Saturday, September 26, 2009

Gems from Twitter This Week

cm magazine offers book reviews, media reviews, news, and author profiles of interest to teachers, librarians, parents and kids.

Google’s Librarian Central – Newsletter Archive
Sign up box at the bottom of the page to subscribe by email.

Joyce Valenza (@joycevalenza) explains how she put together her new library interface using a virtual bouquet of tools. (Did you get that nice play on words?) This is a fabulous example for anyone wanting to liven up their own library web page.

From Simon & Schuster: 40 authors, 14 questions, 2 weeks, 1 blog

Photo used under a creative commons licence from marragem on flickr.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Introducing RSS Feeds to Students

This request was posted on Twitter this morning.

Here are a few suggestions:

Many public libraries have Library Blogs for Teen Patrons.

Tie learning about feeds into an assignment from any subject area. Have the students create feeds from Google News. This would work well for current events topics around science, politics, geography, business, technology, sports, and health.
Google Alerts

Google News Feeds

Teen magazines often have blogs. Check their websites for links.
Lou Lou
Teen Vogue has several:

Mountain Bike Action

Of course, one of the best ways to have students use RSS feeds would be if their teachers and classmates were blogging.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Using Twitter to Promote Your Library

You may have noticed, I'm a big fan of Twitter. This blog post "How your Library may not be using Twitter but Should" provides some great suggestions.

So how about some feedback by way of comments?
Do you (or your school library) have a twitter account?
What is your best tweet so far?
How could you reword some of your tweets to make them more intriguing to students?

Still not convinced that Twitter is of any use? Here's what I came across recently on Twitter.

- Google Fast Flip - an interesting new way to search the news
- 7 alternatives to SparkNotes & CliffsNotes for Book Summaries
- 10 Solid tips to Safeguard your Facebook Privacy
- 4 Websites with LOTS of Completely Free Ebooks that don't Suck

Friday, September 18, 2009

Technology in Biology Class

Photo used under a Creative Commons licence from Vik Nanda at

A post on twitter earlier this week asked people to suggest some unique ways to use technology in a biology classroom. The following ideas came to mind. Not all that original but I hoped that they might serve to spark some further ideas.

• Sharing resources online with social bookmarking tools such as delicious or diigo
• Use RSS feeds for biology news delivered to you like netvibes or google reader
Google maps – track virus outbreaks, show species distribution
• Use Toondoo or another online tool to create cartoons to illustrate concepts or processes
• Mind mapping tools for showing relationships. Larry Ferlazzo has a list of useful online mindmapping tools.
• Create screencasts to use as study aids or combine with a draw program to illustrate concepts
• Use a combination of flickr and jing to create annotated digital biology stories. Have students use images licenced under a creative commons licence. There is an extensive list on the copyright friendly wiki.
• Video conference with a biologist to learn about jobs in biology or to hear them talk about new developments in the field.

Then I had an even better idea. I emailed former colleague, retired biology teacher Briar Ballou. Briar is a master teacher who led her school in the innovative use of technology. Here are some of her ideas:

• there are some pretty cool biology songs. Students could pick the song and set up a power point or keynote to it. Listen to Earth Songs I would also suggest having students create their own biology songs using GarageBand if you have a licence or a new, free online tool called Myna

• pick a central theme, like mitosis and have the students do a video to represent what is happening. See this example on you tube: Shoe Mitosis. Look for other biology clips on YouTube.

• Isabella Rosselini is known for her animal sequence on Green porno. The earthworm one is safe to show. Have students select an organism and then do a short video clip on it. I would strongly recommend previewing before showing to students.

• Kids love karaoke and there are some clever biology themes. I love the tRNA one.

• in the 70's one cool prof set up a large class video on protein synthesis. Students could create their own works in small groups.

• one thing I was trying to set up before I "graduated" was doing some podcasts on selected topics. These would be a great resource for other students.

• Publish a new guide to a specific topic. Have you seen the small soft cover books that you can produce now? About 20 pages cost $12 for three from iPhoto.

• Crazy idea: run a photo contest. Print the winning photo. A large 1/2 size poster can cost under $20.

• Another crazy idea: using media, create a study guide for specific topics. Include photos, summary notes; you can set your own criteria for it.

• The new Nano has video ability and Flip cameras are easy to use.

So thanks Briar, for those inspiring ideas. And to you, my readers, how do you bring technology into the biology classrooms in your schools.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

For the Joy of Reading

One of the most effective ways to engage teen readers in the classroom is to let them choose their own reading materials. For the past four years I have worked with staff and students at my high school to build a rich, varied and engaging collection of both fiction and non-fiction. These books provide the resource for a number of themed units used by both Social Studies and English teachers. Themed units offer many possibilities for reflection and discussion that relates to the world outside the classroom.

Themes cover a wide scope of topics and are as varied as your imagination. In Socials class the students read historical fiction titles set in the time period they are studying. English classes work on themes that range from social issues to bestsellers or award winners. Some examples are survival, persecution, Shakespeare, fantasy, the power of belief, the future, personal growth and war. Any one book can often be used in a range of themes and across multiple grades. Titles vary in length and difficulty. Compiling a list becomes easier when one considers the excellent online resources such as EbscoHost’s NoveList, accessible through many public libraries, or the numerous book lists provided by libraries around the world such as Nancy Keene’s ATN Book Lists. When doing an online search, including terms such as YA, book list, or theme can be useful.
When the unit is introduced teachers bring their classes to the library for a book talk. Sometimes I present the books and sometimes the teacher and I take turns talking about the titles in rapid-fire tag team style. Our objective is to generate enthusiasm. Showing the same book with different versions of the cover helps students avoid “judging a book by its cover” syndrome.

