Is Handwriting Still a Hot Topic? Yes.

When I taught third grade, the one thing that incoming students looked forward to the most was learning cursive. We learned a new letter just about every day and the students looked forward to eventually learning how to write their name. Some tried writing their name without the proper technique, often forming letters incorrectly. For the most part, I could read what they were writing, but at the same time, I corrected it. Their cursive was supposed to look like the letters shown across the top of the whiteboard in the front of the room. For many students, they loved writing in cursive, even though it took them much longer to write. As they moved on to fourth, fifth, and sixth grade, they were required to write some assignments completely in cursive. I thought cursive was pretty important. I don’t anymore.

The increased use of computers to “write” is the main reason I’ve changed my thoughts on this. In addition, the cursive that most of us actually use, if we use any, isn’t perfect. We’ve adapted some of the letters, probably print a few, and simply make our handwriting our own. And it doesn’t matter one bit. I don’t think cursive writing is important, but I do think students need good handwriting. They need to be able to express themselves in the written form.

I haven’t really given this much thought lately until I came across two things. First, this blog post by Jeff Utecht about legislation in the state of Washington to make cursive instruction mandatory in elementary schools. Jeff shared his thoughts on this a little, but did something even better. He asked students what they thought. Check out his post and see what the students have to say.

The second was a podcast titled “Who Needs Handwriting?” from Freakonomics Radio. The podcast tackles the issue from both sides and brings up interesting research on the topic. I encourage you to listen to the podcast yourself, but here are a few things that stood out to me while I was listening.

According to a study done by an online letter-printing outfit called Docmail, one in three respondents had not written anything substantial by hand in the previous six months.

There’s also a lot of discussion on the podcast about the positives of handwriting on the brain and that students remember more of what they write.

Processing the information as you go — what we call encoding — is not the only value of note-taking. There’s also the external storage function. That is, creating a record for future reference.

MUELLER: What we found was that for factual questions, there was no difference between laptop and longhand note-takers — they did equally well. However, for conceptual questions, the longhand note-takers did significantly better, about a half a standard deviation better.

The podcast even discusses shorthand, it’s history, and how it can be so much faster than even keyboarding. However, it’s not a reasonable alternative to regular printing or cursive.

If you have any interest in this topic, listen to the podcast or read the transcript, great points for both sides are made. In my opinion, students need to be able to express themselves in the written form, but that form does not have to be cursive. If they can write neatly and express themselves, it’s good. They probably won’t have to do it very much as they grow up, much like many of the other things they learn in school.

Connecting the Library and Classroom

Screen Shot 2016-02-14 at 11.06.28 AMIn my role as library media specialist, connecting what I do with the classroom is essential. A lot of people talk about the changing role of the school library and the idea that the school library being the hub of the school. I agree with all of these ideas, but making it happen isn’t easy. This needs to be a common goal for everyone involved – from the library media specialist to the principal to the classroom teachers to the library aides. When everyone is headed in the same direction, progress can be made.

Changing the physical space, including the furniture is not an easy, or inexpensive, task. You can paint, create fun spaces within the existing room, and develop fun displays to make the space look better for the students. Really changing the identity of the library is much harder. I believe one way to move this process forward is more collaborative work between the library media specialist and classroom teachers. When the teachers, and, more importantly, the students, see the library media specialist as another teacher, great strides can be made.

This collaboration may not be easy for everyone, but I like to think of this idea as a 5 step process and one that the school librarian needs to take the lead on. Here are 5 steps to connecting the school library and classroom.

