iPurpose before iPad

The two above images are good examples of purposeful thinking about iPad usage in schools.

One, a screenshot of an oft-used tool known as iPad As.. by edtechteacher.org, focuses on what the iPad can be used for and provides links to various apps that can be utilised for those functions. It goes without saying that it is a very useful website for schools thinking about iPads. It provides nutshell explanations of a number of apps that relate to each iPad as… category as well as pricing. It’s a good introduction into the functionality of the iPad that counteracts the misconception of iPad as consumption NOt creation tool.

The other, The Padagogy Wheel, is one of many variations on applying Bloom’s Taxonomy of skills to iPad apps. It develops from the general learning action verbs/skills we want our students to acquire to technology based activities that relate to these skills and finally to a selection of apps that can support this development.

Both tools have supported my reflection on iPad use in school and are worth checking out in detail. Having said that, though, I feel they both fall short in what is needed as a resource for implementing iPads in education. iPad as… does a good job at presenting uses for iPads in school – what they can be used for – but doesn’t really provide depth about the skill development that can arise from their use. It’s still action/activity emphasis rather than pedagogical/learning emphasis. It’s great to know that you can create videos, and it describes what the app can do,  but how will this improve learning and what learning will it improve is also a priority iPad schools need to address. I think it also pigeon-holes apps as one trick ponies – I’d like to emphasise the apps that can be used to develop many skills.

The Padagogy Wheel provides many links between skills and tech activities but doesn’t really address what iPad apps address which skills and activities specifically other than lumping them into a particular category. It too, tends to classify the apps as one trick pony options rather than seeing them as multiple category options.

Don’t get me wrong, I think both are great tools but there is room for improvement in creating a tool for supporting time poor iPads in Schools implementers in planning, selecting, justifying and integrating iPad apps in education.

Which leads me to attempt a herculean task… I’m going to try to blend the best of both of these resources and address the short falls I have mentioned by creating my own resource. But it’s going to be a work in progress for a while and I hope to get support from Mr G Online followers, subscribers, users and casual visitors.

I’ve started creating a table of important skills, some derived from the Padagogy Wheel, and actions, some derived from iPad As… What I am planning to highlight is that there are many apps that can be use for many purposes and for developing many skills. For example, I have already added “Explain Everything” to 9 categories as I see it as a multifunctional app and one worth its price because of the educational benefits it provides. Over the coming months I plan to add text descriptions to each category to explain how the apps listed address the skill or action they have been linked to and may also link them to other online sources that show them in action. I’ll also provide direct links to the App Store, as I always do on this blog when I mention apps so you can check them out yourself if you want.

Now this sounds like a big task and it is. So I do need some help. What do I want from you? Anything you can give. Just add them to the comments of this post.

  • Examples of apps that help to develop specific skills
  • Additional skills I haven’t listed here
  • Examples of apps that are multifunctional.
  • Explanations of good pedagogical practice with apps. Don’t worry, all credit will go to you when I include your suggestions.
  • Links to blog posts, websites, Youtube tutorials, open wikis, nings etc that promote good practice that I can link to from here.
  • Examples on add ons like bookmarklets for curation sites, websites that work well with iPads ( Flash-free) that can still be categorised under these headings for iPad use.
  • Spread the word regularly through Twitter, Facebook, Curation sites like Pinterest and Scoop-It to keep educators coming back.
This post will look messy for a while as new ideas get added. A blog may not be the best storage place for it in the long run. If I actually get the support – and it’s likely I won’t – and it grows I will probably move it to a separate website for better functionality. It may well be better as a wiki but  I didn’t want to move away from Mr G Online unless I needed. For easy access in the meantime, I will add this post to my main menu at the top of the blog so you can come back to check revisions. I will be planning weekly updates at least, more if I get regular contributions I can just copy and paste in from the comments.
I really hope I can get this off the ground. From reading so many blog articles, I can see there is a huge need for clarity in using tech like iPads. If you have been a regular reader of Mr G Online, you would know I am a big proponent of Pedagogy before Technology. That’s why I want iPurpose before iPad. Hope to hear from some of you soon.



iMovie Pinnacle Studio VideoScribe HD iStopMotion GarageBand  TagPad  Evernote  Notability

Explain Everything Art Maker Animation Desk iMotion HD AudioBoo
 Whether creating live action videos with iMovie and Pinnacle Studio, animated stories with iStopMotion, Animation Desk and iMotion HD or how to tutorials with Explain Everything, the iPad is a great tool for video creation. Creating videos with these apps develops organisation and planning skills, supports story telling skills in non writers and enhances creativity and problem solving in many ways.
Book Creator Creative Book Builder StoryWheel    Sonic Pics Explain Everything Toontastic Storify
Video Scribe HD
Providing opportunities for authentic writing with a real audience outside the classroom, publishing real books using the iPad can improve motivation and actual writing skills. With sufficient access, tech based writing can employ the editing capabilities to encourage children to write without worrying about rewriting from scratch. With the real possibility of publishing books online or in the iBookstore for others to read, children will be encouraged to put more effort into editing and improving their written work. The possibilities for multimedia additions allows for more creativit There are more ways of telling stories these days than text and pictures. Some students have stories inside them that don’t get shared because of a lack of writing ability. Let’s give them opportunities to tell stories orally until they are ready to write so that they can develop their imaginations and story telling for when they are ready to write. These apps all allow for alternatives to traditional writing texts, either through combining audio and images seamlessly in a variety of formats
 Strip Designer Comic Life     Book Creator iPrompter Creative Book Builder iBooks
Explain Everything
Creating stories with audio, highlighted annotations, vocabulary support through linked dictionaries, scrolling screens provides support for students who lack reading skills. Getting children to record themselves reading gives them feedback on their progress as well as support for independent practice.
Edmodo VoiceThread Skype Evernote Keynote  VideoScribe  Haiku Deck   VoiceThread
Instapaper Whiteboard Popplet Comic Life  Explain Everything  Skitch   iPrompter
Comic Life  Writing Prompts SpellBoard Tap Dictionary iMind Map 3D  Popplet  Skitch Inspiration Maps Lite
Notability Whiteboard
 Evernote Edmodo   PollDaddy Socrative   EverNote  Edmodo Pinterest  Instapaper
Notability  Notability
 Notability Hopscotch
 Skitch  Evernote  Notability    Wolfram Alpha Numbers  Hopscotch
Wikinodes Notability
 Numbers  Wolfram Alpha  Doodle Buddy    Wolfram Alpha PollDaddy  WikiNodes Notability
Edmodo  PollDaddy   Socrative Numbers  Edmodo   Puppet Pals    
TagPad Evernote EasyTag
ClassDojo  Notability
Edmodo  Socrative   ClassDojo   Explain Everything   Edmodo Socrative  Notability 
Screen Shot 2013-04-23 at 8.32.29 PM   
Routes Explain Everything Skitch Geocaching Numbers Wolfram Alpha MyScript Calculator
My Maps Editor
Skitch Explain Everything  Skype    Edmodo  Skype
ArtRage Garageband Snapseed RoomPlanner
ArtRage GarageBand  Snapseed iStopMotion Skitch  Explain Everything   RoomPlanner iDraw
Phoster ScrapPad
Explain Everything   Numbers Hopscotch     Edmodo  VoiceThread Skype  iPrompter 




What are you doing to make writing real in your classroom?

