Thursday, October 4, 2012

The 21st Century Gifted Educator

Last week I attended our state gifted conference. I am always excited this time of year because I get the opportunity to network and share with fellow gifted teachers. My favorite part is also hearing what is going on in gifted classrooms across the state. This year was different because I was able to present on my two passions: Skype and social media.  Below you will find the recording to The 21st Century Gifted Educator, which I co-presented with my husband, Will. We outline how to utilize Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook to collaborate and create a PLN. Feel free to leave us a comment and share how you use social media to collaborate and connect with others in gifted education.

Change is coming!

It's been a while since I had updated this blog. This has been a busy and fast-paced semester, to say the least. I have experienced some changes take place in our district, school, and even classroom. I'm relieved that I have finally moved to my new and much improved classroom, gaining a new teaching partner, as well as embracing a few other changes. Just recently, I have accepted a new position as chair to the technology committee for our state gifted association. I'm thrilled at the opportunities for collaboration and showcasing all the efforts done in our state in gifted education. I also look forward to connecting with my fellow gifted educators on Twitter to bounce ideas of how to utilize social media to establish an online presence and promote collaboration for our gifted association.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Celebrating Global Connections during the #IWG12

I have come across several wonderful posts for the International Week of the Gifted 2012 Blog Tour (#IWG12). This tour has provided me with insights into what’s going on in gifted education around the world from folks who are dedicated to advocating for this very unique learner population. I almost feel like the guest who is a bit tardy to the party, but nonetheless would love to jump in by sharing the importance of connecting our children on a global scale.

Over my short career as a gifted education teacher, I have found that technology has opened our classroom and our minds. It has allowed my students to see themselves beyond their homes, communities, and even country. It has exposed them to life models, who much like themselves, have faced some challenges but have succeeded.  But more importantly, technology has allowed my students to connect, learn, and share with other children like them.  This communication and collaboration is crucial if we are to prepare today’s 21st Century learners into tomorrow’s leaders. If you currently serve or work with gifted learners, I strongly encourage you to start making these connections! There is no right or wrong tool or even approach to make this happen. 

To celebrate my gifted students, I am sharing our adventures in connecting with the world through this video. I hope you enjoy it and welcome you to join us and other gifted classrooms around the world! 

This post was written as part of the International Week of the Gifted 2012 Blog Tour. Here is a short list of a few of my favorite posts from this blog tour. You can also follow conversations and check out more posts by using the Twitter hashtag #IWG12. 

The Quirky Child & The Soul of Giftedness via Gifted Parenting Support (USA) 
International Week of the Gifted 2012 #IWG12 via Ingennios Illuminare (Mexico) 
Why Gifted Kids Should be Sponges Not Spongers via Gifted Chatter (New Zealand)
International Week of the Gifted 2012 via SO(bre)S(alientes) (Mexico) 
Be Creative with the Dabrowski Dogs via Gifted Resources (Australia) 
Great Ideas from Kiwi Kids via Creating Curriculum for Gifted Children (New Zealand) 

Monday, July 9, 2012

Using Google+ Hangouts in the Gifted Ed Classroom

Summer is my time to relax, recharge, and reflect. Lately, though I've been doing a lot of learning informally and with the help of my PLN on Twitter. I have come across several of my Tweeps, who also happen to be fantastic Tweechers (teachers that tweet), mention Google+ Hangouts and their applications in the elementary classroom. Two posts that stood out to me and actually inspired this post were written by @ncarroll24. She begins by mentioning her first experiences with Hangouts and then offers 10 ways to use them in the elementary classroom. I recommend you check out these posts if you plan on using Google+ Hangouts. What followed after reading her posts was some experimenting of my own (with the help of @amusone & @mrbadura) and lots of ideas.