  1. FIND the right person to collaborate with first. This may be the most open minded teacher in the building, the teacher you have a great relationship with, or the person with the most technology in their room. You probably already know who this person is. This needs to be the person who will say “YES” when you come to them and say, “I have an idea.”
  2. PLAN what you’re going to do. This seems obvious, but make sure everyone knows what they are going to do and when. What will happen in the classroom during the project and what will happen in the library. Make sure to include all stakeholders, including any special education teachers. Think about the schedule and anything that could impact the plan. Is there an assembly or day off that changes the schedule? Keep those things in mind. Make sure you connect regularly and adjust the plan as needed.
  3. DO the project. It seems simple, but you have to stick to your plan. Don’t let a roadblock stop the project. One great thing about teaching is the idea that if something doesn’t go as planned, you can make adjustments and keep going. Don’t let the project get shoved to the back burner.
  4. SHARE what you’re doing. Throughout the process, let others know about what’s going on. Keep parents informed, other teachers, and the world. Blog about it, post pictures and video clips to social media, and spread the word any way possible. You’ll get great feedback and probably tips and suggestions along the way. Don’t keep what you’re doing within the walls of your school building.
  5. REFLECT on the project. Meet with everyone involved and discuss what went well and what needs to be adjusted. How will you make it better next time? This is very important and while I do believe teachers reflect on their practice, put these reflections in writing.

Collaboration isn’t easy. It takes work. The library can become an, even more, essential part of the school, and everyone can view the school librarian as a teacher. To head in the right direction, the library media specialist needs to be a leader. Take charge, reach out to classroom teachers, and work together. The change to a more collaborative relationship can work.

Sam the Snowman and Snowflake Fun

I am not a big fan of the term digital native.  Just because kids are growing up in a time where technology surrounds them, doesn’t mean they can effectively use it. I see this all the time with my kindergarten and first graders. Many are not able to use a mouse effectively. They don’t hold it correctly, they have trouble clicking and dragging, and are still developing their hand eye coordination. In the lab, I try to work on this skill by finding activities that will help them with their mouse skills.

This week, the kindergarteners had assistance from Sam the Snowman.  Sam the Snowman is picture book about a snowman who tries to bring snow to some children.  He has trouble at first, but with the magic of giving, he is finally able to make snowflakes for the children. We haven’t had a lot of snow in our area compared to previous years so we decided to make some snow in the computer lab, just like Sam. In the process, we’d be working on improving the mouse skills of kindergarten students. Using the Make-a-Flake website, students created digital snowflakes. I love this site because students can create awesome paper snowflakes without all of the little scraps of paper on the floor.In addition, students can make their snowflake, preview it, and then go back and make more cuts to improve it. The site allows users to save the pictures, download them, or print them out.  We weren’t planning on printing any of these out, but instead the students were able to save their favorite snowflakes. When students felt they created a neat snowflake, they let me know and I took a picture of it. I turned those pics into a couple of Vines you can see below. They had a blast with this and created many fantastic snowflakes, they practiced their mouse skills, and we didn’t waste a lot of paper or have to clean up any scraps. I’d call that a win win win.

ChatterPix Kids + PhotosfromClass = Creativity

Screen Shot 2016-01-16 at 11.51.21 AMThis week, I took iPads into the classrooms due to standardized testing in the computer lab. I wanted the students to create something related to their knowledge of reading strategies. I decided to try using ChatterPixKids as the app of choice. Chatterpix Kids is an app that can make anything talk — pets, friends, doodles, and more. Users take a photo, draw a line to make the mouth, and record their voice. My idea was to have students find a picture of an animal and then use the app to create a short video sharing the reading strategy We had the app, we needed the pictures.

I don’t believe it’s ever a good idea to just let students search Google for images, especially elementary aged students. I decided to use, one of my favorite sites to get copyright free or Creative Commons pictures. Using the site was extremely easy for the students to use, they simply went to Safari on the iPads, went to, and searched for their animal. I reminded the students they needed to make sure their animal’s face was looking forward so it worked well with the app. They had little trouble doing this and with a brief demonstration of how to save the pictures to the iPad camera roll, they were often running. The students had a great time with this and created some fun videos, some of which can be found below. I think this was a neat way for students to share reading strategies with their classmates. I saw joy in their faces and heard a lot of laughter as students continued experimenting with the app, trying out different voices and creating other videos they shared with their classmates.

Saving the videos to the devices was simple. I only wish sharing the videos from the app to social media was possible. I would have loved to tweet out the videos easily. Instead, I had to upload the videos to YouTube and share that way. It worked, but it wasn’t very efficient.