Are your students writing for you or themselves? Are your students writing for you or for a real audience? Are your students writing because they have to and don’t know or because they want to and have a purpose? Have you thought about what you are doing to make writing real in your classroom?

  • Do your students write the school newsletter and fill it with interesting student generated content or is just full of a bunch of reports from teachers, parents and the principal?
  • Do they publish their writing as ebooks that are uploaded to the school website or a class/personal blog so that parents, friends, other students and any other interested reader can download it onto their iPad, Kindle, smartphone and read it, giving them a audience beyond their teacher and classmates?
  • Are your students writing advertisements on fictitious products because it’s the genre of the month in your class or have they made a connection with a local business and put forward a proposal to create some real ads for them to promote their product in the local community or on YouTube?
  • Do your students write a news report so it can be checked off as a non fiction piece of writing to contribute to the requirements for Term 3 writing OR are they part of a dedicated group of students across the school publishing a school newspaper or online news service including school and local news, sport, editorials on important issues they are concerned about, restaurant, music, book and movie reviews, comic strips or satirical cartoons, letters to the editor as well as ads for school and local events? OR Have you made contact with the local newspaper and set up a program allowing children to have their articles published on a regular basis in an actual newspaper?
  • Are you singing Silent Night and Jingle Bells for the 30th Christmas Concert in a row or have you used the talents of local songwriters to run workshops to write some student created songs to perform instead?
  • Have you contacted and made arrangements with an interested author to run workshops with budding writers and possibly collaborate on a book together instead of relying on your own limited narrative writing abilities to teach them to write something with a decent plot?
  • Have you thought of students creating textbooks for other grade levels to use for their next inquiry topic instead of just finishing the unit off with long winded presentations in front of the whole grade and then filing them under “Done”?
  • Have you given them the opportunity to collaborate on a play that they will write and perform for an audience of their choice? Have you given them the opportunity to write a letter to the local theatre company and put forward a proposal to gain their support in the production?
  • Have you considered contacting the local community radio station and booking a regular spot for your class to present a radio program, reader’s theatre performance of a play they have written, conduct an interview of a local celebrity, participate in a debate,all of which have been written by them? OR if not the radio station have you published them as podcasts online?
  • Instead of getting them to write expositions in preparation for the next state or national standardized writing test, have you given your students opportunities to send persuasive texts to the principal, local councillors, members of parliament, major newspapers, TV and radio news programs to argue for change?

(There are a lot of other great examples teachers are using. I’d love to hear them in the comments below.)

If we want to know why our students are still not correcting their spelling errors or leaving out punctuation and paragraphs, maybe we need to consider whether we give them reason to. So let’s make writing real. if you at going to put all that effort that teachers do into conferencing, feedback, exposing them to all those great tech tools for publishing, surely we should give them a reason for all that effort to be put in.

So what are you doing to make writing real in your classroom?

Edmodo vs Blogging


When introducing transformative teaching practices involving technology, you have to be careful not to overload the senses of the tech novices on your staff. What took über geeks like me a couple of hours to master can take a life time for others. This year at my school we’ve begun to dip our toes into the waters of online communication (some staff are already swimming while others are still sitting on the edge thinking they’ll drown without support). We’ve introduced both Edmodo and blogging to varying degrees this year. Grade 6 embraced Edmodo from the start and used it in many ways, following in the footsteps of a trial program I began with some of the current teachers last year. Grade 5 came to the party a bit later and are working towards good practices with support from current teachers who were part of the trial last year. Grade 3 and 4 have recently jumped on board and are currently in the experimental stage, with some of the more tech savvy trying out more advanced features.

The Grade 6s have taken to blogging this term, although more as private digital portfolios rather than true blogging with a global audience. However, class blogs have started to surface ( still limited to class member only access) and this has started to blur the lines between Edmodo and the class blogs. Our ICT Leader recently attended a network meeting and other leaders there questioned the purpose of Edmodo if they were already blogging ( until they actually investigated Edmodo – few actually knew of its existence). The point for me though is how to make a convincing argument for both Edmodo and blogging being transformative teaching and learning tools that we should be embracing. The purpose of this post then is as a reflection tool for me to consider the purposes of both platforms before selling them to the staff. It’s also a cry out for you, the reader, to share your experiences of both Edmodo and blogging. Do you use both or tend to focus on one?

In a nutshell, I see Edmodo as an all encompassing classroom management/teaching and learning/collaboration system. Blogging, on the other hand, while it can be used for all the purposes just mentioned, is a tool for writing, publishing and sharing your body of work, be it major writing tasks or quick reflections on life or school work. While it aims to share and craves feedback, blogging is a personal tool. Edmodo, however, it more group oriented. Because of the differentiation between the two, I think they should both be part of classroom practice.

Groups – My favorite feature of Edmodo and a big difference between itself and blogging. I’ve written a few posts on how I’ve used groups to organize my lessons with different small groups. In a contemporary open learning environment in which children are grouped by needs and interests, I appreciate the convenience and ease of creating groups for different subjects or smaller groups within that group so that specific groups of children can collaborate and discuss.It takes no time to set the groups up and they can be altered at any time. These groups are then linked to other features listed later. It’s simply a feature blogging doesn’t offer (as far as I can tell – correct me if I’m wrong)

Collaborative Discussion – the simplicity of the Edmodo discussion wins me over compared to blogging. Simply add a note explaining the topic of the discussion, which can include images, videos, embedded links to other web tools, links to other sites, click Add and the discussion begins. All it takes is to hit the Reply button and the discussion is in full swing. The one feature I would like Edmodo to add is the ability to reply to a specific comment like you can in blogs. It can be a bit cumbersome having to write a reply to someone who wrote something 10 comments back.