The focus is to engage the students in reading so the activities that follow the reading reflect this. These are some examples:

Interviews – staff and students meet one on one for a ten-minute discussion about the book. Students are not given the questions beforehand unless they have been asked to come prepared with a favourite quote. Sample questions include:
• What made you angry/sad/excited/laugh out loud?
• Did you like the ending?
• What did you want to learn more about when you finished reading the book?
• Why do you think the author wrote this story?
• What were the enduring themes?
• Which character was the most convincing?
• What is your favourite quote?
• How did the author make good use of literary devices?

Book club style sharing – have students meet in groups and provide a guide to get discussion started. Make the groups small enough that all have a chance to share in the time allotted. Groups can meet with the teacher alone or in front of the class.

Posters - Have students design posters or create digital presentations that include the following four elements:
• A graphic – This can be hand-drawn, selected from an old periodical or computer generated.
• A short synopsis of the story. This is a valuable skill as it teaches students to summarize the novel encapsulating the essence of the story.
• Background information. This might include a snapshot of the times for historical fiction, a FAQ list about an event or a condition one of the characters has ( trip to Japan, grandparent with Alzheimer’s disease). It could be a “What I wanted to learn about after I had finished reading the story” spot.
• Reaction – Have students express their personal reactions.

One-page Newspaper – This is a great activity for an historical novel. Students should include one article that gives factual information about the main event in the story. They might also include a letter to the editor, classified ads for items common to the time period, graphics and other things that lend authenticity.
The poster and one-page newspaper projects make great library displays. I have the students use an 8.5 x 11 sheet. Teachers who wish students to engage in more in depth activities may want to consider the following online resources.


Web English Teacher: Book report Ideas
which includes a link to the fabulous 91 Ways to Respond to Literature.

The Adaptive Dimension: Gr. 6-9 co-operative study novel unit


One of your most powerful tools for making this a success is to acknowledge those students for whom reading is drudgery. One student I know amazed himself by reading his book in a single night when he tried the Two Bookmark Trick. Here are some simple tricks I use:

• The Two Bookmark Trick - If you have a deadline to finish reading a book follow this simple rule. Divide the number of pages in the book by the number of days you have to read. Use one bookmark to mark your target for the day. Use the second bookmark to mark your place. Most people find that they can easily reach their goal and often read beyond their daily limit. Setting the goal gets kids into the first 15 pages of their book and hooks them.
• The Flood Book - Someone in a course I took many years ago suggested that everyone needs a book with them in case they are trapped by a flood. Take the book everywhere you go. All those 5 minutes you spend in the car waiting while your mum picks up a quart of milk or drops off your sister could be spent reading.
• The 5 Finger Test - many students learned this in elementary school but need to be reminded of it. Open the book at any full page of text and begin reading. For each word you don’t know hold up a finger (They can do this in their heads if they don’t want to be too obvious). If you have 5 fingers up before you reach the end of the page then the book is probably not at your recreational reading level.
• The Fast Return - If you are not into your book within a day or two return it immediately and find something that grabs you. Remember the point of this is to hook kids into reading not turn them off.
• Your brain is like a muscle. The more you exercise it the faster it will learn to process information.

The excitement that students feel about reading becomes palpable. They make connections to their own lives, the world beyond and across the curriculum. When you see a student who has never used the library voluntarily leave with a big grin on their face and the perfect book in their hand it just doesn’t get any better. When the kids see that you really care that they have great books to read they open up. They begin to share their reading experiences with you and suggest titles to add to the collection. Teachers are amazed at their students’ enthusiasm for reading and the insights those students have when they truly enjoy what they have read.

What fabulous ideas do you have for engaging students with books? Please share your ideas by leaving a comment. Thanks!

Monday, September 7, 2009

On the Eve of Instruction Revisited

Two years ago at this time I posted about wanting to get all my staff reading at least one blog each. In this I have been a miserable failure. So I am contemplating whether I was setting unreasonable goals or whether I need to work more proactively. Maybe a little of both. For some, I think it falls into the 'you can lead a horse to water' category.
Then I read Jen Wagner's post on never giving up and appreciating small changes. Thanks Jen, for buoying me up. This past year I have been involved with district ProD events that introduced blogs and feeds to teachers. I hope that some of them have incorporated blog reading into their daily practice. This list of blogs was created to inspire them. Pay attention to the link to Scott McLeod's Moving Forward Wiki. He recently asked his followers on Twitter to recommend the best blogs in a variety of education related subjects.

Some other great resources that came to me from Twitter or RSS blog feeds this week:
Wake County Library's Teen List Mania has dozens of themed lists for YA readers.

Ian Jukes' post on The Committed Sardine "Beauty is in the Eyes of the Beerholder: Coming to Terms With Technology in Education" made me smile. He offers a retrospective of the challenges faced by educators using technology going as far back as 1703. He urges readers to understand the potential that technology tools and devices have to enhance learning opportunities. has some excellent tips on How to Find a Book Without Knowing the Title or Author.

Peter Pappas of Copy Paste offers 18 Literacy Strategies for Struggling Readers - Defining, Summarizing and Comparing

Tom Whitby on Twitter posted a link to Teaching with Wikis from the University of Minnesota. Tom is well worth a follow as he posts useful links regularly.

So there you have it. As I start back to school tomorrow I wish everyone a rewarding and successful year. And if you've made a difference using technology in your school or community, please share.