This link will take you to a folder with more videos the students created.


Stop Motion Fun

stopmotionstudioThis week, state testing has consumed the library and computer lab. As a result, I’ve had to hold my classes in regular classrooms. This is actually kind of fun for me, but I wouldn’t want to do it on a regular basis. It’s nice to be in a different space once in a while and to see the learning environments set up in various classrooms. When I hold my classes elsewhere, I have to use different devices, since I can’t really move the desktop computers from the lab. This week, I grabbed the iPads and headed into the classrooms with the goal of having the students show their creativity by making stop motion videos.

We used the free Stop Motion Studio app, which is super simple to use and allows quite a bit of flexibility. For the project, I had the students use their name as the animation. Each student wrote one letter of their name on a small paper square and after a demonstration from me, went to work. I was super pleased with the work of the students. The students did a great job, created some exciting animations, and had a lot of fun in the process. Below are a few of animations.


 IMG_1779Frequently, I run into problems getting the saved projects students create into a place where I can access them easily and share them out. The students also access to the saved work for their own use. Often, the saved work is on each device and you have to jump through a bunch of hoops to put it all together. Sometimes that means having students log into Google Drive on each device and upload the project or emailing it. It could mean uploading the work to a shared DropBox or Box folder. This was not a problem with Stop Motion Studio.

In addition to the normal save to Camera Roll or YouTube, there is an option to Save to DropBox. I created a DropBox account for the school library and had the students log into DropBox when using this option. A folder was automatically created for this app and all of the student work was saved to one location, where I, or a student, could access the projects easily. The only hiccup was that the projects all had the same file name because I learned after the fact, how to rename the default file name for each movie in the app.

IMG_1778When saving/exporting the movies, there are a lot of great options and sizes available, but one stuck out to me. You can save the movie as an animated gif. I found this to be very cool option and the first example above was saved that way. The file size of this project is much smaller than the video, which we downloaded as a “large, non HD” video. I would think students could have more flexibility using the gif in a future project compared to a video file. Images are generally easier to use, manipulate, and add to projects compared to videos. Whether or not that’s true, I don’t know, but I really like the fact that this option exists.

Fun with a Green Screen

I’ve used a green screen a little myself in the past, but overall, I don’t have a ton of experience with it, especially with students. The bright green cloth that was sitting around my house needed a new home. I brought it to school, figuring I could use it with the students to create something fun, share their learning, and give students a new way to express themselves. I have all sorts of ideas for ways to use the green screen, but the first step was to  get it set up. I had to figure out where to put it – a place where the lighting would be good and there wouldn’t be shadows. I found a wall in my school library and stapled it to the wall. We were all set.

Thanks to Conni Mulligan and others, my knowledge of using a green screen has grown quite a bit over the years. I figured I’d use the Green Screen by Do Ink iOS app because it’s simple and the kids could probably create things by themselves. My kindergarten students were reading The Pigeon books and I thought it would be a great idea to make our own little video using the green screen. I showed the students a video of Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus and told them we’d be making our own video. They were excited, but weren’t really sure what that meant. I grabbed my iPad and lined the kids up near the green screen. Student after student, they stood in front of the bright green material and repeated lines from the book. Knowing the app is more or less a one take video type app, I knew I’d have to put everything together using iMovie. I took pictures of the pages of the book and began editing everything together. I’m really pleased with the final result, shown below. I did the same thing with another class and am in the process of editing that video. I’ll be sure to share it when it’s ready.


B-s1Zp2WoAAeJqZThe students have seen the green screen in the library and have been asking about it. Most have an idea what it is, but have never done anything with it themselves. That’s going to change. In fact, the 4th graders are just wrapping up their unit on immigration and one student wanted to use the green screen for part of his project. He wrote a rap song about his topic and recorded it. He wanted to use an image of Ellis Island in the background so we found one we had permission to use, and loaded it into the app. I let the kids take over from there and surprisingly, the students pulled it off in just one take. They thought it was really cool and I can’t wait for kids to think about other ways they can use it.