Assignments and Gradebook – I love this feature because it becomes a class management system. While I appreciate the ability to comment on a student’s blog, for assessment purposes you would prefer to communicate directly and privately with the student. Using the assignment feature, children can send their work directly to you for feedback and assessment. The feedback is only seen by you and the student and the child can resubmit their work as a response to your feedback. Each assignment is linked to a student’s Gradebook where a teach can store grades ( of your choosing) and comments.

File Sharing – as I mentioned in the Collaborative Discussion section, sharing files is very easy with Edmodo. While you can do this effectively in blogs through widgets and links, the Facebook like nature of Edmodo makes sharing a link to another site quickly more timely than blogs. Of course, it can get a little messy when the posts come in thick and fast and they get lost at the bottom of the page or move to the Previous page section, a feature shared with blogs and other social network sites……which leads us to the solution to this problem>>>>>

Folders and Tags – Tagging is an easy way to group posts around the same topic so you can access then from your tag list later on when they disappear of the front page of posts. Folders can also be set up to store specific posts on a common topic. Both tags and folders can be shared, although only the creator can add to them.

Polls and Quizzes – while more advanced polls and quizzes can be created by dedicated web tools and embedded on blogs, the polls and quizzes on Edmodo can be created much more quickly, albeit only by the teacher. Quizzes can be multiple choice, written answer or fill in the blank and can be useful in collecting data for a range of subjects.

Calendar – the Edmodo calendar is a effective way to help your students manage their time. Teachers can add daily events to the calendar and all assignments are automatically added as well. You can post events for specific groups as well so only those who need to see the event do. It adds or the class management capabilities of Edmodo that is simpler to use than blog calendars. I would like student’s to be able to add events, though.

Library/Backpack - for teachers it’s called Library; for students it’s the Backpack. Either way, it offers a easy to use file uploading and storing system, handy, when you do work at home or school and want to continue it at the other location. Better than emailing or USB data stick.

Extrinsic motivation through Badges - Not everyone’s cup of tea, but if you like to use stickers or awards, Edmodo has its own reward system called badges. You can create your own (but it’s a lot easier to just grab badges already created by other Edmodo teachers – I’ve collected 190 of them from my connections) and to encourage or acknowledge student effort or work, you can simply select their name in your class list, select a badge and award it to the students. There’s a badge made for just about anything and many come with a comment. Used wisely, it’s a good way to collate a whole bunch of comments for your student reports without doing any more work than giving that badge toa student.

I’ve written a few blogposts about the benefits of blogging that you can read here if you haven’t seen them. Here’s what I think differentiates blogging from a system like Edmodo.

Open/Closed Collaborative Discussion – Blogging can certainly allow for collaborative discussion and provides you with a level of control over who takes part on the conversation. If you have a public blog, anyone can take part in the conversation. If you have more rigid privacy settings, you can restrict who participates. For me, though, Edmodo is the better option for instant, collaborative discussion and feedback. With most school blogging wanting some level of moderation of comments, there is the time consuming and inconvenient need to approve every comment before it is seen by others. Edmodo, on the other hand, allows for instant posting and replying because of its secure, closed environment. Yes, popular blogging platforms allow for the set up of dedicated forums but to go through the process of setting up that, it makes more sense to put a link to Edmodo on your blog and use that as your forum.

Collaborative Assignments – This is where blogs exceed Edmodo in the collaboration area. While you can share resources, have debates, and contribute to each others work collaboratively on Edmodo, blogging allows for full scale project collaboration. Individual or class blogs can give access to other users to publish work together. Users can either create their own posts or have permission to edit other users’ posts. Images, embedded web tools , videos, comments can all contribute to a shared project between two users, a whole class or even multiple classes – in your own school or worldwide. Yes you can create groups in Edmodo for different classes to share work in but it’s not as wide ranging as blogging collaboratively.

Publishing and sharing work – it goes without saying that blogging is about sharing your ideas, interests, passions and work of any nature with others. Edmodo is great for sharing a link to your blog, but the work all takes place on your blog, in all the ways I’ve outlined in the other categories in this section of this blogpost.

Tags and Categories – Edmodo and Blogging are very similar in this area. Tags are a great way for creating access to specific posts by using keywords related to posts. Categories allow you to group posts under subject areas. Blogging categories offer more flexibility than Edmodo folders in that you can file a single post under multiple categories.

Audience – One of the benefits of Edmodo is that it is a secure, teacher controlled environment restricted to teacher control and a clearly defined set of users. This is also a drawback if you are looking for a wider, open audience. Blogging gives you both options. If you are looking for purpose for writing well, audience is important. Yes, you can keep your blog private or control who views it, but you can open it up to the whole world to share in your journey and provide you with feedback and incentive. Student bloggers get the opportunity to decide on their audience access and the level of communication they have with them. They don’t get this choice with Edmodo, which his heavy on teacher control.

As a portfolio – While Edmodo has its backpack/library for no fuss, easy to access file uploading and storing, it works more as a filing system. Blogging offers more of a publishing/presentation tool feel to storing your work. It can act as an adequate word processing/publishing option with decent formatting tools, weblinks and ability to add images. It allows you to embed web tools for instant viewing of linked work, whereas Edmodo, while offering embedding, requires you to click on the embedded link to view the file ( albeit within Edmodo). Stored files on Edmodo are private ( unless shared in folders or individually posted to specific groups) whereas on a blog you can open it up for anyone ( or a limited few ) to view and comment on.

I think the feature sets I’ve outlined for both platforms show a clear difference in usage but also shows how beneficial they can both be. Nevertheless, I’d like to hear from other users of Edmodo and blogging. Have I missed something that you think is important to either? Do you have uses of either that eliminates the need to use both. Please join the conversation.

Essential Paid iPad Apps for Schools

I’m not a big fan of Top 10 lists but after a year of experimenting with apps on iPads at school, it’s getting to that time when decisions need to be made on what apps we will invest heavily when the App Purchasing Program comes into full effect in Australia, hopefully soon( Yes, rightly or wrongly, I have been running multiple copies of apps from one account for testing purposes, waiting for Apple to release its Purchasing Program so we can be 100% legit. If they had it in place from the start, I would have done it from the start.) So I’m starting to put together a list of what I think are the essential apps that are worth spending the money on for bulk purchasing.

In making my choices, I’m considering multi-purpose apps that can be used across all curriculum areas, apps that take advantage of the multimedia strengths and apps that can help us use technology in new and innovative ways that can change the way we teach, not just do it the same way with a different tech toy. Some apps are needed to handle the shortfalls of the iOS in a shared network setting and others are chosen because they can make the iPad interact with other tech in the school.

