Leaving Their Mark – Redux, Redux

This is a first I think, a second repost of a post on my blog. I’m doing so because of my appearance on NBC’s Education Nation Teacher Townhall. I talked about things my students have done and an innovative pedagogy, and although this post is 2 years old it shares many examples of that innovative pedagogy.


The end of the school year is always tough. Lots still to do, lots of emotions, lots of memories. This one is tougher than most because not only are we closing in on the end of another school year, we are coming to the end of 3 years together. As I was reflecting upon this the other day it occurred to me just how large a legacy this class is leaving behind.

This has been my first experience in a 1:1 laptop classroom. It certainly isn’t all about the technology, but the technology really has leveraged what they have accomplished because it has connected them easily to so many and allowed them to share and archive those connections easily along the way.

It started in fourth grade when we began blogging and learning about being understood and being careful with language so it meant what we meant and was clear to the reader. Their blogs became a way to share their stories, but also what we did and learned and what we accomplished- and we accomplished a lot. When I broke the news to them in December of 2006 that we had a student that showed up on my attendance over a month earlier and that we had never seen her … but that there might be a way to include her in our classroom using Skype video-conferencing, they were intrigued and awed that we might do that. After our first experience we decided to share it with the world and in just a few short weeks the students had designed and produced a video that taught the world just how powerful these new tools can be.  Their video has been downloaded thousands and thousands of times. (Update – about a million times now)

Not only did we use Skype most days to include our classmate, we also began making connections with others. We were interviewed over Skype by Lee Baber’s class in Virginia about our experience and made connections with other classrooms about science and other topics.

We were very fortunate that our classroom was chosen to have a special guest. Grace Corrigan, the mother of Christa McAuliffe, the  “Teacher in Space” who died tragically when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded during launch, visited our room, and we Skyped out her visit to classrooms in Virginia and New York and they were able to take part in the question and answer period Grace agreed to.

To finish off that year we visited a local animal park, Animal Ark, and afterwards designed a wiki page to help further anyone’s learning about the animals there and included a lesson and video about designing your own animal.

In fifth grade as we continued to blog about our experiences, my students’ exploits became known to others and so we would get contacted by schools to participate with them – usually because they didn’t know of anyone else that knew how. One such experience was Skyping in George Mayo’s middle school class from Maryland. They had made some short videos and wanted us to watch them and give them feedback. It was easier for them to have us do this than the elementary school NEXT DOOR because they were at lunch when this class met and they couldn’t work out the details. We watched  and wrote our reactions to their videos and gave them feedback when we Skyped, and they asked us questions about including our classmate.

I was contacted by Skype about making a short film about our “Inclusion” experience. They sent a film crew to our classroom to shoot a mini documentary about how we did it. Even though our classmate was now with us in the classroom, they had her stay home one day and do school from her computer. They hung lights in our room and shot video all morning as we did what we usually do. They interviewed students and then packed up and shot in the afternoon from our classmate’s house. They produced 2 versions of the video. Here and here.

We continued to blog almost every day either writing new posts or reading and commenting on others. We built relationships with a number of classes around the world and to help keep track we began adding links to them on our class wiki page. Most of my students are second language learners and when we started blogging it would take most of them a week to edit a post into publishable quality. I don’t require my students to have zero errors on a piece before it publishes, but my students’ writing skills were very poor in general. They used poor English and grammar, and punctuation was almost nonexistent in some students’ work. They left out the details that made meaning for the reader, and we won’t go into spelling. At first students would write their posts by hand on lined paper and edit them several times before word processing them. Next they would print them out in a large size, double spaced to have room for editing. Many students would have 5 or more copies of their story all marked up by me in 1:1 meetings with them before their work was “publishable.” That’s why it took a week. By the end of fourth grade about half the class would publish in 2 days. And by the middle of 5th grade some students were publishing the same day as the assignment was given, and almost all were publishing in 2 days. We killed a lot of trees the first year, and I (and they) felt bad about that, but the impact it had on their English, spelling, punctuation, style and more was worth it. And the students continue to write and write and write (but we don’t print very often anymore).

