Monday, March 14, 2016

Four Reasons I Use Twitter in My Classroom

Using Twitter in my classroom has certainly elevated my tech savvy status with parents as well as my instagramming 5th graders who have never known a world without digital devices. We live in a very social world, so why not use social media in the classroom? Social media is a part of daily life for millions of people on our planet and it’s not going away any time soon. Using it in my classroom allows me to model appropriate use and teaches my students necessary skills they will need for their lives beyond our classroom.
While there may be many extraneous reasons to use social media in my classroom (it makes my life easier because it’s organized as well as time and space efficient), it really comes down to four main reasons:


Using social media in a classroom gives parents a window into their child’s day. The learning becomes transparent as I tweet all content area charts (see below) made in class so they are available to all students at home, to be used as teaching tools/support for their homework and review. Homework assignments are also Tweeted after reviewing them in the classroom. We all benefit when there is ample time to discuss the assignments and less time spent copying the assignment.
 Tweeting charts lets the parents know what their children are doing in school and in addition, students often use them as reference tool for future assignments and homework as they are archived in our class Twitter account.


Our class Twitter handle is @5Boyer and while I start the year orchestrating our tweets, my savvy students quickly start to ask, “Do we have to copy that or will you tweet it?” or “Can you take a picture and tweet it, I want everyone to see what we’ve done?” My students have many questions and it would ultimately be a shame if I was the only voice that answered them. We tweet to others to ask questions, why not go straight to the experts? Once my class Tweeted to the International Space Station asking, “How many sunsets do you see in a day?” AND The ISS Tweeted back! Imagine how exciting that was for 23 fifth graders (not to mention their teacher). Tweeting student work now becomes an instant celebration as it is shared with a much wider audience. As a teacher, I retweet relevant information and LOVE how that sparks a conversation in the classroom. Note in the tweet below, I was at home reaching out to my class as the spacewalk was starting before school hours. I added others to the tweet by inserting their twitter handles, check out their response.

In most of my tweets I add the hashtag #heathcotepride as our amazing tech guru has created a living bulletin board for all school related tweets and to his credit almost all of our staff is tweeting!



Professionally, I have built a network of teachers, learners, and experts whom I can learn from every day. There are incredible things happening in the world of education and I have a front row seat with an international view. Only social media can deliver that. I can connect with others who will be attending the same conference, see what’s going on in classrooms around the world or simply be inspired by other amazing teachers. Additionally, Twitter chats make it possible for me to participate in professional conversations in my pajamas. Twitter chats are when a group of twitter users come together at a predetermined time to discuss a certain topic using a specific hashtag with each tweet. Chats serve as a networking opportunity in addition to an awesome learning environment!
#edtechchat is one favorite and @iChrisLehman hosts many thought provoking chats focused on reading and writing.


Twitter offers direct access to the experts and the information is current. Many museums are on social media and post highlights on museum exhibits, special events and relevant articles. Scientists, journalists, athletes, engineers, bankers…millions of professionals are on social media. When my students are given a choice within their research projects, they often choose topics/people that are trendy and not easily researchable in books, (and if there is a book, it’s not in language a fifth grader can easily understand). Recent research topics have included: How Has Social Media Impacted Our Daily Lives? What are Football Combines?, When Will Time Travel Be Possible? and Astronaut Scott Kelly and Life in Space. Students learn how to use social media as a primary source when making connections with the experts in the field that they are studying. Available literature may not be accessible, but people rarely deny a student the opportunity to conduct an interview once the initial contact has been made.
In the process of writing this post I became curious as to what my students might say so I asked them, “What do you all think of social media in the classroom?”, here’s what they said;
  • “My grandma lives in Florida and Twitter helps her see what I’m doing in school, she likes that”
  • “Twitter can help others learn from what we’re doing”
  • “It saves on paper – we have all the charts without making 24 copies of it”
  • “It helps us to document our work”
  • “Tweets of pictures, charts and homework help us to review our work from home easily”
  • “We can share work with our parents”
  • “It takes too long to get to School Wires, Twitter is really fast and easy”
  • “If I’m sick or on vacation early, I can keep up on the work on Twitter”
  • “Twitter is a good thing – when my mom asks what I did in school, I usually say I don’t know, but now we can check on Twitter”
  • “Twitter is a good way to communicate with people who we can’t interact with directly. Like astronaut Scott Kelly who tweeted to us”
  • “I use Twitter to see what’s going on in school. I use Instagram to follow friends who have moved and see what’s going on.”
  • “Vine and Twitter are good for following my interests, like a sports team, a car company. I can see how they’re doing.”
Time is precious and twitter lets me complete a multitude of tasks in a short amount of time. It’s a tool that I have come to depend on for communicating daily with parents, colleagues, and astronauts. Wall Street and CNN have their tickers that deliver up-to-the-minute relevant information – that is what twitter has become for me and my students.
 Originally published February 1, 2016  Daily Genius