I understand that for some schools the cost for a large number of apps for a 1:1 iPad setup may become prohibitive but in our setting of sharing small numbers of sets, the price is controllable. I’m also from an era where we spent (and still do ) $1000s on Microsoft Office licenses that restricted us to using 3 programs with creativity limitations or $1000s on licenses to use a couple of CD-ROMS that quickly became obsolete. For far less and with free upgrades, we can buy a wide array of apps that offer great creativity options for different learning styles. So here are my essential paid apps, in no particular order. Feel free to agree or disagree. (Prices are in Australian $, similar but sometimes slightly  more expensive than US prices, despite our dollar being higher!?!) Get an app like AppShopper to keep track of sales – I actually bought a lot of these apps at discounted prices. Also, even though I haven’t had access to it yet, my understanding is that The Apple App Purchasing Program discounts prices when apps are bought in bulk.(These prices are current as of August 22nd, 2012. Prices do change.)

FileBrowser ($5.49)- effective access of school network for transferring files through open in… command, transfer of picture/video saved to photo library, views a large range of files. Here is a post I did earlier on this app, including video instructions. It’s the best solution I’ve found for working with our school’s network and is an effective way to get a lot of work created on our shared iPads onto individual student’s folders. It means we can delete work on iPads when they are completed, freeing up space for others to use.

iCab Mobile ($1.99) – full featured web browsing with great downloading capabilities( especially video) and sharing functionality . Great for capturing clips of the internet that could then be imported into iMovie to make documentaries. The collaborative research possibilities are endless with the range of sharing options. I wrote about this app in this post on Safari alternatives.

Notability ($0.99) – Low cost word processing (if you don’t want to spend money on more expensive word processing apps more compatible with Word) with sufficient formatting and image importing and labeling. Its main function is as a  full featured note taking app with-

  • in app web browsing and web clipping ( great way to collect websites and quickly access them
  • note synced audio that links audio to specific notes automatically – great for reviewing presentation notes
  •  simple drawing capabilities including graph paper backgrounds for creating hand drawn graphs and charts
  • efficient filing system for sorting and organizing notes including search. In a 1:1 iPad environment, this can enable Notability to replace multiple exercise books, with each subject having its own category for all related notes.
  • Good file transferring setup with automatic syncing to Dropbox and other options.
  • Can save as native Notability file to open on another iPad or as PDF or RTF ( which can then be edited in Word if necessary. )

GoodReader ($5.49) – my favourite PDF annotation app because of its extensive file system and sharing options. Can link to all major cloudservers, mail systems, WebDAV, etc. for sharing files with other students or staff. Save a truckload of paper by avoiding handing our photocopies ( that then get lost or damaged ). Set up folders in your favourite file servers that students and teachers can download PDF versions of anything you want them to read and work with. You can create Folders for arranging and storing files. A great range of annotation tools for taking notes on PDFs, including highlighting, multiple shapes, text annotation, underlining and arrows/pointers.

Explain Everything ($2.99)
This screencasting app is one of my favourite apps for use at school. There are free alternatives but they are linked to online accounts or lack saving options or advanced features. If you can afford this app over ShowMe or Educreations, get it.

  • Useful across all curriculum areas
  • Alternative to PowerPoint for Slideshow making (instead of buying an extra app like Keynote)
  • Great way for creating tutorial videos for flipping classroom
  • Can be used to record student work in any subject, including audio recording of the student’s thinking and explanation accompanying all of their drawing, writing, working out, notes
  • Can save as videos to photo library which is not an option in some of the free screencasting apps

SonicPics($2.99) – A really simple to use app for any age group ( Grade 1s have used it at our school ), SonicPics is a great way to collect photos together into one file and add commentary. Because of the portability and multimedia capabilities of the iPad, you can take it on excursions with junior grades, snap some photos and record the students’ comments right on the spot. Of course, you could come back and do the recordings in class. The fact that all you have to do is import photos and swipe from one to the next while the audio recording is operating makes this a breeze to operate. Great for language experience, oral language practice, recording ideas for writing, reflecting on and reviewing Maths experiences,working with children with special needs who may not be able to write but can talk about the pictures in front of them. a simple, must have app for me.

Strip Designer ($2.99) – I believe in the power of comics as a communication tool. This comic creation app is easy to use and offers a great range of creative options to allow children to plan, tell and retell stories, record reflections and brainstorms, organise explanations and procedures across curriculum areas, make posters… the list can go on. I love the Comic Life app too, especially the Mac version, and in some ways it looks more polished, but Strip Designer is cheaper and has more options. Features include:

  • basic drawing tools to create your own artwork for your comic
  • lots of photo editing and filter options to alter the imported photos
  • Multiple page creation to make a full scale comic book using a large range of comic panel templates
  • Text editing ( reshaping, resizing, colour)  to make graphic Titles
  • Highly editable speech bubbles and text boxes for recording ideas or narrations
  • “Stickers”  add graphics that enhance the comic’s story telling capabilities
  • Exporting options include iCloud, Dropbox, email, Facebook, Flickr, PDF export, emailing or export to iTunes Strip Designer file to edit on another iPad and save to Photo Library as image ( one page at a time)

iMovie ($5.49) – it’s not in the same league as its Mac Desktop companion but coupled with the built in camera and audio capabilities its a great, quick way to put together an edited video with basic titles, sound effects, back ground music and transitions. It’s easy to use once you work out its idiosyncracies ( it has a good help section that explains each function in detail). In a 90 minute class today with Grade 5 students, all students were able to record, edit and publish videos in one session with a five minute overview of features at the start. The students were absolutely absorbed in the process ( the grade tends to be a noisy bunch in general). Students from Grade 2-6 at our school have created iMovies this year with iPads in Maths, Religion, Inquiry, PE and Literacy. Multimodal texts are an important part of learning today and being able to create them, not just view them is essential. iMovie on iPad makes it easy for young students. I’ve just started investigating Avid Studio on iPad – it has a lot more features which I will probably find more useful, and older students might as well – but for simplicity and expediency, I think iMovie is worth the cash.

Creative Book Builder ($4.49) and Book Creator for iPad($5.49) – I put these two apps together as they both create ebooks – Creative Book Builder has more features and a workflow more suited for older students ( late elementary/primary or middle school); Book Creator can be used even by Kinder/Prep students. I think both (or either) of these apps are essential in today’s classroom where we are trying to make writing more authentic by providing an audience to our students. Students at my school from grade 1-6 have already published ebooks across a range of curriculum areas and seen their publsihed books being read by other students in other grades on the iPads. It’s a great incentive to the writers to see other people read their books. We can even email the books to parents to read on their iDevices at home. Both apps allow text, photos and video to be included in the books. Creative Book Builder lets you include weblinks, glossaries, tables of contents, charts and tables in your books. This allows students ( and teachers) to create complex non fiction texts.

