Our Epic Nonfiction Project

I don’t share specific lessons on here often but this time I have to because this one has just made the last 6 weeks, yes 6 weeks, fly by.  Not just for me either, most of my students that reported on their survey that they hate writing but love this project.  So without further ado, let me tell you all about our rather epic nonfiction picture book project.

The goal of the project is rather simple; create a 30 to 50 page nonfiction picture book meant for a K or 1st grade audience on anything you wish.  Throughout this project we have been able to successfully marry tech tools with writing, as well as using Skype, Twitter and other interactive tools.

Why this project?  Because within it we have been able to work on:

  • How to take organized notes in a way that works for them.
  • How to write a paragraph and all of the myriads of lessons that are attached to that.
  • Grammar!  Spelling!  Punctuation!
  • How to find legal images.
  • How to cite sources, including images, books, and websites.
  • How to uncover reliable sources (yes, there is a place for Wikipedia in our research).
  • How to search the internet better.
  • How to conduct market research using Skype to ask K or 1st grade classrooms what they want to read and how they want to read it.
  • How to rewrite information in our words.
  • How to do design and layout on a page to make it inviting.
  • How to create good questions.
  • Exploring our own interests.
  • How to write assessment rubrics.

I had a hunch that it would be a success, but I didn’t know how much.  Yet the conversations that have happened within our room have been incredible.  The hush that falls over the room when 26 students are all intently researching, writing, and quietly conferring with me or friends have been amazing to witness.  They get it.  They know what their purpose is.  They are writing an authentic piece for an authentic audience who not only is guiding them forward but will also be providing feedback once it is complete.

So a few details about the project:

  • This is a 6 week long project, anchored by a 10 or so minute mini-lessons every day and then work time the rest of class.
  • Mini-lessons have centered around how to take notes ( I showed them 3 different ways), how to research well, how to write paragraphs, how to rewrite information, and anything else we have had to address.
  • Students were able to ask questions to K and 1st grade classrooms via Skype to do market research, they are also asked to do a live interview with a child ages 5, 6, or 7 and incorporate that feedback into their project.
  • I reached out through Twitter and Edmodo to find classrooms that will assess the final product, they are asked to fill out this Google form with their feedback.
  • Students created their books in Google Presentations for easy access for all (we checked out Chromebooks), as well as easy design and layout.
  • To see all of my handouts and resources, go to my classroom’s English Resource Page where all the nuts and bolts can be found.

Why have we loved it so much?

  • Using Skype in a meaningful way to interview the audience we are writing for got the students on-board and excited right away.
  • Audience became an ongoing conversation and what we kept in the back of our mind throughout the process.
  • It allowed me to really dig in with each student through mini-conferences.
  • I was able to cover basic grammar over and over without the students finding it repetitive.
  • Students were in charge of their project starting with the choice of their topic to what they would write about.
  • It is an authentic project, not just being written for me.
  • Plagiarism is easily circumvented because students have to simplify the language of their research.
  • We were able to meaningfully collaborate between English and their Tech Tools class.
  • Students have been able to finish the project within English class if they spent their time wisely.
  • We were able to delve into nonfiction in an exciting way, students sometimes hate nonfiction because they find it boring, they forget how much of our life is surrounded by nonfiction and how much fun it can be.
  • And yes, it covers 4 of the 10 standards I have to cover which should never be the only reason we do something but is still a reality of my day-to-day.

Tomorrow they hand in their projects.  They will present by having them run on Chromebooks and students doing a gallery walk, that way we can show off all of them within our 45 minutes.  Then students will self-reflect as always and I will spend a lot of winter break poring over their hard work and assessing them.  I can’t wait.

Thank you Corinne for allowing me to share your finished project

 

 

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA,  who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” can be purchased now from Powerful Learning Press.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

Am I the Barrier to My Students’ Full Tech Integration?

I have been integrating meaningful technology into my classrooms since 2010, trying my hardest to find tools that would help my students find an audience, spark their passion, and find their voice.  I wouldn’t call us tech infused, I don’t use a lot of tools, but the ones we do, I love.  And yet…I cannot help but feel that sometimes I stand in the way of my students and the technology they use.  That sometimes the parameters I set up hinder rather than grow.

It is not from a place of fear, I am all for technology and using it well.  It is rather from my own ignorance.  Often I don’t t know what I don’t know.  Often I don’t know whether a tool will work for the thing we are doing.  Often I get a little scared, wondering whether they will be able to be successful if they veer off the beaten path.  Often I assume that I have to be the expert and this should know everything and have all of the answers, giving all of the permissions.  But the big thing is; I have forced myself to recognize this and boy, did it make me feel uncomfortable.

How often do we as teachers let our own fears stand in the way of what we “allow” students to do?  How often does our own lack of knowledge of a tech tool (or anything for that matter) prompt us into saying no, rather than yes?  How often do we dismiss rather than invite?