Here are some ways I plan to use Google Hangouts:

  1. Nancy mentioned some collaborative writing activities in her post and I really like this approach. One app worth mentioning for the pre-writing stages is Scoot & Doodle. Students can use this tool to draw their own webs, characters, or illustrations for stories or poems. Another variation would be to have classes draw Rebus Puzzles and solve each other's puzzles.
  2. Another excellent app for visual learners is Cacoo. This would work well for illustrating an array of concepts because it provides several templates for mind maps and flowcharts. These would work well for collaborative research projects.
  3. Google Docs is also integrated into the Hangouts, which would make it easier for smaller groups of students to take notes or collect information during a Hangout. I am wondering though if it would be possible and perhaps easier to have a couple students take notes live on other computers on that shared Google Doc in real-time so those in front of the hot seat (or webcam) are talking instead of typing.
  1. I plan to continue our Novel Study Units and hope to utilize Google+ Hangouts to talk with all our participating classes at the same time and play Vocabulary and Character Trait Games. We also plan on incorporating Readers' Theater using Google Effects. This should be fun!
  2. I also stumbled on A Story Before Bed. Although I did not get a chance to fully explore book title options, it looks like great app to use with younger learners, especially those who are learning English or to read. Wouldn't it be great for my students to start a virtual Buddy Reading Program with a younger class? We'll see what the future holds for this app.

One awesome app that @amusone and I played with was Panoramio. With this app, the person who starts the game selects from a group of pictures. A timer then starts while other players pin point the exact location of the picture on a Google Map. Once the timer stops, each player gets an estimate of how far their guess was to the actual location in kilometers. This game is a great way to expose students to different landmarks and use conversion in measurement of distances. After each turn, there is a new game master (and this is indicated by a top hat or some kind of effect), and that game master gets a red pin that indicates the exact location, which means they can give real-time clues to the players if he/she chooses to. I think this game would be a great introduction and/or variation to Mystery Calls.

Extra Bonus

Finally, my favorite feature is the fact that I can record our Google+ Hangouts! This recording is very easy to do and automatically uploads and streams on your YouTube Channel. It is important to note that the person starting the hangout must enable live recording by going to the YouTube App once others join.

So here are my plans for this nifty tool. What ways have/would you integrate them in your gifted curriculum or class? Please feel free to leave a comment or let me know if you would like to join us in this journey!

Monday, July 2, 2012

What's on your Dream List?

This summer I scheduled Dream Big Talks via Skype for our enrichment program. My goal was to expose my students to several successful people who have made their dreams come true in hopes of inspiring them to do the same. Along the way, these guest expert speakers got me thinking about my own dreams, particularly Abdul's talk. He encouraged us to dream big but also make plans on how to go about achieving our dreams. I think this last part is very important when talking to students, especially gifted students, about dreams or future plans. It takes organization, planning, action, reflection, trials, and triumphs to make dreams a reality. That's the message I got from not only our Dream Big Talks but in reading, watching, and even talking to successful folks. As a result, I wanted to share my Dream List.

Elle's Dream List

1. Travel to a new country every 2-3 years
2. Visit a different U.S. city every year
3. Teach abroad for about 3-5 years
4. Secure a career path that involves technology & education or gifted education (or both!)
5. Become a homeowner
6. Run a 10K race

So what's on your Dream List?

To conclude this post, have a look at what my students included on their Dream Lists.

Reflections of a Wanna Be Tech Teacher

This summer I had the privilege of being the tech teacher for an enrichment program in my district. I was super thrilled by the opportunity and decided to focus on Cybersafety and Digital Storytelling. I saw my students for 30 minutes, twice a week, which was not nearly enough time to devote to making videos. Nevertheless, I gave it a shot. Here is what I learned throughout the process:

1. I felt a need to start the course discussing Cybersafety and how to stay safe online. It came to no surprise that a majority of my students were already using Facebook and Twitter. I reiterated this topic during our Parent Appreciation Event with families to further equip and encourage them to monitor their children's use of the internet and other tools.

2. The programs I used to create movies were developmentally appropriate. I chose to use Microsoft Story 3 with my 3rd and 4th graders and iMovie and iPhoto with my 5th-7th graders.