Numbers ($10.49) – Apple’s iWork apps are all useful but a little costly buying all three. Notability can do a good enough job as a word processor, Explain Everything can be a Keynote substitute. Numbers, though, as a spreadsheet app is necessary. It’s not a perfect spreadsheet app and is no Excel in terms of overall features but then I’m talking about students not office workers or adult professionals. Spreadsheets are underused in Maths classrooms often because Excel is full of functions that make it too complicated. I love Numbers’ simplicity. I’ve been using it a lot with my extension Maths group recently to support problem solving and modelling using graphs. They have been absolutely engaged in using the app and love how they can easily make several separate charts for related tasks on the same page. The touch screen workflow seems to come easily to them as was dragging graphs and spreadsheets around the iPad screen. Having easy access to an app that can quickly create data and graphs for analysing in all curriculum areas is a big advantage. Critics of Numbers have to stop evaluating it at an adult level when talking about its use in education. I think its a winner, especially in Primary and Middle School grade levels.

Wolfram Alpha ($1.99-drop in price recently from $4.49) – A powerful app for searching for information. Click here for more info about this app – it has too many features to explain. For Maths, though, I find it indispensable.

Garageband ($5.49)- As a Music teacher among other things, I love this app. But it can be used for so much more. Students have used it to create Radio programs, mixing different recordings of news, interviews, competitions, talkback, music ( created in Garageband or imported in). The drag and drop UI of Garageband makes this process so easy. Other students have used it to record songs they have written as creative responses across subjects, adding voice and music. Other uses have been Readers’ Theatre recordings and recording children read for assessment and feedback purposes. And yes, I have also had students create their own multi instrument musical masterpieces in music workshops. For  creative purposes, Garageband is a must have.

SplashTop (Currently $7.49 but was $0.99 last month – keep an eye out for price drops because it regularly changes) - A great app for wirelessly accessing and controlling a computer from your iPad. Great for moving around the room and letting  students control what’s on the interactive whiteboard your computer is connected to. Needs the free Splashtop Streamer installed on computer

Reflection/AirServer - Not  iPad apps but an app to install on your whiteboard-connected computer. This is a much cheaper option that Apple TV. It allows you to project any iPad screen in the classroom onto the whiteboard. Students in my grade have loved showing their work on their iPads with a simple swipe and click on the Airplay button. More info on their websites. ( click on the links at the start of this  paragraph.)

These are my must haves. I love Art Rage ($2.99) for realistic artwork and Snapseed ($5.49 now but I got it for free – watch for sales) for easy photo editing if you want other creative options. I’m sure different teachers have different favourites and I’d love to hear about other essentials from readers. Technology is not cheap but sometimes if you want the best, you have to pay for it. ( Total cost of listed apps at current prices $64 – with an eye on sales you can get much cheaper). I wouldn’t go into an iPad classroom without these.

COMING UP – Essential Free Apps.

Teachers need to be learning role models

One thing I miss most due to my new part leader/part mentor/part member of teaching team role this year is a full time relationship with students. I get to play cameo roles teaching mini units to focus groups, taking extension groups in Maths and helping children use ICT effectively in their learning. What I don’t get to be, though, is something I believe in deeply – being a role model in learning.

With the shift in emphasis to independent, student centred and driven learning, I think sometimes we drop the ball as teachers in showing students how to be learners through example. I believe teachers have to jump out of the comfort zone of providing guidance, developing rubrics for students to follow, working on samples of work created by other authors and other pre-prepared lesson plans and ideas and get involved in real learning as an example for their students to follow. While I’m not a full time class teacher anymore, these are some examples of how I was a learning role model over the previous years that I think are important for teachers to do.


I read to my class a lot. When I did, I showed joy in sharing the stories I read. I was, and still am when I can be, a performer. Asking children to read with expression but then reading to them without passion does not encourage them to make the effort. Use character voices. Accentuate emotion. Model getting involved in the story. Vary the pace to match the mood. Show them how to respond to written text. I have worked with teachers who always passed responsibility to reading class novels to the students, saying it was important for children to practise reading to an audience. Agreed. But the students won’t know how to if you don’t model how to. If performing is not your thing, modelling the struggle to “sell the story” becomes a teaching moment in itself.

Respond to texts in the same way you expect students to. We often bemoan the lack of detail and quality in our students’ text responses. Sometimes the blame has to be placed on us. We rely on textbook annotated models that break down a response into a series of soulless sentences that follow a structure. For me, I always thought it was far more beneficial for me to write my own reviews, character descriptions, book reports and answered the questions they were expected to answer too. I wrote them at an adult level to show students what could be achieved if they pushed themselves. They didn’t reach my adult level but they wrote some great responses because the bar was raised and the example was set. Teachers need to write, not just tell students to write by following a pattern.


Clearly I have embraced blogging and I write for an adult audience for a specific educational purpose. Alongside this blog, though, I have another less visited blog that I set up to be a model for the writing we expect our students to write. I haven’t maintained it as much as I want because I haven’t been involved in students’ writing as much as I had hoped. As a full time class teacher, though, I see genuine writing as a vital component. I don’t see all teachers being as passionate about being writers as they should be. How can you assess a student’s ability to write a narrative or a poem or an exposition, if you can’t show you can do it yourself? I have a problem with children being expected to meet the requirements of rubrics created by teachers that follow ideas from writing textbooks but the teachers don’t write themselves.

Not only should we be writing during class time to model writing behaviours ( and sometimes we may struggle to meet the standards, modelling how difficult writing can be and what we might need to do to achieve some success ) but we should be writing independent of class time to show that writing is a genuine, meaningful activity. Teachers can’t expect students to set up Writers’ Notebooks and Writers Gifts or blogs if they don’t have their own and maintain their own. I love writing. My students have read my stories, plays, poems, songs, reviews, reports, explanations, persuasive and argumentative texts and used them as models for their writing, rarely meeting my standards but pushing themselves ( not all of them, obviously) to achieve a high standard. They’ve also critiqued them and I have accepted some of their advice ( and knocked back plenty, too), modelling the whole conferencing and editing process. Again, some teachers may not find writing as easy or enjoyable as me, but students can learn just as much about the struggles of writing – my blogs are littered with half finished or initial ideas as an example that not all writing ideas work ( I keep them to show not finishing is part of a writer’s life).


