Friday Links for Educators 01.24.14

Tour of NASA, Cape Canaveral, FL. c Elissa Thompson

Tour of NASA, Cape Canaveral, FL. c Elissa Thompson

Ah, January. Starts out slow: everyone back from holidays, refreshing December’s learning, slowly starting new units… Not so much!  Somehow, entering dates for spring semester makes it clear how quickly we shifted from the “start of the year” to “is that really May I’m planning for?”

With all the demands of regular planning, we’re also looking ahead with resolutions for a new year. For my own part, I’m reflecting on what has been going well, but pushing myself to where I want to grow and improve next.

All of that includes some great online reading.  Below are some of the best reads for this week.  As always, be sure to let me know what you find useful, what you would like to see more of, or leave your own links in the comments.  Have a great week!

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What Students Can do When the Reading Gets Rough

This is actually one of my favorite reads, lately: a great article that gives concrete advice on what is really needed when students bog down in reading — concrete to-dos for student and teacher, alike.

The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented

As much attention as education might put into differentiating to reach struggling students, it can be to easy to overlook the need to differentiate with enrichment for gifted students. This site is rich with information and links for resources to benefit gifted learners.

Say What? 5 Ways to Get Students to Listen

This is a great piece on Edutopia with approaches to modify to engage student listening — a great tool for to increase student success by avoiding missed instructions or learning.

A Simple Way Teachers Can Learn to Make Apps

Make our own apps?  This link utterly fascinates me and terrifies me, at once.  Haven’t you had a moment where you thought, “If only there were an app that would…”?  What if you could write (and sell?) that app yourself?  If anyone tries this out, be sure to let us know how well it worked!

Re-dos, Retakes and Do-Overs

The idea of do-overs was hotly debated in a recent Twitter thread, as the need to differentiate and allow genuine learning is held out against a fear that do-overs devalue grades. From a series of videos on differentiated instruction,  Rick Wormeli gives his perspective.

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What About You?

This week, my reading came about while looking for resources on specific approaches in differentiation and assessment.  What goals are you working on in your teaching?  Are you registering to attend a workshop or conference, or are there blogs or links you’ve found useful?  Let us know what your challenges, successes or favorite resources have been, by sharing in the comments.

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Using Pinterest in the Classroom

Mrs Ts Middle Grades Pinterest scrn

If I were to share one way that technology contributed to great classes this week, I’d have to say, “Pinterest.”  Here’s the thing: friends might assume I mean using Pinterest to find great resources. That is true.  I do find examples of good organization and learning approaches on Pinterest.

But what I’ve come to love about Pinterest is the way I use it as an interactive bulletin board for sharing resources with students throughout learning.  Since last spring, I have been using Pinterest as an interactive, technologically empowered bulletin board of resources.  Not only does it keep multimedia tools readily sorted for use, but it is an engaging tool in our class community as students use certain boards throughout our day.

This post shares how I use Pinterest in the classroom in 3 parts:

  1. How I set up a Pinterest account specifically for use in the classroom
  2. 20 strategies for how I use boards
  3. An example of Pinterest in a lesson this week (which continues a lesson first mentioned in this post, 3 for Thursday: Checklist for Project-Based Learning, Request for Retest and Taxonomy for Reflection).

Here is my Mrs. T’s Middle Grades Pinterest account, mentioned throughout this article. Follow me so I’ll see yours as well.

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First, here is my Pinterest set-up:

  1. Create a classroom account.   Before using Pinterest in the classroom, I set up 2 separate Pinterest accounts.
    • For the classroom, I set up a separate Pinterest account called Mrs. T’s Middle Grades specifically for resources used in class. Nothing goes on there except what would be appropriate for students to view.
    • Anything else I want to save — pretty places I’ve traveled or great shoes I saw or anything else personal, and even professional links not related to teaching — goes on a personal Pinterest account that students don’t see.
  2. Store pins where you’ll find them quickly.  The key to making Pinterest a useful resource is to store pins where they can be accessed quickly.  The best strategy is in how you name your boards, since Pinterest allows you to name and move boards, whereas pins remain sorted in the order you pinned them.
    • For subject-content pins, name boards by subject and unit. For example, I collected lots of great pictures of animal species and articles on discovery of new species onto a board named “Science  {plants & animals}” making it easy to view all these pins together during our current life science unit. Similarly, content-area pins on the Boston Massacre and Declaration of Independence go onto a board named “US History {Road to Revolution}.”  For English, creating a board for a novel unit allows you to collect pictures and other resources students use to visualize an historic novel, for example.

