze the data they have received.  For their culminating activity I asked them to create a question about "favorites."  Once they had their question, I had them tweet it out on our classroom Twitter account (@mrswideensclass).  I then retweeted the questions on my professional Twitter account to try to get enough responses for them to collect their data.  After two days, we had about 10 questions that had a sufficient amount of responses.  The next step was for the children to find their questions on twitter and tally the results.

After the student tallied the responses they created a bar graph to show the data.  I then had the students take pictures of their work and had them use Pic Collage to show their work.  We did this because we try to respond to everyone that has responded to our class on Twitter.  My class wanted to share their results with the people that answered their survey.  After my students created an image in Pic Collage they saved it to the camera roll and responded to everyone that took their survey with the picture of the results and a quick message.

First, I want to thank our PLN for responding to the questions.  The children were so excited to see all of the results.  What a fantastic and different way to collect surveys that are real and authentic.  It is also a fantastic piece of assessment that my students enjoyed, were engaged and eager to complete. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Students Show their Thinking with the Drawing Pad App

Today in our quest to find more out about habitats.  We discussed that there are different types of habitats.  I thought we would get through all of the habitats in one literacy block.  Boy was I wrong!  

We first went over our first essential question which is:
What is a habitat?
Students were able to articulate that it is where an animal lives and that a habitat needs 4 things for animals to survive:

  1. Food
  2. Water
  3. Shelter
  4. Space

I then introduced the students to the idea that there are different habitats and different sets of animals live in each habitat. We talked about the five major habitats, e.g. arctic, desert, ocean (coral reef or tide pool), rainforest, and savanna.

I then wrote the following questions on the board:
  1. What types of animals live in the arctic habitat?
  2. What kinds of plants?
  3. What colours do you see?
  4. What does the landscape look like?
Ultimately, I wanted students to understand that each habitat contains certain characteristics.

I then handed out the iPads and told my students that they could draw and annotate a picture of an arctic habitat with the information they learn from the video clip I was going to show them.  I then showed a video from brainpopjr about arctic habitats.  We actually watched it twice, once to watch it, then I played it a second time as they finished their pictures.  When they were finished their picture, they saved it to the camera roll and  published it to their blogs.   

Here are two examples:

Due to how long this activity took, my teaching partner and I have decided to break the kids into groups and give each group a different habitat to learn about tomorrow.  (brainpopjr has 6 different habitat videos)  We will then have the groups create something to show their learning on the habitat they research and share it with the class.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Using Padlet to Introduce the RAN Graphic Organizer

We are starting a new Inquiry Unit on Animals and we are in the  "Immersion phase" of the inquiry circle.  Which means, I am inviting curiosity, teaching background knowledge, and inviting students to wonder about different animals.

One of the things that I want my students to include in their Inquiry learning is what their animals habitat is.  I also wanted to introduce them to a new graphic organizer called the RAN strategy, which stands for Reading and Analyzing Nonfiction.

A RAN chart is a lot like a KWL chart.  However, the students start with prior knowledge then after reading or watching something about the topic they move their sticky to a new column based on if their information was right or if it was a misconception.   The chart also still contains a New learning column as well as a Wonderings column.

I took a screen shot of part of a RAN chart and used it as the background to the padlet wall. See what a padlet wall is here.   I then chirped the url of the padlet to the students iPads and had them fill in what they thought the word habitat meant. See what chirp is here.

We then watched the following habitat video and I had students fill in the the New Learning column.

After we watched the video clip we went back to the What I think I know column and moved those notes to either the Confirmed or the Misconception column.  Here is what our padlet wall looks like now:

If you would like to see the padlet live the link is

Tomorrow I will be giving students a piece of writing on habitats at their reading level.  I will have my students use the RAN strategy using sticky notes and a graphic organizer.

Here is a link to some RAN graphic organizers I found from Marianna Kiva's website if you wanted to try it out in your own class.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Worksheets Are NOT Part Of How My Students Show Their Learning

This past Saturday I was fortunate to listen to George Couros speak at EdCampSWO.  One thing he spoke about that really resonated with me was how his niece has pages and pages of homework to do each night.  As I looked at the picture of his niece, I responded with this tweet:

I am not a fan of worksheets or homework.  I think reading is the most important homework for my students and my own children.  

My students just finished their inquiry projects about bats.  We created the list above just a few weeks ago before my students chose how to show all of their research and learning.  I find when you give your students the choice on how to show their learning you get better projects and happy and engaged children.

I am going to share some of their projects, however, I also want you to know that I feel that the process is much more important than the product.  I don't correct their spelling or have them redo their posters if there is incorrect information.  This is THEIR work, not mine.  We talk about the content and feedback after they present.  I am always amazed on how much they know about their inquiry when they get the chance to present.  It is always far more than what is in their book or on their poster.

Presenting usually takes two days.  I split the class in half.  Half the class stands by their projects, presents their information and answers questions.  While the other half of the class listens, asks questions and takes notes on new information they learn.

Here are a few of the projects that were shared on bats:


A book created on Book Creator


Board Game

These projects not only cover science and literacy curriculum but also are rich learning tasks that promote critical thinking, presentation skills and self-confidence.  I am positive that worksheets and huge amounts of homework do not.