We rightly push the importance of problem solving. Modern maths teaching methods revolve around multiple strategies. If we are genuine about this, again we need to be role models for  contemporary maths thinking. Again, ( I know I sound like I’m blowing my own trumpet) I find Maths easy at the primary/elementary/middle school levels I work in but I am very careful to model the varied strategies I want my students to use. As a student in the 70s and 80s I went through the era of pure procedural calculation. I could do it easily then and can easily do it now. By being a role model, though, I have actually improved my Mathematical thinking and understanding by using various strategies and maintaining their consistent use.

I don’t have a problem with procedural algorithms; sometimes they are the most efficient method. What I have a problem with is teachers working so hard in a 4 week unit on mental computation and multiplication strategies in Semester One then undoing all their good work by falling back into their comfort zone of algorithms and times table tests in Semester Two. We have to maintain the rage, easy or not, and keep being role models for mental strategies. I repeat, I have improved my mental computation over the years through sustained use of multiple strategies. Students will too, if we keep up the pressure. If we aren’t good role models, they will follow what they think is the “best maths” and use algorithms when they don’t need to.

Problem solving is the same. Students need to see us trying to solve problems and not problems we find easy. I believe as Maths teachers, we should be modelling the struggle involved in problem solving by tackling problems we don’t know the answer to. No shame in getting others to help you too. That is good role modelling too. I like to work on problems in front of the students. I like investigating with the students. We need to show we think problem solving is relevant and useful by doing it, not just setting the problem and showing them how to solve problems we have the answers too.


I love learning. A lot of my colleagues think I’m a weird freak ( in the nicest possible way!) at Trivia nights and constantly ask me questions to find out quick answers, often in front of the students. I make the mistake often of telling them the answer. They shouldn’t be asking me the question. They should be inquiring themselves. We expect our students to do the research. We should be role models here as well. The reason I know so much is not just because I grew up in the educational era when you were actually expected to remember stuff, not just “Google” it. I know stuff because I am interested in learning. I investigate. I show interest. I experiment. I do this in front of my students. I have a genuine interest in their topics and want to find out more. I ask probing questions to show how they can go further with their questions because I actually want to know what they are researching. When my classes research, I research. When my students do projects, I do projects. Why wouldn’t you if you really believe in the life long learning mantra we spruik in our policies and mission statements. Again it’s about being genuine. I don’t copy and paste so the students know I won’t accept copy and paste. I want deep understanding so the students know I won’t accept superficial answers to research questions. We have to be good role models as inquiring learners.

It might sound like a lot of hard work. Sometimes it is but I enjoy hard work if the result is learning. But sometimes the work actually make teaching easier. Less planning involved for literacy if you just model what to do. Don’t go looking for books on how to teach narratives. Just write a narrative and share your work with the class. Learning will happen on the job. Don’t spend days making up a poster outlining the research process. Just start researching with the class. Be a role model. Don’t tell them what to do. Show them how it’s done.

Quality story writing through the power of Pixar

Thanks to PBJ Publishing for this infographic and link to the power of Pixar! A text based list of these points is also available on their website.


Narrative writing is probably the hardest writing to master. For many, it’s definitely the hardest to teach. Possibly it’s because we as teachers haven’t written many Narratives in our adult lives. So maybe we should source out the experts when it comes to narratives. Of course, we all have at some stage. The librarian has brought out the famous author as a guest speaker or to do workshops, Skype has possibly brought some writers into our classes, and we have all used great stories as models for great writing.

What I love about this list from Pixar, though, is its breadth of ideas.

  • It goes well beyond the limitations of that rusted in scaffolding template of “Orientation, Complication and Resolution”. Love No. 4 – simple but powerful story telling structure.
  • It emphasizes the importance of character, not just describing them but developing them. Following the points on character alone would improve any story.
  • It stresses that the audience’s interest is the key to the story content, not the writer’s. This brings in the importance of purpose. What are you writing the story for? If not to be read by others, then why write it? ( which could explain why so much substandard writing gets produced when the only audience is the teacher and the only purpose is to get an assessment score). Getting student writers to focus on audience encourages them to think beyond their interests alone.
  • It makes clear the importance of planning. Ideas that stay in your head don’t get written. Write down everything and ignore the first ones. The more you think, the better the idea.
  • It admits that it’s OK to use other people’s ideas. Pull apart the great stories and analyse what’s great about them. Critique the bad stories and avoid what went wrong.
  • It outlines what’s needed for a great story.

Pixar is the Shakespeare of our time ( without the incomprehensible language 😜). Their story telling is almost flawless ( Cars 2 notwithstanding.) Any advice they give us should be cherished. Share this with your students and teachers. Let’s inspire great writing with something different.

Creativity and Quality vs Time Constraints and Quantity

Thanks to Dangerously Irrelevant for the video and the spark for this post

What do we hope to achieve as teachers? Good grades for our students? Year over year growth based on testing, standards and outcomes? Engagement in life long learning? Develop fully their talents and creativity? All of these are important goals in education but at some point we need to decide which is the most important in this “21st Century/Contemporary Teaching/Personalised Learning Education Environment we purport to be in today.

This simple video has made me think again about my philosophy of teaching and my dream for education. Creativity is one of the great goals that drives the push for contemporary teaching and learning. Do our actions support its development?

For me, we are still driven by time constraints in the day to day reality of school. This hampers creativity.

Instead of expecting a student to write, edit and publish (whether teacher or student is satisfied or not) a text every week so we have “enough” evidence to justify the grade on the semester report card, why can’t we allow the student time to work on one or two texts over a long period of time until we are all proud of the result? Did the D student get a D because he can’t write or because he didn’t get the opportunity or support to improve his text before moving on to task 34? ( It reminds me of 2007 when my daughter came back from our Europe holiday and had to complete the statewide Gr 5 writing test, a 40 minute exercise in putting words on paper. She was ‘slightly below standard’ on the report because she didn’t finish. I should have sent the assessors her 100 page journal she compiled while on our trip, the writing that captivated family and friend alike for its detail and reflective depth.) What is it as teachers we are assessing – product or process? The time limited end result or the growth and improvement over time? Do children have to write a persuasive text, a narrative, a report, a review, an explanation, a recount, a book response all in one term or semester just because they’re all written in your system’s curriculum document? Was Shakespeare not “at standard” because he didn’t write an expository text on the strengths and weaknesses of Queen Elizabeth?

Is it more productive to assess ONE 15 page piece of quality writing over the course of the term or semester (not just at the end when its finished-no one wants to do that), progressively monitoring and assessing the language conventions, sentence structures, use of literary devices that you have discussed and taught the student over time OR give a score to 15 “OK” pieces of writing the child gets no opportunity to improve? I’ll leave that up to you to decide.