      Boards set up by subject, unit or skill. Mrs. T's Middle Grades

      Boards set up by subject, unit or skill. Mrs. T’s Middle Grades

    • Where resources overlap, create boards for subject area then skill.  Language Arts skills tend to be used throughout the year rather than in single units, but can be sorted into boards for Reading (which I break into fiction, nonfiction, reading notebooks, etc.), Writing (with individual boards for certain skills, like research, inference, and comparison/contrast), Spelling and Vocabulary, etc. I set up a single board for Grammar, but have considered dividing pins into separate boards for nouns, verbs, sentences, etc., to be more organized during units.
    • Name boards by process. I’ve grouped other pins into boards that name the process I use them for, such as “Reading Notebooks,” “Writing Prompts,” “Reading {alternatives to book reports},” “Groups and Discussions” and “Interactive Notebooks.” In these cases, I’ll be looking for a pin example while performing one of those processes (see more on how I use them below).
    • Special activities. See more about students, below, but I have boards of resources we use during classroom breaks, indoor recess, holiday crafts, etc.  A “Technology” board groups links to Pandora and other tools we might use in class.
    • Where it’s helpful, I’ll repeat a pin onto more than one board, so the hunt for a pin goes faster. For example, a popular song we used for learning state capitals shows up in “Geography,” as well as in “For Students” and “Recess.”
    • Periodically shuffle your boards so your most relevant boards are quickly visible near the top.  My boards are organized so that student boards are at the top, then start-of-day boards, then subject area boards for current units, then tools, etc.  Unit boards for other times of the year are allowed to shuffle to the bottom.
    • (Notice I’m only listing boards for pins I use with students. I do also have planning boards for things like classroom organization or assessments, and professional development. These are kept toward the bottom.)
  3. Follow good people, and save only useful pins.  You “follow” people or organizations on Pinterest to see what others are pinning.
    • I follow some of the amazing teachers from my own staff, some great blogging teachers, several professional organizations (Edutopia  and ISTE are fab pinners), and other educators I admire.  Here are people I follow on Pinterest .
    • I only pin materials that I think will be useful, and I readily prune — deleting pins or unfollowing as needed to focus what I’m seeing. (It goes without saying: I screen carefully and don’t pin things that are controversial or inappropriate.)
    • Half of my pins are repins of sources I found on Pinterest, but the other half were found through email, newsletters, Twitter, searches and other reading. (I’ve shared more about best ways for educators to use Twitter here and best tweeters to follow here , or here is my educators list on Twitter.)
  4. Create a fast link to Pinterest.  I am able to access any link stored on Pinterest as fast or faster than any other app on my system.  A simple Favorites tab gets me there readily while online. If you wanted students to have quick access, you can include a direct link in the links list on your Edline class page or other school webpage. Students can be given a direct link to a pin by including it in an assignment posted on Edline or email.

How I Use Pinterest While Teaching

That was all just set up.  How do I use Pinterest boards with students?  Like many teachers, I use several of my boards during unit planning. For example, in our recent nouns unit, I created a noun rules foldable for our interactive notebooks from an example I found on Pinterest.

But I’m more focused in this post on sharing how I use my boards as an interactive resource during teaching or as independent resources for flipped learning.