3. Classroom management was an area that I need to work on next year. This was most evident with classes that created movies in larger groups. I let each group plan everything out on their own. Since our students are very new to the movie making process, I will consider assigning specific jobs within each group to keep all members engaged.

4. On a similar note, our students needed more guidance in how they can portray their message or story. While I included footage and recordings of students' authentic (and mostly unedited) work, the quality of the message can always be improved. The best way to do this is probably to dedicate a little more time to viewing and analyzing some quality student final products and different elements within those products. I understand that this will not happen in one summer, but rather is a work in progress.

5. Lastly, I see a need to show our students how to use macbooks. Being a newbie macbook user myself, I wasn't ready to take this plunge this year. Over the course of the next few summers, I hope to start by introducing the basics and eventually transition into giving students more autonomy in the editing process in iMovie. The trailers were a perfect way to introduce iMovie thanks to their easy to use templates.

Overall, I was very proud of our students' hard work in planning and executing their projects. Below are a few examples of some final products.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Mariachi High: Gifted Latino Youth Keeping the Tradition Alive

On Friday, June 29th PBS premiered its Summer Arts Festival with the special, Mariachi High. This documentary featured a year in the life of gifted Latino students from South Texas and their journey in competing and winning a Mariachi competition. As a Mexican American, I was so proud to see their story and accomplishments showcased. I was also captivated by their musical talent and how these young people captured the soul of Mariachi music. I can only imagine what their teacher, parents, and families felt.

When I was a girl, I remember my mother shedding a tear when she would see images of her beloved Mexican flag wave in El Zocalo and not understanding her reasoning for those tears. But after watching these young Latinos keeping the tradition alive and excel in their personal and academic lives, the tears hit me. Mine came from the feeling of nostalgia that mariachi music brings as well as pride for our next generation.

My Favorite Skype Moment

Talking to my Abue (short for Abuelita) for the first time on Skype has been my absolute favorite and most heart felt Skype moment. Her reaction to the fact that she could see and talk to me: Priceless.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Our Year in Skype

What an amazing journey we have had with Skype this year! With the help of my fabulous PLN on Twitter, I was able to incorporate new ways to utilize Skype in my gifted classroom. Here are just some ways we made it even better:

1. Content Specific Calls- This year I decided to focus on Math with my enrichment group to practice and apply skills in a fun way. To learn more, check out my Math Skype Buddies post.

2. Celebrity Skype Calls- Thanks to some connections made on Twitter, we were able to talk to a couple celebrities. Our kids were very excited about these calls! Check out our calls with Olivia Holt, from Disney's Kickin It, and Kristan Cunningham, from HGTV and the OWN Network.

3. Collaborative Projects- This year we combined Skype and Edmodo to work on novel study units for Tuck Everlasting and The Whipping Boy.

4. Skype Jobs- This is the first year we tried Skype Jobs during our calls. These are a must when it comes to talking to guest expert speakers, during Mystery Skype Calls, or during games/competitions for Math.

Have a look at some clips from our calls. My hope is to continue to connect with classes around the world and work on more collaborative projects that combine several Web 2.0 tools. What ways have you used Skype this year? Feel free to leave a comment with your favorite Skype moments.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Bringing the World to My School: Culture Day 2012

Last week our school hosted its Second Annual Culture Day. Our Spanish teacher and I host this event to explore and celebrate diversity in our school and around the world. This year, however, we made a few changes to improve the experience for our students. Our goal was to organize a way so that all our students can fully experience cultural exploration. Let me say we achieved this and much more!
I was fortunate enough to have two university partners who were willing and flexible in making my vision to have guest speakers in our classrooms a reality. They helped me gather international students in their departments to come speak to our classes. These university students had prepared engaging and interactive presentations for our children.
Volunteers presenting on Japan to our Pre-K students. 
Another component of Culture Day was our Diego Rivero Exhibit. Our Spanish teacher was awarded a Spring PTA grant that provided our school with a traveling exhibit from Teacher's Discovery that our whole school and community could enjoy. She also focused a unit around his murals and had students create their own murals to decorate outside her classroom. We can all agree that this has been a great addition to our Culture Day Celebration! Have a look at these stunning masterpieces!