So the next time we propose a project, how about we ask students what tools they want to use?  What tools do they already know?  Rather than rush into creation take a day to explore tech tools that may benefit all.  Have students teach each other.  Share your own knowledge.  Open up your classroom and show your own place as a learner.  Acknowledge that perhaps tech scares you, or perhaps trying a new thing leaves you worried about time line.  Perhaps you are not sure a tool will work or that the students will get it.  So what?!  Embrace this fear and allow it to push you forward, rather than hold you back.  Let students see that their ideas, voices, and prior knowledge matters.  And not just to make them feel heard but to change the way learning happens within our classrooms.

Technology tools surround us, with more being added every day.  We cannot keep up.  We cannot be the only experts.  If we truly have a community of learners in our classrooms then students’ knowledge has to be embraced.  So don’t say no when a child asks if they can use a new tool.  Say yes.  Embrace the fact that you may not know it and learn along with them. Admit your own fear, admitting your own lack of knowledge will only show students the power of doing just that.  Be a learner with your students every day.

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA,  who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” can be purchased now from Powerful Learning Press.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

Voxer Takes Connections to the Next Level If You Let It

This summer I, along with many other educators, got on Voxer and started discovering just how powerful of a PLN tool it could be.  Although I wrote a post extolling the virtues of the app then, it is not until now 5 months into using it that I have truly witnessed the incredible power it holds for me.  Voxer is not just for collaborating, it is for connecting, and those connections are changing my life.

As educators, and especially female educators, there seems to be a weird phenomenon surrounding us; the seemingly overabundance of highly connected male educators, whether administrators, teachers, or tech integrators.  (Yes, this is a simplification, but bear with me).  I have often wondered about the apparent “mens/boys” club that seem to exist on Twitter, at conferences, and on blogs that list who people must follow, and have even written about it in the past.  Don’t misunderstand; I don’t feel the need to be a part of a male club, instead this realization made me long more for my own female version that could share the same camaraderie that seemed to exist in these groups, the ease with which they communicated and had each others’ backs.  I wanted my own group of women that would inspire me, support me, and actually become friends.  Enter Voxer.

5 months ago a few acquaintances and I started a Voxer group.  I didn’t think much of it, after all I was in about 8 different groups at the time all discussing various things related to education, and loving it.  The group consisted of 5 women from different parts of education that all had a few things in common but were nowhere near being close friends.  At first the Voxes were funny, little slivers of our lives and thoughts being shared.  Yet with time those Voxes grew, sometimes spanning more than 5 minutes, and as they grew so did our bond.  I never knew how much I needed this group.  I never knew how much I needed a group of women to grow with.

Yet, this group is not the only one I go to every day hoping for my heart to be filled, for my inspiration to be renewed, and my thoughts expanded.  Another Voxer group is between a few female educators I greatly admire and am lucky enough to call friends.  These two women have inspired countless blog posts, helped me make huge life decisions, as well as made me laugh.  Every week we check in, we update, we share our thoughts, making sure that we all feel supported, that we all feel cared for.  How powerful is that.

So if you are in need of a tribe like I was; don’t be afraid to reach out.  Use Voxer a s a way to connect to others in a deeper way and don’t be afraid to ask others to be in a group with you.  If you are a female connected educator but feeling alone sometimes, Voxer is your place.  Start a group, take the plunge, reach out tot those that you maybe only know a little and see what happens.

The groups I get to be a part of, those that really matter to me, weren’t planned. We didn’t set out to create these bonds, but they happened because we tried.  They happened because we realized that by having this tool to bring our voice together, we grew stronger as a group, we grew because we trusted each other.  You don’t have to feel alone even if you are a connected educator.

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA,  who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” can be purchased now from Powerful Learning Press.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

How Much Does Fear Drive Us?

image from icanread

I didn’t think it was real, not when I saw it on Facebook.  After all, no state would truly pass a law like that.  And yet, with Michigan passing a law that allows for discrimination toward anyone who you feel sincerely burden your religious belief, I am almost at a loss for words. Only almost, because once again fear and hatred leads the way in decision making.  Only almost at a loss for words because it in times like these that we must take stock of our own fears and hatred and not let the dark ones drive the way.

Yet, fear seems to be a constant companion in education.  Fear of the change.  Fear of the new.  Fear of the old in some ways.  Fear that our students aren’t learning enough.  Fear that the new initiative will render us voiceless.  Fear that a new administrator will leave us powerless.  Fear of technology.  Fear of each other and the stealing of ideas.  Fear of being praised too much so that colleagues feel jealous.  Fear of giving control.  Fear of being not good enough.

We can let our fears run us; propel us forward at a breakneck pace.  We can led them lead the way as we stumble blindly behind.  Or we can turn them around, embrace them for the fuel they may be and allow our fears to push our forward.  Not toward a more secluded experience where we assume everyone will be out to get us, but one where we assume that everyone is a supporter.  Everyone has ideas.  Everyone is a learner.  Every change has something good in it.

While the world may continually grow more fearful, and for some there are so many good reasons to want to be afraid, we have to continue to fight.  To not let our country be run by hatred.  To not let our teaching be run by fear.  Fear will always be a companion in any life you lead, what you do with it is what matters, how you let it form you is what counts.  I, for one, will use it to push me forward not hold me back, or at the very least I will try.  Who knows what the future holds, but I declare my intentions anyway.