There are already plans in place with other grades to use the green screen. First graders are current writing book reviews and are going to record themselves telling others about their books. We’ll add the book cover as the background image and record the students in front using the green screen. Third graders are studying countries and there have been discussions on how we can use the green screen to share their learning as well.

My next  goal, is to improve our green screen studio and see if we can paint a big section of a wall to serve as our backdrop. This will work out much better than our small cloth backdrop and will allow groups of students to work together and create some amazing stuff. Is the green screen the be all, end all? No, but what’s it’s doing right now is giving students a new way to express themselves, share their learning and expertise in ways they haven’t before, and have fun in the process. And those are all good reasons to jump in!

The Magic of Google Drive & What I Learned Today

googledriveMy third and fourth grade classes are participating in the Monster Project. All five of my classes are connecting with classes in Illinois, California, Florida, and Alberta. The project is rather simple, but really, really fun. Students create and draw a monster. Then, they write a descriptive paragraph about their monster. The writing is shared with another class and the new classes draws the monster based on the written description. Then, the monster drawings are compared. If the students do a great job in their writing, the monster pictures should look pretty similar. If not, the students can take a look at their writing and see where they could have improved. Pretty cool, huh?

In their respective classrooms, the students created their monsters. Today, I saw the students and it was time to get their monsters online so we can share their work digitally. There are a number of ways this can be done, but since the 3rd and 4th graders use GAFE, I figured we should go that route.

Plan A

My original plan was to load the Google Drive app on the iPod touches we have, give each student an iPod touch, and have them take a picture of their monster drawing. Then, they could upload the picture to their Google Drive and we would proceed from there. This sounded like a good plan until I realized we couldn’t do it. The iPod touches are running iOS 6 and the Google Drive app needs iOS 7. The iPod touches are too old to upgrade.

Plan B

We have new iPad minis available to students, not enough for each student to have their own, but almost a 2:1 ratio. I downloaded the Drive app on each device and figured this would work. After seeing this tweet a couple of days ago, I realized we could eliminate a step and upload straight to Drive by using the camera to upload. I modeled how to do this for the students and they were able to pick it up rather easily.

Here are the steps used:

  1. Launch Drive app
  2. Sign in using GAFE account.
  3. Upload straight to Drive using Camera upload
  4. Rename file
  5. Log out of Drive

After the students uploaded their pictures, we went into the computer lab to do some initial photo editing. Everyone needed their own computer for this so the lab was the best option. The students used Pixlr Express, which syncs well with Google Drive and is available as an app in the Chrome Store. We’ve never done photo editing before so I wasn’t sure how it’d go. The students found their picture in Drive and opened it with Pixlr Express. Our first round of editing, mainly due to time constraints, consisted only of cropping the image. Students did this very well and then saved their new images back into their Drive folder for use next time.

We really accomplished a lot and the students did a great job. I really didn’t know how well it was going to work, but I was pleasantly surprised. Now, I’ll do the same thing with the other classes, hoping that they are equally successful. Using Google Drive was so easy. I can’t wait to share how we are using it with the classroom teachers so they can take advantage it as well.


Where’s the Desktop?

I think those of us pretty fluent in the use of computers and technology tend to make a lot of assumptions.  We assume others know what we’re talking about when we toss out various terms or websites.  Maybe I shouldn’t speak for others, but I know I often make those mistakes.  Well, I recently witnessed a situation where I had to step back and realize there are still people waaaayyyy behind.  This situation made me realize that I need to stop assuming so much.

In our district, school social workers/school psychologists teach special classes, just like art, music, physical education and library.  For a recent activity, our social worker had to take a group of students into the computer lab to complete an activity.  I helped get things set up for her ahead of time for a couple of reasons.  One reason was time, but more importantly, I wanted to make things as easy as possible because she is a very, very basic computer user.  One thing I did was create a shortcut to the internet site they were going to be using.  We keep a folder on the desktop of all computers and put links in that folder for easy student access.  I did the same for this teacher.  Prior to heading her taking the class into the lab, I said, “I put a link to the website in a folder on the desktop.”  She took that statement literally.