  1. Quick access to multimedia links for teaching.  Pinterest is one of my favorite ways to stash fast links to film clips I’ll use during lessons.  For example, my “US History {Road to Revolution}” board has links from the History channel, as well as several of the John Adams HBO series clips I loved using to capture the emotion colonial delegates went through in debating war with England and ultimately ratifying the Declaration of Independence.   I may also have these links imbedded in a PowerPoint or Smart file for a class presentation, but can get to all of them quickly through the board without having to open other software.  I can use comments on the pin to note how I use the individual clips. Or, see below for how those clips can become flips or bellringers.
  2. What’s great, is the “flipped” aspect of a Pinterest board, as the resources are always available, not hidden in a computer file.  For example, half a dozen students in my grade are currently researching to write essays for the Daughters of the American Revolution essay contest. I can steer them to my Road to Revolution board to use the same resources I’ll use later in the year as flipped learning.
  3. Display samples. The process-based boards mentioned above are great go-to’s for visual examples when introducing a project, previewing lapbooks or interactive notebooks or options for book reports, holiday crafts, etc.
  4. A filter. Using any online resources, one concern is in being able to control inappropriate material that pops up in frames or ads. One reason I like opening resources in Pinterest is that I don’t have to click through to the original source when viewing with kids, which helps screen against some of those unknowns on YouTube and elsewhere. I like having this one extra layer of protection in screening materials for students.
  5. Bellringers and prompts. Throughout my boards, I have photos, videos or articles pinned with a comment beneath them for how I can use them as a bellringer, prompt or other class activity.  For example, a “Science {bellringers}” board has a dozen How Things Are Made clips for students to watch. These could be used as a flipped assignment, small group activity, opportunity for cross-curricular connection, or bellringer, with little additional planning for implementation, as they are already loaded for student access.  Because the boards were designed for student use, I can safely direct students to the board to complete the activity.
  6. I have several boards that are specifically intended for students, and I sort those to display as the top row of boards.boards for kids 3
    • Games, videos and websites for home study and practice are saved in a board titled “For Students.”
    • If I come across resources parents might be interested in (like an article on setting up a homework space, or how to encourage a reluctant reader, or ways to study spelling), I save this kind of link in a board titled “For Parents.”
    • My next few boards are titled “Books” and share anything on great reading for (broken down into boards for each of these) upper elementary, middle grades and young adult.  They include books I love, or books highly recommended by students or others, to help when students are looking for a reading suggestion.
    • The next few boards are for students to use during our morning warm-up and break times. “Classroom inspiration” is an option for one of our classroom jobs, as the student can select an inspirational saying to display during morning work time. “Random funny stuff for kids” is a hit, collecting silly things we watch for fun when rain forces an indoor break or recess.
  7. Quick access to frequently-used tools. My boards are full of resources I use often, from music, to videos, to games, to maps or pictures.  I may have equally convenient links to these tools in various PowerPoints or web pages, but know I can find them quickly from a centralized Pinterest board.

A Recent Lesson using Pinterest

Last week, my students had just finished a 2-week project where they pretended to be scientists discovering an island of new animal species, observing animal traits (in a pile of stuffed animals) and then researching online to find the actual taxonomy of the 7 levels of scientific naming and then sorting relationships between the different kinds of animals.  It was a fun project.

Monday, I wanted to transition from their own experience to the next material we would cover. Our “Science {plants & animals}” Pinterest board provided the perfect interactive segue.  The dozens of great animal pictures I’ve pinned onto the board created a vivid visual. Just scrolling through the pictures together was more stimulating than pictures in the textbook would be. But over recent weeks I had pinned several articles from scientific publications announcing actual discovery of new species and even a new genus.  Opening this board in class on Monday, I allowed student interest to drive our discussion.  Students shared their project experiences, and we explored different pictures from the board to follow their continuing curiosity to learn more.

I would have been okay opening any link they expressed interest in (knowing I’d only saved links safe for this purpose), but knew I would ultimately steer them to one of the scientific discovery articles to anchor the lesson.  As we reached that article, I was able to make Common Core connections to reinforce the parts of nonfiction text, while making real world connections between the project they had completed and the process scientists actually go through when discovering a new species in the field. Text in the article helped them practice scientific naming conventions, observation of animal traits, and relationships between living things, while building their confidence to know that what they had just done paralleled real world scientific discovery.

A Parting Thought

Later this week I was struck by comments shared by Innovative Educator Lisa Nielsen (in her post Has Google Replaced Teaching?) where “digital native” students expressed their preference to follow their own curiosity in seeking answers through technology, rather than being led by a teacher’s instruction.  While I’m sure she was polling older students than my 5th graders, I think her concept is key in the satisfaction I sensed in students in using the interactive plane of a Pinterest bulletin board rather than me leading a more linear plan through the lesson.  My classroom feels empowered and energized when we use our Pinterest boards — as these resources are something we own together, rather than something I “do” to the class.

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Twitter 101 for Teachers: Steps for Getting Started on Twitter


Before I began teaching, I was a professional writer, working freelance in a variety of print and web venues. As a writer, I participate actively in doing what is called “building platform” — this means using a variety of social media forums to connect with audience or peers around the country or around the world.

As a teacher and as a writer, I have been astounded at the depth of information and personal connection available through social media, including teaching blogs, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.

Twitter Rules

Of all the social media venues, even writing friends are often surprised that Twitter is one of my favorites.

Twitter is the venue that can feel most cryptic to new users, because of its 140-character format. When you log onto Twitter, you view a feed of current posts by anyone you follow — which means a long stream of unrelated, abbreviated posts. As new tweets post, older ones are pushed down and eventually out of sight.

For those new to Twitter, the stream seems fragmented. They can’t imagine anything meaningful could be communicated in 140 characters.