During fifth grade, I believe initially over Twitter, but then in email, a fifth grade teacher in New York, Lisa Parisi, mentioned to me how much she liked the comments my students left on her students’ blogs. I explained that we had really been working on the quality and substance of our comments, not just saying, “Nice post” or “I liked your post” but also explaining why. Our students began doing more reading and commenting on each others posts.

Lisa and I wanted our classes to do a project together and so the “Mysteries of Harris Burdick” writing project was bornThis book, written by Chris Van Allsburg, is the ultimate writing starter I’ve ever seen. After reading and discussing the book in class our students wrote collaborative stories using Google Docs so they could work at the same time on their stories even though they were thousands of miles apart. They even discussed things over Skype so they could meet their co-writers and have discussions about where their stories were going. Other teachers joined the project and paired their classes. The project won an award.

This year we participated in 2 projects that stressed being safe online. We talk about safety fairly often, pretty much anytime we use a new application – blogs, wikis, Flickr and so on and anytime it comes up in the news we tend to review the issues and what the people involved did right or wrong that caused or helped the problem that came up. We participated with a bunch of schools all over the world in the “7 Random Facts” project … sharing seven random facts about yourself without revealing any information that could identify you. By request we followed that up by participating with another class in another safety project where the students wrote vignettes about someone NOT being safe online and then wrote a moral to the story. We shared them in a Skype session with the other class. During this time students in my class shared that they had MySpace and other sites that they were really too young to have and that they had taken down inappropriate information about themselves.

The “Around the World with 80 Schools” project this year has been incredible in how it has made my students more aware of world geography as they met and talked with students on almost every continent.

Most recently we are finishing up our Reno Bike Project, project where we are helping a local non-profit organization that rehabilitates old bikes and sells them inexpensively, spread the word to get people to donate bikes to them. The Public Service Announcementand web pages they designed were just published and we are doing some other activities to help get word out.

I’ve left plenty out here to save space, but the point is these students have left a mark, a legacy that will survive their graduation to middle school and beyond. Not only have they done community service that effects their community, but they have participated globally and left the archive for others to ponder and I hope improve on. Most importantly they have vastly improved their writing, research, communication and numerous other skills along the way. They were only held back by my limitations and the limitations of the system.

I’ve learned at least as much as they have and I believe I’m a better teacher for it. I’m chomping at the bit to take what I’ve learned and share it with my new class. As of this writing I’m being moved down to 4th grade again to begin a roll up to 5th and hopefully sixth grade again. I’m really going to miss this class and I want them to know that and to know they have made more of a difference in this world than they realize. They can be proud!

Learning is messy!

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10 thoughts on “Leaving Their Mark – Redux, Redux

  1. I have really enjoyed reading your blog because I am becoming a teacher right now and started off in a third grade class for my internship and now I am working in a second grade class for 7 weeks. It was extremely hard to leave my students in September because I grew attached to them and I have grown attached to the students I am working with now and it has only been 4 weeks. How are teachers able to grow so close to a group of students and then have to let them go at the end of the year? and then do it all over again. I feel that teaching is going to be a huge emotional rollercoaster for me because I am going to be very fond of my students and it will be hard to let them go at the end of the year I especially think this is true for my first in the future, I think that I will probably end up comparing classes to my first class that I have as a teacher, it makes me nervous and anxious that I soon will have my own classroom full of students and not knowing how to accommodate those students frightens me. I know that my first couple of years will be all about learning and I will have to have patience but I think that it will be hard to let go of students at the end of the year just like it was for you.

  2. I missed this post the first time around, so thank you for posting it again. I am so impressed with the ways you have woven tech into curriculum. Your students are not just becoming tech savvy, they are becoming informed, safe, accountable pubic media citizens. How exciting! I also love the way your curriculum addresses so many of the concerns that arise when you hear the words “kids” and “internet” in the same sentence. The isolation of online life, safety concerns, etiquette, anonymity — none of these pitfalls of the internet have a chance to be a problem with the activities and explorations your students are doing. I feel incredibly inspired by your post. Thanks!