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA,  who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” can be purchased now from Powerful Learning Press.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

How is Student Blogging Different in the Middle School Grades

image from icanread

One of my biggest “crazy ideas” I knew I wanted to try when I switched from the elementary classroom to the middle school was to continue blogging with students.  Nowhere else had I seen the same impact of just what empowering my students to find a voice to the world could do for them than student blogging.  At first, I didn’t think it would be a crazy idea, just a natural extension of my classroom as always, but then I thought about it a little bit more.

You would think that blogging with students would look the same no matter the age.  In fact, I used to think that it probably wouldn’t look that much different between 4th grade and 7th grade.  That is until I woke up in the night, realizing just what my constraints would be with my new position and wondering if it was even worth trying.  After all, I was already wondering how in the world I would get through the curriculum let alone add on anything else.  Thankfully, I realized that blogging with students and giving them a voice to the world is one thing that I cannot cut from my curriculum, and neither should you.  Yes, just because it looks different than what I had tried with elementary students, does not mean it is not worth your time, or not worth exploring.  In this case, different simply means different, not wrong, bad, or worthless.

So while blogging in elementary classrooms can be cross curricular and deeply embedded within the classroom culture, blogging in the middle school has to look different solely based on the time constraint.  It also has to look different based on how most middle schools are set up, with one teacher teaching one or a few subjects, and often being the steward of more than 100 students.   After 3 months of blogging with my 113 students, this is what I discovered.

Before:  We blogged every week, with blogging challenges assigned Friday and due the following Friday.  Everyone got them done, few problems.

Now:  We blog every other week on a set schedule.  The students know and look forward to it and few ask for the blogging challenge until that day.

 

Before:  We used our 8 computers to blog in the classroom and students would rotate throughout the week thus ensuring everyone got it done.

Now:  We go to the lab every class period in one day so that each child gets it done.  If they do not finish it within 45 minutes, it becomes homework and they have 2 weeks to finish it.  I have to remind them a lot that it needs to get done.

 

Before:  I would approve posts whenever they would pop up, checking every night.

Now:  I approve posts the day they blog, thus getting most read and posted the day of, and then check in every 3 or 4 days when I know more have blogged.  This allows me to save my check-in energy and focus to a few days a week.

 

Before:  I would try to leave comments on every post or every other at the least.

Now:  I gave up.  There are too many posts but I do try to make sure that every single post gets a comment from either me or someone else from our school.  I didn’t want to just leave short comments, and leave many of them so now my students know that if they get a comment from me, I really thought about it.

 

Before:  All blogs were public, except for very rare circumstances.

Now:  Almost all blogs are public but some are private between the student and I.  I ask at the beginning of the year and set up their privacy settings as needed.  Why the change?  7th graders are more aware of their place in the world and thus experience blogging on a perhaps more emotional level than my younger students.  They really want to be viewed positively by the world and not have more things that they feel can be used to judge them.

Before:  We talked how to stay safe on the internet and how we needed to represent ourselves once or twice a trimester.

Now:  We not only discuss safety every single time we blog, but also how we present ourselves to the world.  In 7th grade the students are much more fearless when it comes to putting themselves out there, which can be a double edged sword.  It is a wonder to see them embrace the mode of communication so readily, but also terrifying when they don’t always think things through before they post.

Before:  Their blog posts were meant to start a global conversation so they were never graded,

Now:  This remains true.  I will not grade my students blogs ever.  It flies in the face of what I am asking them to do; start a global conversation baring their deep thoughts.  If I ever wanted to squelch their voice all I have to do is slap a grade on it.

While there are many other small things that have remained the same, these are a few of the big differences.  In the end, blogging with middle school students is definitely a must do, one just has to find the time.

PS:  If you want to visit my incredible students’ blogs, please leave them a comment here and here.

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA,  who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” can be purchased now from Powerful Learning Press.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

Use This Time to Remind

As-we-get-ready-to

I thought they would all remember.  I thought they would all instinctively know.  After all, by now, we have spent so much time together.  I am sure they had me pretty figured out.  Yet, after I surveyed them last Friday, I realized a few things.  They have plenty of demons for me to battle when it comes to English, and boy, do they not remember the first day of school.

That first day of school.  I should have known.  After all, I don’t think I remember any of my first days or what was said, what we did.  More an overall feeling of confusion, an overall feeling of nervousness yet wanting to get through the day so that the first day would be over; a new year begun.

So today we spent 15 minutes discussing the survey results, but also more importantly going through things that were said the first day of school.  Yes, you can really move the tables and chairs wherever you want.  Yes, you can really work ahead on projects and hand them in before they are due.  Yes, you can come up with your own ideas.  Yes, you can sit by whomever you want.  Things that I thought  by now they surely just knew.

You should have seen the look of surprise on many faces.

So as we lead up to the next winter break, as we get closer to an exciting time for many students; take the time to remind.  Take the time to restate some of those things you said on the first day.  Discuss as a class what you discussed on the first day.  Bring it back up and watch it sink in for the first time for some.  I thought they knew but once again I should have known better.  As we unwind; remind and see the change, plant the seeds for 2015.

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA,  who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” can be purchased now from Powerful Learning Press.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

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