Our students may not want to persist at editing and improving a text over a long period of time because they have grown up in a system ( and I’ve been part of it for 25 years so I’m not criticising anyone without taking the blame too) that values quantity over quality, product over process and finishing over creating. If we really want to bring about Sir Ken Robinson’s revolution, this has to change. Collecting 20 samples of writing that are not good enough has to be replaced by a paradigm shift to working on a text until it is great. Ticks, crosses and percentage points don’t teach a student how to improve their writing ( or counting, calculating,thinking, questioning,researching, drawing). Guidance, tracking, encouragement, constructive feedback, expectation and TIME does.

Can we do it? Should we do it? What do you think? Would love to hear what others have to say. Join the conversation.

Digital Portfolios – is Blogging a good option?

cartoon from www.weblogcartoons.com

Cartoon by Dave Walker. Find more cartoons you can freely re-use on your blog at We Blog Cartoons.

A couple of things happened last term. My school finally took the plunge and allowed the Grade 6 students to replace their file books with digital portfolios as a means to collate their work to share with their parents at home and during parent/teacher interviews. The other thing was that a small group of teachers dipped their toe into class blogging. By the end of the term, we ended up with two problems – How do we create the best Digital Portfolio and Do we want to really blog?

Let me explain.

During my ‘Techie Brekkies” before school, I introduced blogging to a group of interested teachers. They had lots of questions and not all were answered but we ended the couple of sessions with setting up blogs, but apart from one grade level who used their blog for Camp updates and reflection, not much happened after the meetings. Then I introduced Edmodo and it seemed to be a more useful and easier to set up option. Edmodo now has full adoption across all Grade 5/6s as a collaboration/work sharing/assessment and class organisation tool. It was seen as more relevant than having a class blog at this stage in the development of the teachers involved. ( Note: the whole “Techie Brekkie” thing went into hiatus during report writing season and so there was no follow up to blogging session. We’ll pick it up again next term).

In terms of the Digital portfolios, there was a push for them last year in the 5/6 area but because they were just an add on to the  school wide  file book/work sample policy, they were not fully embraced by teacher or student. In 2012, however, change came about and the Grade 6 students moved from paper based file book to digital portfolio. They adopted Powerpoint as the platform ( not my personal choice nor my decision to make) and then last term decided they would  export them over to Sliderocket so that they could be accessed via the internet at home. It was soon apparent, though, that this was a fail as a workflow as the export experience didn’t upload attached files or links. This was compounded by SlideRocket’s sudden policy change which locked the children out of accounts ( hence my recent posts about Web 2.0 for the Under 13s).

When this happened, I started thinking of alternatives. The teachers initially decided to stick with PowerPoint but start a new portfolio ( the originals quickly became bloated, growing to unmanageable sizes that took forever to load over wireless networks – need to invest in video compression software!) I started thinking of blogging.  From reading about blogging over the last year, however, from the likes of Kathleen Morris, Linda Yollis and Langwitches Blog ( who seem to respected in the field of class blogging) and reflecting myself earlier in the year in this post (and here as well),  my quandary is that I may be blurring the lines between blogging and digital portfolios. Am I rushing the students and teachers into blogging by attaching the importance of the official digital portfolio to it without going through the process of preparing them for blogging as outlined by the aforementioned “experts”?

Nevertheless, today, I am pushing ahead with a “Pros and Cons” list to help me decide what the best choice might be from my point of view. Obviously, I would like feedback from you, my readers, on what you think is the best option. It’s a work in progress and would like to hear suggestions from you for both the pros and cons. 


  • “Anywhere, any time access” to their work for composing, editing, publishing and sharing with their parents. One of my problems with the whole twice a year file book access is that parents aren’t kept informed on the progress or quality of their children’s work. With the blog as portfolio option, the child’s work is more transparent and because the parents can see the work during all stages of the year, children may be more motivated to work at the standard Mum and Dad expects of them.
  • A bigger audience for greater purpose and motivation. Opening up their work to a wider audience puts the responsibility of quality back on to the students. It should also motivate them to publish quality work as well since it is being viewed by others.
  • Feedback and collaboration. Through moderated comments, parents, friends and the wider world audience can provide feedback, encouragement, praise and advice. With access controls, individuals can be invited to collaborate on posts under the supervision of the teacher to ensure collaboration goes smoothly. Shared posts can be linked to each others’ blogs so that the work can be shown to both students’ parents and audiences.
  • Controlled environment and ease of communication between teacher and student. With student blogs linked to a teacher blog, teachers and students can control the level of privacy and access to their work. Students can save their work as unpublished drafts and teachers can review their work before they go further. Students and teachers together can make decisions about which posts go public and which remain private. This gives a student control over what he/she wants to publish to a wider audience while still being able to show their parents all their work.
  • Wide range of publishing options available through uploading, hyperlinks and embedding published work from other web tools. One of the time wasting tasks I have seen through the PowerPoint Digital Portfolio option is organising file storage, folder structures, hyperlinking to files, linking to work published with software not available at home and the resulting broken links when all of these tasks are completed effectively. An online version with links controlled by the blogging platform and a central storage area coupled with the ease of linking and embedding to work that exists on the internet, not in random folders spread across the school network is a more user friendly option. Having the online option may also encourage students to try out more web tools for composing and publishing their work. It may move them away from just typing words out in Microsoft Word and onto Prezis, comic strips, slideshows and audio presentations that can easily be embedded in their portfolio blog.
  • Purposeful blogging. I’ve checked out a lot of student blogs in my research for setting up blogging at school. While there are some outstanding examples from very talented student writers, there are also a lot of blogs out there that don’t meet the standards and guidelines outlined by the blogging experts above. Like a lot of technology, many teachers never progress their students past the experimental stage and we are left reading unedited “my Favourite……” posts by the truckload. Using the blog as a digital portfolio gives a consistent purpose to what is being posted and students won’t spend time wondering what to write next.
  • Part of whole school program, not an added extra. A digital portfolio blog would include work from all areas of the curriculum and would encourage publishing of work in the Arts, Sport, Mathematics and other subjects besides Literacy which can dominate a blog as the “writing subject”. Hopefully, this would encourage the use of technology for reflecting upon and showcasing learning in the non text based subjects.
  • Consistent, purposeful reflection across all curriculum areas. By using the blog as a digital portfolio, students will have an accessible place to store their reflections on learning side by side with the actual work they are reflecting upon.
  • Easy to use publishing and organisational platform. Thoughtful tags to identify each post, organised in Portfolio categories ( subject areas ), pasting the embed code or link from work done on another web tool – and we’re done. A simple to organise workflow that allows easy access to all files with a simple click on a link.
  • Home/School Link. On top of the connection between school and home available to the parents through the blog option, the maintenance of the blog becomes purposeful homework in all curriculum areas.
  • Teacher Accountability/future direction. Access to student work is soon to become part of our Educational landscape in my system. I can already access individual files of my own children’s work, albeit work that is uploaded and commented on by their teachers in their own time. Having the blog as a digital portfolio easily accessible by parents places some onus on teachers to be consistent and up to date with their assessment and feedback, which helps with teachers planning for children’s learning and improvement.