But I promise you, Twitter is the one social media forum I return to most reliably. Over time, it has been one of my richest sources of news and information.

As a history teacher interested in current events, I frequently learn of breaking news through tweets from frontline reporters hours before televised news catches up. As a teacher interested in sources for dynamic teaching approaches, I find great articles from educational organizations and top speakers in the field.

Biggest surprise of all: tweeting can be surprisingly intimate. Think of it as a universal water cooler where you have the ability to bump elbows with people you could not walk up to in the physical world: I’ve had friendly exchanges with some of my students’ favorite writers, with publishers of textbooks, with reporters on scene and with educators around the country and around the globe.

This post will break down the key steps to cracking Twitter and making it work for you.

Before we start, I welcome you to connect with me on Twitter with questions or to share resources — find me here.

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Step One to Getting Started: Create Your Profile

If you are not on Twitter at all, start by opening an account (access Twitter here; opening an account is free). You will create a user name and password, then personalize the display by adding a picture and short description of yourself.

Creating a user name and deciding which email address to use can stump some teachers. Best social media practices suggest that you use your real, professional name, as this is how people search for you — however, it is not uncommon for teachers to establish a “brand” name for their professional identity online. Many teachers use a nickname or the name of their blog as their user name. This helps to make clear that you are posting in a professional capacity, and not a personal social media forum.  I use “Mrs. T’s Middle Grades” for teaching, and my maiden name for fiction writing, both of which are separate from my private, personal accounts. I also use a separate email address for social media, rather than my email account at school. Don’t worry if you’re stumped about your user name: you can change it if you change your mind later.

Don’t skip the picture or profile. Twitter includes an “egg” icon for new users, and you’ll want to substitute a headshot or other picture to show your professionalism.

For your profile, you’ll write 140 characters of information to describe yourself. Some people are funny, but really it’s best to use words that genuinely reflect your interests. Examples could be: “Teacher, Father, author of articles in Parenting,” or “Teacher, recent college grad, in masters program at UF.” Make sure to include a link to your website if you are trying to drive traffic.

Step Two: Follow Key Players

A successful start on Twitter begins with finding meaningful people and organizations to follow. Since not everyone uses Twitter well, you are looking for people whose information or ideas you respect, and who are active on the site. This often rules out some experts while highlighting ordinary educators who actively forward great information.

4 ways to find good tweeters to follow:

  1. Steal a list: In my second post in this series I will share my list of some of the best people and organizations I follow on Twitter. (Here is link to Best Tweeters & Hashtags for Educators – click it now or find it at the end of this article)
  2. Search out your heroes. Hero is an exaggerated term, but the standard approach for finding people to follow is to search for names you respect. Reading a great book on differentiation? Search the author’s name. Belong to a teaching organization? Search for that group. Have peers you want to connect with? Look for people you teach with, went to school with, or have connected with in other venues, such as at professional workshops, on Pinterest, on blogs or Teachers Pay Teachers.
  3. Mine their leads: while on the profile for a tweeter you respect, click their “followers” list to see whom they follow. Sir Ken Robinson, of TED fame, does not follow a lot of educational experts — more Hollywood sorts. On the other hand, Rick Wormeli, my favorite resource for differentiation and middle grades, follows several great educational resources and actively tweeting teachers. Scrolling through his list, you might spot other educators or resources you’d like to follow.
  4. Use hashtags or participate in chats. More about hashtags and chats in step 4… but they are a good way to find tweeters who post actively on a topic that interests you.

How to do you follow someone? While logged in, click their user name until you reach their profile, then click the “follow” button. When getting started, consider following at least 40-50 people so that you are seeing enough material in your feed to find what you are looking for. If you later change your mind, prune your list by clicking the same button, which will now have turned to “unfollow.”  Tip: you can group the people you follow into categories by creating lists from your profile page. For example, here are a few of my lists: my Teaching list , my YA & MG lit list, and list of journalists & news I follow.

Step Three: Interact

Connection is key to finding meaningful benefit from social media. Twitter is frustrating to new users until they begin connecting with others. Practicing effective Twitter habits will draw others to follow you so that your posts are being “heard.” Heads up: meaningful connection begins to kick in about the time you have 40-50 followers… so get started, but have patience.