How MakerSpace and MakerFaire Can Unlock a Student’s Love of Creating

The saying, “If you build it, they will come” may have been referring to baseball stadiums, but it may also be the favorite mantra of makerspaces across the country. Since creating our school’s makerspace in November 2013, I’ve seen a small revolution start to grow within our elementary school and also across our district. A makerspace is a learning environment where children can tinker, design and create collaboratively using a variety of materials.
However, a makerspace is so much more than a physical space, it’s a mindset that embraces making as a necessary component of learning. In the past two years, I’ve worked with colleagues to incorporate changes within our curriculum that tap into a child’s natural love of creating.


Our makerspace is a small room off of our library that was once an office and storage space. It is now a vibrant hub of activity, stocked with a variety of high-tech and low-tech supplies that challenge and inspire our little makers. I was fortunate to have been given an old storage room to convert into the physical makerspace; however another challenge persisted and that was, what to put into the space. The ultimate goal for me was to help teachers create new learning experiences that empower the students and incorporate next generation skills.
Having the learning extend beyond the classroom walls and creating vertical curriculum where students teach students is magical when it happens and something I thought could grow out of our makerspace. So it was critical that the items that filled the shelves in our makerspace inspire and facilitate this growth. Staying focused on the idea that, while the 3D printer and coding programs are very cool, it’s truly not about the technology but about transforming teaching and learning experiences for our students.
My love of building and creating actually comes from my own two boys. Watching them create trains, castles, superhero costumes and monster webs out of cardboard and duct tape made me realize that not only were they enjoying a childhood rite of passage when they commandeered the large boxes, but they were applying the 21st Century skills that all educators talk about. They were planning, designing, iterating, collaborating and writing a fantastic story that grew with each step of the process. I needed to bring this love of learning into my classroom and into my school!
Having like minded grade level colleagues and the flexibility to enhance curriculum made it easier to incorporate more hands on project based learning into the 5th grade science units. Rocketry was our first and biggest change as we went from a cookie cutter prescribed way of creating soda bottle rockets to an inquiry based open ended, steeped in design thinking challenge – this documentary says it all. We also were able to make over our unit on models & designs to incorporate our makerspace and the 3D printer. This also “upped the ante” on our students Rube Goldberg projects as well as their own models designed and printed in school.


Most recently, I revisited the idea of homework and asked my students, “What do you want to learn? How will you learn it? and How will you show what you know?” They are researching, documenting (through writing, sketches, photos and videos), interviewing experts in their field of interest and creating something so meaningful that no testing agency in the world could measure.
Initially, I thought parents might be upset by the absence of traditional homework, however their reaction was the polar opposite. Parents were emailing me stating how proud they were of their child’s efforts and creativity. Many parents even took an active role in this month-long homework assignment that came to be known as The Passion Project.
Ethan taught himself how to use Sketch Up to make a 3D rendering of a fort he wants to build in his backyard. Using foam core he made a model to scale as well as drawings on graph paper. Construction on his 46 sq ft fort begins next week.
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Ethan and the scale model of his future fort.
Juliette designed and made her own garden (including the fence). She plans to use the vegetables for cooking and healthy salads. Allie is learning the art of graffiti and even found a local expert to interview and take a lesson with. The list goes on…
Screen Shot 2015-04-24 at 6.22.07 PM
Allie’s graffiti inspiration board.
When it comes to change, I have to jump into the deep end or I will end up overthinking it. Alan Watts said, The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.While I know that is how I feel, I do respect that others often wade into change. Building the makerspace didn’t automatically bring classroom teachers in droves, but rather in a trickling stream, and by working with several colleagues and our PTA president.
This past year has helped to give our maker movement stronger momentum with the addition of school sponsored clubs (multi-grade makers club and Lego Robotics). These clubs have introduced more students to the space, and encouraged cross grade/school collaborations to incorporate making into the curriculum. And perhaps one of the most ambitious projects of all is our inaugural HExpo(Heathcote Elementary Expo) – our version of a makerfaire.