The culminating event included two variety shows with student-led performances and presentations. So it comes to no surprise that my 4th and 6th graders had to take part in some way. They had the huge task of preparing introductions for our performances, serving as helpers (who took pictures and escorted speakers to their designated classrooms) during the classroom presentations, and even preparing for performances of their own! In a nutshell, they researched, they planned, and they practiced. The best part is that I didn’t make this mandatory or really an assignment for that matter. They took it upon themselves to complete these tasks to ensure the Culture Day would take place. And that is what reaffirms why I do what I do. Without them, this event could not have been made possible!
I am grateful for our Spanish teacher, Music teacher, Strings teacher, faculty, and administration for participating in our shows and providing much needed support. In addition, I appreciate my university contacts for helping make my dream of bringing the world to our classrooms a reality. 

Global Mystery Skype Challenge

This month our 5th graders had their very first Global Mystery Skype Challenge. I came across the idea of Mystery Skype Call on Twitter and found many positive responses among my PLN and fellow Tweechers. I then modified this kind of call to challenge my students to think more globally. The objective of the call was to same as any Mystery Call: Ask yes/no questions  to determine the exact location of our partner class. If our partner class answered yes to one of our questions, we were able to ask a follow- up question. But if they answered no, then our turn was up and we had to answer their questions. Although the rules were simple, the task itself was a lot more difficult than we expected! In fact, it took us all day to complete the call. The great thing was that our partner class was also a gifted class and had the flexibility to continue our call throughout the day. Although this was my students' first experience with a Mystery Call, they did an excellent job of narrowing down the country and province of our partner class. However, they struggled with pin pointing the city they were in. Overall, this was a great learning experience because my students had a chance to work cooperatively and problem solve on the spot. 
As with most Skype calls in  my class, I assigned Skype Jobs. Here is a summary of some of the jobs: 
1. Greeters & Inquirers- These students were responsible for greeting our class and asking our questions.
2. Map Keepers- These students had atlases and Google Maps available to narrow down the location based on clues.
3. Question Keepers- These students kept careful track of the questions asked and reported these to the Inquirers.
4. Logical Reasoners- These students were responsible for listening to the clues given and putting the pieces together to determine the exact location. They worked with the Question Keepers to construct questions.
5. Runners- These students were messengers who shared clues, questions, or tips between the Map Keepers and the Logical Reasoners. They also were responsible for giving the Inquirers our class' questions.

And if you're wondering where to find classes to try out a Mystery Call here a few places to look: 
1. Skype in the Classroom- I posted my project here and received many responses from other teachers who are members of this site. To join this fast-growing community, click here. To view my project page, click here
2. Twitter- There are many teachers on Twitter who are currently seeking classrooms for Mystery Skype Calls. I normally come across them tweeting and RT to help them find others in my own PLN. 
3. Twitter Chats- Several grade level chats on Twitter have accompanying wikis where participants can sign up for Mystery Skype Calls. A few include #4thchat  and #6thchat. If you click on these chat names, you will be directed to their Mystery Skype sign up page on their wiki. 

I hope that these resources help in your journey with Mystery Skype Calls and enjoy them as much as we have! 

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Using BrainPop to Enrich Math Instruction

This has been my first year to use BrainPop and BrainPop Jr. . I have heard of these sites via Twitter but haven't had the opportunity to explore them. Let me preface this post by saying that I am not endorsed or represent these sites in an way. With that said, here are the ways I have used the resources on these sites to provide enrichment for my 3rd graders.

1. Whole Group Review

The site offers a great selection of videos that explain and illustrate many different math concepts. My students enjoy the videos and find them very entertaining.