  3. Hello I am Erwin Coleman, a student at the University of South Alabama. I am in Dr. Strange’s EDM 310 class. We do a lot of technology enhanced learning and I see the benefits of using technology to improve the quality of a student’s education. Every student having a computer to use in the classroom can keep the student’s connected with each other and do more research at an early age so it doesn’t become foreign by the time they reach high school or college. I am glad you inspire your students to become learners and I want to do the same thing when I am educating my students.

  4. I find it amazing that you were blessed to have the same studnets for three years. It seems you could create a very strong classroom community. I found your journey with your students interesting for a couple of reasons. One I am not a tech type of person and to have so much technology in the classroom would be a little intimating and for two we are learning about using technology in the classroom and your blog supports that. Many of our classrooms here in Washington, still have not got on board with many of the technology outlets that are available. Therefore it makes it difficult to implement them in the classroom. I enjoyed reading about their journey.

  5. Hello! Enjoyed reading over your posts. My school district is currently pushing technology integration district wide. There is resistance from some on our campus. You make it look so exciting to use technology in the classroom, and I hope I can find some ways to include it also. Your students are blessed to have you!

  6. Hello, my name is Fredric Robinson. I attend the University of South Alabama in pursuit of a degree in Physical Education with a teachers certificate. I want to start off by congratulating you on such a great accomplishment with your students. We live in world where technology is being abused in so many ways, so it’s very refreshing to see it used in such a positive manner. In your blog you spoke about examples of innovative pedagogy, and I must say that you are truly using new ways of educating. I’m actually not a user of Skype but I have a different mindset of its possibilities, especially in reference to the teaching methods of my future students. Your story truly touched my heart to see the power of technology, how you included your student with cancer (Celeste McKarlie) into class through Skype; and I’m sure that there are many others who would agree and have taken advantage of your classes discovery. I hope that you continue to change the world in a positive way.

    I will be writing a summary of this blog into my personal blog in the near future about my visit to your page. Here is a link to my class blog as well, in case your would like to explore. My visit has truly been a pleasure and I hope to talk with you soon.


  7. Hello, my name is Jasmine Stevens. I attend the University of South Alabama, majoring in Elementary Education. I found your blog very interesting. The way that you are using and teaching technology to your students is amazing. I was never aware of the use of Skype in the classroom, and how it could be beneficial to the students. I believe what you are doing is so helpful to the students, because before your classroom they most likely did not know the importance of technology and the many ways they can use it for education. The way you included your student who was not able to attend class through Skype was amazingly caring for a teacher to do. I will be including a summary of this blog in my personal blog (http://stevensjasmineedm310.blogspot.com/). You can also take a look at our class blog in your spare time (http://www.edm310.blogspot.com/).

  8. I am a student at the University of South Alabama in EDM310. Part of my education here in EDM310 is to read other teachers blog sites, comment, and then post a summary of what we have read and our comment. We each have created a blog page to post these to and this is mine Jason Lynch’s EDM310 Blog. With that being said, I have read several posts from other teachers and I have seen a central theme, technology excels all students. It seems to be the key to making individual students excel in their scholastic. But your post, Leaving Their Mark – Redux, Redux, moved beyond students in their classroom. Instead you used technology to make your classroom grow and involve students from other states. You not only reached your students, but you also reached out to other students in other parts of the US with this program. I was very impressed at what Skype did for your students in this age level of education. A “head fake” to use Randy Pausch, was the writing and language development you installed in your use of technology in the classroom. The students were able to learn grammar, writing, and technology while having fun. Amazing, way to teach. Your ability to turn students around, teach them something new, and have them use it in a practical manner is astounding. As an educator, I believe that would be the height of any teacher to see your students making that cognitive leap. Achieving so much in such a short amount of time, as three years. It makes future teachers such as myself feel that we can make a difference in young students lives.


    Jason Lynch
    EDM310 University of South Alabama