The upcoming HExpo is truly going to be a celebration of the positive changes that are happening around our school and district. It’s a celebration of the planning, designing, iterating and collaborating that has grown out of our makerspace and it’s our contribution to the growing maker movement. We have partnered with community members, parents, former students and local businesses and museums to design a series of hands on workshops for students to participate in.
Our impressive line up includes furniture design, architecture, bridge building, 3D design, coding, a mobile planetarium, 3D animation, collage, and several tinker tables for open exploration. Our school’s green club is busy making their version of Cain’s Arcade for the HExpo.
While the makerspace may be one room in our building, it encompasses a mindset that encourages exploration, imagination and prototyping. This room symbolizes a change where problem solving and creativity are at the core of learning. It’s only one room but the impact is slowly reaching far beyond it’s four walls. HExpo ‘15 will be the first of many to come.
Originally published on April 29, 2015 daily genius

Thursday, November 19, 2015

New App = New Learning

I introduced Padlet to my 5th graders this week. I really didn’t know much about Padlet but thought it had the “cool factor” and would prove to be a very interesting way for my students to share their new investigations of non-fiction. I set up our collaborative group in Padlet, made a WELCOME page with a few notes for students to read with links to follow, and sent each student a note (in their google drive) introducing our new adventure.  I knew I didn’t know everything there was to know about this new app, but I do know 5th graders and I draw comfort from the fact that whatever I don’t know, they will figure out in a fraction of the time it would take me to resolve any issue.  Ten year olds are not intimidated, they are intuitive.

It’s been two days since Padlet became a new buzz word in our classroom and I’ve experienced a few F.A.I.L.s (First Attempts In Learning) but each hiccup was quickly resolved because my students possess two qualities that big businesses look for in their prospective employees; they are skilled problem solvers and they are digitally literate. Digital literacy is a fairly new term that marries the two words, digital and literacy.  Yet it is so much more than just the words; it’s a way of life, a way of interacting with the world, a way of solving problems and communicating.  In my 5th grade classroom, it’s me being comfortable with the fact that I will never know as much as my students; I teach them, they teach me. We raise the bar everyday.  

Padlet has proven to be an effective collaborative learning tool thus far. My students have now created shared Padlets as reading partners and are busy linking additional media to inform their learning. In a brief check-in ‘round the room the consensus was that we should continue to use Padlet, that it was easy to take notes on and it was a good way to organize thinking to share with a group. And so we shall...

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Columbia University's Makerspace

This summer I was fortunate to be invited to tour the makerspace/design labs of Teacher’s College Columbia University with a colleague.  Our host was Richard Jochum, professor of art and art education as well as the visionary who wrote the curriculum for their new program in Creative Technologies.  What I learned that day was both inspirational and affirming.

The first room we toured was their original digital photography lab.  Walls were lined with computers, scanners and printers.  Shelves housed 3D printers and several storage carts caught my eye: Makey Makey kits, alligator clips, wire, batteries - basically the exact same supplies that were in my makerspace!  Here I was in a prestigious university and the students there are using the same exact materials that my students are using!  Validation of the highest form!  The second room we toured was more sophisticated in it’s tools and technologies but very similar to what our high school is planning for their design lab. Again, validation!  The walls were adorned with examples of student work; a small gallery celebrating student learning, a final project highlighting the integration of making and writing, a work in progress waiting for it’s owner to return.  In all, it was a beautiful sight knowing that audience is a vital part of student motivation and planning for new ways to celebrate learning in our makerspace.

Beyond the materials and machines lay a glorious commonality within the maker world no matter the age of the student; educators want to promote a community of risk takers and problem solvers. Professor Jochum sat with my colleague and I for over an hour talking about the future of makerspaces, the importance of vertical curriculum and how we play a part in creating such students.  Change is happening in education on all levels, it’s slow but it is happening.  Changing the space, we have all come to learn, is the easy part.  It’s the culture change within individual school buildings that is more challenging. However, after this day, thinking about the parallels between my students and the students at Columbia University, I was inspired to start a new school year and “make” it amazing!

Monday, August 10, 2015

Welcome to 5th Grade

August 2015

August is like one long Sunday for teachers. Watching the hours tick away too quickly, because there's still so much to be done in preparation for the new students that will be crossing the threshold of our classroom in a few short hours (days really but it seems like hours).

The room has to be just right - a mix of inspiration and warm welcome is what I strive for.  And it's never the same two years in a row. How could it be? The students aren't the same and this group of 5th graders should have the opportunity to personalize their learning space just as others have before them. Even the curriculum changes from year to year with each group taking the conversations in a new direction, needing a little more here and pushing the envelope a little more there. Just think...what would happen if your favorite basketball team cleared their roster every year and started new, how might that change the game? The rules remain the same, the stadium is a bit spiffier, and the coach is still the coach. That's what makes it exciting!

So while August is a long Sunday that certainly keeps me on my toes, I'm anticipating the journey that lies ahead. This new group of 5th graders will be comprised of boys, girls, mathematicians, scientists, athletes, musicians, dreamers, writers, and most importantly adventurers.  So I ask that you all come prepared for the journey. Bring something to read, something to write with and a positive attitude.  It's going to be an amazing year!

WELCOME to 5th Grade!!!

Open House Presentation