Here are the basic ways to connect using Twitter:

  • Share a link: If you read an article you think others would like, then tweet a short description and link to the article. You should also do this to share your own blog posts. Hint: use Google url shortener or other tools to shorten links. Be sure to include enough description or comment to help followers decide if it’s worth clicking the link. For example, I might share link to my reading list post by tweeting, “What are you reading this summer? Teacher’s Summer Reading” Tip: Notice I used a question to engage, rather than just sell. In truth, answer to that question would be interesting interaction.
  • Other ways to share: Use “share on Twitter” buttons throughout the internet to share blog articles you like or items you post on Pinterest (which will include a picture of the pin).
  • Practice concise writing skills to share your stories: it’s possible to share a great experience in 140 characters or less! “Awesome lab w Red Bull and milk helped kids visualize chemical change” or “MG writers wrote amazing narrative essays to bring Rev War to life” are great mini stories of how your day went. Even if no one responds, these mini stories help other Twitter users get to know you.
  • Reply to interesting posts. Answer questions tweeted by others or respond as you would to an overheard conversation in public. If a person dropped a bag of groceries on the sidewalk in the real world, you’d stop to commiserate and help pick them up. It’s the same in the twitterverse: it’s human to reply “so sorry to hear it” if someone posts sad news, or well-wishing if they post good news.
  • Share the love by retweeting. Retweeting supports the initial poster as it improves their rankings, and benefits you by sharing with your followers the kind of information you found useful. (Side benefit: it serves to bookmark the article by saving the link in your feed.) Tips for mastering retweeting: While logged directly into Twitter, when you hit the “retweet” key it will simply repeat the original tweet in your feed with the original tweeter’s icon next to it. A better practice for building platform (creating connection with others) is for you to create a new tweet that quotes the original. Using an app like Tweetdeck or an app from your iphone makes this simple, as a second button is available that automatically quotes the retweet.  Otherwise you have to do it manually (copy/paste the original post into your new tweet, including the original poster’s id). Example of a retweet: “Get your questions ready: RT @GuardianBooks: Webchat 6/14 w Neil Gaiman  Notice that I added my own comment (“Get your questions ready”) and the letters RT, which stand for retweet; the original tweeter is identified (@GuardianBooks) and then their original tweet is included. If I had edited their original tweet to make it fit, I would have used the letters “MT” instead of “RT” to show that it is a “modified” tweet.
  • Thank people — post a thank you tweet including the user’s name any time someone follows you or “favorites” or retweets one of your posts.
  • Participate in Twitter chats. Huh… what? People have actual conversations? Read about hashtags in step 4 to understand this better.

It is important to know: manners really, really matter on Twitter and other social media. Try searching “twitter manners” or “twitter etiquette” for tips on how to behave. It’s generally as obvious as the golden rule — treat others as you would like to be treated. Be personable and friendly in interacting with others, but keep it professional. If you want to promote your blog or other work, do so sparingly and mixed in with other genuine conversation.

Step Four: Use Hashtags

Hashtags are those shortie expressions preceded by the # symbol. They are just plain ugly — but they work.

The key to finding and connecting conversation threads on Twitter is similar to how crab grass grows: ideas don’t follow that linear news feed, they have to branch sideways to connect to people outside your established flow. Hashtags attach your own posts to a conversation, pulling your tweet to where it will be seen by more than those following you — specifically by those interested in the topic you are posting about. And they help you find tweets and tweeters active in ideas you are interested in.

Even more awesome: hashtags pull people together to participate in Twitter chats. These are organized conversations that take place at set times throughout the week, on dozens of subjects. I participate in weekly chats with groups of writing and teaching professionals, and have jumped into a variety of chats on technology or conversations with favorite authors. Every chat has an assigned hashtag. You may discover them by reading your new feed of people you’re following or else I’ll share a few in the next post (link here, or find it at the end of this article).

Two major rules for hashtags:

  • Rule 1: whenever possible, attach one hashtag to the end of your post to connect it to the main topic it is about. “#MGlit” is a great one to add if I’m sharing a link about favorite middle grade authors. “#edtech” is a great one to add to a post asking for recommendations for ipad apps for learning state capitals.
  • Rule 2: unless you have a really, really good reason, never use more than 2-3 hashtags per post. It’s a bad ad strategy, like spam email. In that last example, I might add “#MGss” to specify middle grade social studies, but not more than that.

Okay, now is a good time: to find hashtags for topics or chats you are interested in, check out my second post: Twitter for Teachers: Tweeters & Hashtags to Follow.

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What About You?

Are you a teacher who has tried out Twitter or other social media forums? What questions do you have, or what advice would you share? 

Feel free to share your Twitter name in the comments so we can look you up as well. If you followed the steps here to get started, keep us posted on what works or hurdles you find.

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