2. Math in the Real-World

To apply skills, I like to have my students complete the activities that are included with each lesson. Many times, I find word problems that incorporate the concepts in a real world setting, such as creating a menu by using estimation skills. The Read More section on BrainPop also offers some real world examples of Math in everyday life. Usually when I show this section, my students have an "aha" moment of how they can apply and see math in their lives.

3. Thinking and Collaborating
Some of the activities provide opportunities for writing and discussion. I especially like the BrainPop Jr. format that provides sections on Write About It, which I use as journal prompts, and Talk About It, which I use for small group discussions. There is also a section called, Read About It that lists several popular children's literature titles to further explore the concepts.

4. Online Quizzes

After each lesson, the site provides the option of printing a quiz or taking it online. I usually opt for the online version and have my students take the quiz as a class. First, I have them read the item and start eliminating a few choices. Next, I have them choose from the ones left, discuss with a partner why they chose that option, and further justify their selection for the class. Sometimes my students are in agreement with their partner, and other times they change their answer after talking to their partner. I feel that this discussion needs to take place to assist in their thinking.

Overall, I am very satisfied with both sites. I highly recommend them to teachers who would like more interactive ways to review and apply skills across grade levels and content areas. I am still in the process of exploring how to integrate other lessons and resources into my gifted curriculum.

How do you use BrainPop or BrainPop Jr. in your classroom or gifted program?

Make New Friends, But Keep the Old: Using Skype to Keep in Touch

Skype has been an integral part of my classroom and our gifted program. In previous posts, I have outlined the different ways to utilize this program to create authentic and engaging learning experiences for students. Just recently, we have explored yet another way to implement Skype. This year we've had some of our teachers and students move to different parts of the country and even the world. So we decided to keep in touch via Skype!

1. Saying Farewell to a Fellow Student

When we heard the news that a student in our gifted program was moving we were crushed! Being tech savvy paid off because she was able to talk to us on her iPad as she was traveling to her new state. Needless to say, it was a very emotional call and we wished her the best at her new school. We still keep in touch with her via Edmodo and I am working on scheduling a Skype call with her gifted education teacher.

2. Chatting with a Teacher on Leave

This semester we have a teacher on leave due to medical reasons. This transition has been a tough one for both her and her students. A Skype call was the best way for them to communicate without her coming to the school. It warmed my heart to see the excitement of her class as they saw her appear on the screen! Have a look at some snapshots of our call below.

3. Keeping in Touch with Teachers

Last year we had one of our teachers move to another country. She now currently teaches in an international school in Serbia. This was a great opportunity for her former students, who are now in our gifted program, to reconnect with her. It was also a learning experience to compare life and her school in Serbia to ours. Since my students still had questions after the call, we decided to post them on our class blog. To read our post on the call click here.

As I conclude this post, I wanted to share this song we sang during our call. I think it beautifully captures the theme of this post; making new friends and keeping the old.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

At the Crossroads with MECA

This week I attended the Mississippi Educational Computing Association's Annual Conference. Although this was my second year attending, it was my first to present. I was thrilled to lead a hands-on session on Using Skype in the Classroom. My goal was to share different classroom applications of Skype along with providing guidance on how to create an account with Skype and the Skype in the Classroom community. I especially enjoyed the hands-on part of my session because I was able to have participants test several features of the program on their own and search for teachers and projects on the Skype in the Classroom site. My hope is that participants feel comfortable to start connecting and collaborating with others.

Another aspect I love about MECA is learning about new tech tools, approaches, and even tricks of the trade. I attended sessions that ranged from iPad Apps for the classroom to ways to utilize digital photography in the classroom. During my hands-on sessions, I was able to create a short movie about my school using Windows MovieMaker and assist my husband Will (@peoplegogy) at his Twitter session. As expected, I picked up a few tricks along the way that will only make my teaching even more relevant and engaging for my hugest and most important audience- my fast-paced digital learners.