I’m glad she has a sense of humor because after the class, she came out laughing.  It turns out she was looking for an actual folder on the physical desktop where the computer is located.  She had no idea what I was talking about earlier.  The students had to fill her in.  We had a fun little discussion following her class.  She realized she had a lot to learn about technology use and integration.  She also mentioned it might be a good thing that she’s retiring at the end of this school year.

Why We Are Failing

(Note: While I’ve been thinking about this for a long time, I’m finally getting it on paper.  Perhaps my tone and negativity is impacted by everything that’s been going on in Wisconsin over the past month.  With that being said, I like my job, my profession, and the people I work with.  I do, however, believe we have a major problem).

For quite some time, there has been discussion on why our schools are failing.  Many look at the rank of U.S. students compared to students in other countries and feel our educational system is not where it should be.  Different people have different theories on why our students are not achieving.  I’m not going to focus on those opinions, but instead want to focus on what I believe is a major problem with our educational system.

I think our educational system is failing because people in our country simply do not care.  Education is not a priority. Plain and simple, education is not a priority in our country and the teaching profession is not a priority.

If it was a priority……

…the teaching profession would have more respect.  I cannot think of another profession that is consistently bashed.  Rights of teachers are being taken away.

…we would not see the cuts in education across the country.  Wisconsin, North Carolina, Texas, Florida and more are seeing unprecedented reductions.

…we wouldn’t judge the value of our schools and our students based on a test.

…parents would be more up in arms when cuts are made.

…decisions impacting education and potential changes to the system would be made educators.  Currently these decisions are made by people who are not educators and by people who have never spent time in schools.

…politicians would do what it takes to make education a priority.

…education reformers would focus more on the real problems and stop blaming the teacher’s unions.

…states would look at new ways to fund education.

I believe teachers across the country have never felt as unappreciated as they do now.  There is a nervousness across the board about the cuts and whether jobs will exist next year.  Those jobs will still exist for most, but the conditions may be drastically different.  It’s not a happy time in education and that’s sad.  Believe it or not, the working conditions of teachers is critical.  Better working conditions mean better learning conditions for our students.  If a high school student told me they were going to become a teacher, I’d seriously tell them rethink that decision.  As a school, a district, a state, and a country, we need to put the focus on our educational system.  If we do that, over time, our children will start to do better.

I believe education and the teaching profession needs to become a priority.

Right now, it’s not.

Oh What a (Bad) Night

Last night, my local School Board, decided by a vote of 4-3, to eliminate all of the elementary school librarians.  The District will be implementing a Spanish language program in the elementary schools and will be using the cost savings from the library positions to help fund the new Spanish teachers.

The initial meeting on January 10th was packed, with many incredibly passionate community members and parents speaking in support of the school libraries.  The meeting last night also had good attendance, but not like the previous meeting.  Again, there were outstanding comments made, all but two in support of keeping the school librarians.  In the end, it wasn’t enough.  I had a feeling who would vote in what direction.  I had some hope that the Board president, who revealed her vote last, would say no.  The vote was 3-3 when she spoke.  Unfortunately, she supported the proposal.

There were tears from some of the librarians who are losing their positions.  I feel for them, some I know very well.  Luckily, they are not losing their jobs, just assuming different teaching position if they choose.  I know the value of school librarians.  I’m one of them.  I would hate to have been in their shoes the last two weeks.  It had to be incredibly stressful.

Last night wasn’t fun.  The last two weeks weren’t fun.  The schools will adjust, elementary students will begin to learn Spanish next year.  Life will go on.  It just won’t be the same without elementary school librarians. They are a valuable asset to a school.  The students and teachers in the nine elementary schools in Wauwatosa will not only miss them, they will suffer.

Update: This is the article from the newspaper that I didn’t see until now. I’m sure the comments will be interesting.