I thank my district's tech team and colleagues for attending my session and providing me some much needed support in setting up. I also want to thank our district tech director for granting me this opportunity to attend.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Showcasing My School

This year I have been given the privilege of managing my school's website. As the Editor-in-Chief of our school's newsletter, this job seemed very fitting. I had many questions at first, mainly about organization and content. What should I include on each page? What kind of content should I post? How often should I post? After doing some research and carefully examining other school sites, I jumped right in.

Click here to view what I have complied so far. This is not by any means a final product. I have learned through this process that this project is a work in progress. My hope is for it to change, transform, and evolve.

Although I look forward to the evolution of this site, here are some elements that I think are essential for any school site:

Faculty and Staff Page-The faculty and staff are at the heart of any school. I like to include pictures of the different teaching teams and staff (i.e. grade level, Auxillary, Special Education, cafeteria and office staff) at our school so that families and the community can see who we are. I took this concept a step further and created a "We Are Thames" video that included several members of our school family. For this video, I had everyone pick a word that represented their classroom or philosophy. I feel that this painted a picture of who were are.

Administrator Page-The leadership has its own page with accompanying mission statements and a brief background. This gives readers a sense of our school culture and approaches taken by our school leaders.

Calendar-This page includes a list of important school-wide events, holidays, Professional Development Days, and Early Release Days for each month. This page also includes a Google Calendar that automatically updates each month.

Announcements Page-This is perhaps my favorite page and the one that gets the most traffic. Here reminders for important school-wide events such as fundraisers, parent and community programs, and school performances are posted. This page also features articles on different projects, field trips, or activities. I like to include videos and pictures whenever possible to give readers a glimpse into our classrooms and the learning that takes place.

PTA Page-I am so thrilled about this page! Our PTA has done a wonderful job of posting activities and special events here. They also publish a monthly newsletter that is available for download.

Future Additions

Here are a few items that I would like to add in the near future:

Grade Level/Class Specific Pages-I would love for teachers to maintain their own class or grade level pages or class blogs. This would be a wonderful way to further showcase what is happening in their classrooms.

Special Feature Videos-My teaching partner and I put together a technology video that illustrates how we use iPod Touches in the classroom. She is interested in creating more videos that highlight different strategies and approaches that are being implemented in our school. I think this is a fabulous idea and am eager to share these!

So here are my two cents on managing my school's website. What else do you think should be included? Feel free to leave a comment and share your school's website!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Writing with Edmodo

This has been my first year to use Edmodo with my classes. My students have taken to it like fish to water. But even more so, it has opened up opportunities to write for different purposes. I think this is important because students need to see writing as another form of communication.

Here are several ways we have incorporated Edmodo in our gifted classes:

Weekly Journal Entries- I normally prompt students to make connections with the topic they are exploring and their own experiences. Instead of just limiting journal writing to a notebook, now students are able to post and share their thoughts, opinions, concerns, and doubts with others. The instant feedback my students receive provides further affirmation for their writing.

Collaborative Projects- In the fall we used Edmodo to collaborate with classes during The Global Read Aloud. We created a group where students could post their reactions and predictions to the novel, Tuck Everlasting. This semester, I am incorporating that same structure to create Book Clubs for several novels we are studying. I am taking it a step further to post some products such as illustrations from a section of the book that other partner classes can guess (Literature Circle Job), Haikus about nature (for The Whipping Boy), and video trailers for the novels. I am interested in seeing the feedback and dialogues that take place through these Book Club Groups.

Keeping in Touch with Former Students-This year we were sad to see two of our students move. To keep in touch, I created a group where the class can leave notes and keep their fellow classmates updated in the happenings of our classroom. I even awarded them a “We Miss You” badge.

Checking in After-Hours or during an Extended Break- My students love Edmodo so much that they asked if they could log in at home. They love to see what their classmates are doing on the weekends, during holidays or breaks. I think that this communication among peers is essential in maintaining the sense of community that we have. However, as informal as the communication may be in these instances, I always stress the usage of correct grammar, punctuation, and complete thoughts.

How do you use Edmodo in your classroom? What have been your favorite features? I would love to hear your ideas!