  • Rushed process without preparing for the responsibility of online publishing. This is not a problem with blogging itself. Rather it’s more a problem with moving straight into using it as a Digital Portfolio platform without having already having experience in blogging. When we adopted Edmodo, there were plenty of teething problems with getting the students to use it appropriately ( that is now ironed out). Morris, Yollis and Langwitches all emphasise the need to for a gradual release of responsibility and training in posting and commenting. Having said that, as a Digital portfolio, the work that is published on the blog will be controlled in some way.
  • Maintaining feedback. There is a danger that teachers will find it too difficult to maintain the same level of feedback and commenting over the duration of the year, considering the public nature of the blogging platform.
  • Negative feedback. How students react to possible feedback of a critical nature is something to consider. Does the digital portfolio component of the blog remain separate from other posts through privacy settings?
  • Separation of Teacher/Student/Parent Comments during the composing process and once published. How do we manage the situation of comments from teachers at the composing/editing stage being misunderstood by parents? Does the student want their classmates’ comments being seen by parents or vice versa? Should the teacher comments be privately viewed?
  • Making a blog “all work and no play”. When you look at successful blogs, they’re about building relationships with audiences, being free to publish posts of your own choice, having fun with the layout, plug ins etc. By making it the Digital Portfolio, you run the risk of sucking the joy and freedom out of blogging and making it all about school work.
  • Access/Connection issues. 90 students simultaneously trying to blog at school can play havoc with the wifi. We run the risk of making the students’ work inaccessible during high traffic periods. Not all students have easy and regular access to the internet at home.
  • Quality control/Teacher accountability. Keeping track of 30 student blogs is no easy task. If students have publishing rights, unchecked work might slip through to public viewing and cause concern for teacher responsibility. Teachers who aren’t confident with technology may find the blogging platform difficult to manage.
  • The linear blogging structure. While tags and categories can make linking to individual post simple, the scrolling, back dated, linear structure of a blog is not always the best way of presenting a large body of work.

I personally think my pros outweigh my cons, although their are some definite issues to address. But I’m a prolific blogger and a confident user of web tools. That doesn’t make it the best choice for everyone. I know there are alternatives but I haven’t experimented with them as much as blogging. As I said earlier, I would really like some feedback from others who have used Digital Portfolios with their students. Do you use blogs or something completely different? What have been your issues and challenges? Please leave a comment and join the conversation. I’d really appreciate it.

The Literacy Shed – A great new resource for Visual Text Literacy Teaching

screenshot of Literacy Shed homepage

Every now and then you come across a resource that makes you go “Wow! How useful is this?” Thanks to one of my teacher colleagues, I have had the chance to explore one such website. The Literacy Shed,created by UK teacher Rob Smith, is a fantastic resource for Literacy teachers looking for short video clips to support their teaching.

The site is organised into 24 different ‘sheds”, each providing a selection of quality visual texts (mainly 3D animations) accompanied by very useful teaching notes outlining how you can use the clips in exploring themes, characterisation, narrative, plot, mood, use of audio, body language, inferences,deductions, predictions  – the notes cover just about everything. It’s equally useful for reading comprehension and writing development. The use of the resources also go beyond just Literacy. Many of the resources are also useful for Humanities subjects as well and Smith points these links out in detail. What I especially enjoy is the number of foreign animations that expose students particularly in USA and Australia, my home, to different cultural and creative perspectives beyond Hollywood story telling.

In the table below, I’ve shared the different areas (sheds) of the site. As you can see, a large number of story genres are provided. Following the table I’ve provided an example of teaching notes that accompany a video clip.

The Fantasy Shed The Other Cultures Shed The Ghostly Shed The Inspiration Shed The Moral Shed The Picture Book Shed
The Great Animations Shed The Love Shed The Fairy Tale Shed The Inventor’s Shed The Reading Shed The Poetry Shed
The Adventure Shed The Mystery Shed The Film Trailers Shed The Fun Shed The Lighthouse Shed The Flying Books Shed
The Resource Shed The Blog Shed The Non Literacy Shed The Weblinks Shed The Literacy Shed Home Contact Us

Teaching Ideas (based on the animation Alma – a chilling Doll story

Let the children listen to the soundtrack of the film, turn off IWB, can they guess what kind of film this is? Thriller etc?  What moods? There is quite a lot of suspense etc.

Children could predict what happens at certain points e.g. what will happen when she goes into the shop?

Children could ask questions at specific points e.g. Why is the town empty? Why does the doll just look like her? Where is the shopkeeper?  What does he do with the dolls?

The children could write a sequel to this film perhaps changing parts of it.

Can the children draw/describe what they think the owner of the shop looks like? Maybe produce a wanted poster.

Here is some fabulous work create by the Year 6 class at Greenfields Primary School.


These are tremendous stories with some very sophisticated plots and sentence structures

Children are becoming more and more tuned into visual texts in an increasingly multimodal media-rich world. Storytelling for children today is more about movies, animations and interactive digital books. Just providing the written text alienates a large proportion of your class. The Literacy Shed provides a wealth of resources that will engage students and the teaching ideas shared on the site will develop a range of high calibre literacy skills. I recommend this site to all teachers ( mainly aimed at Primary/Elementary schools but still relevant for older children in Middle School) who are looking to use more visual texts in their lessons.

Writing Ballad Poems through ICT tools

After a lot of administrative work last term, I’m finally back regularly doing what I like best – teaching. In my role ( one of many ) as a Lead Teacher supporting the 5/6 Team, I get to teach small groups of students in workshop environments in areas of need and/or choice. This term, the Grade 6 students are beginning their writing workshops by focusing on different narrative forms. As a songwriter, I’ve written many songs in the Ballad style, telling stories through song. This was a natural fit for me to take on a Narrative Workshop based around Ballad Poetry. Combining my talents in writing and ICT, I have decided to heavily incorporate Web tools to teach this unit. Here’s a rundown of how I plan to do it.

My main tool for delivering this unit of work will be Edmodo. I’ve created a subgroup within the main Grade 6 Edmodo group specifically for Ballad
Poetry. Before the lessons even begin next week, I have posted links to Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes, a YouTube video of the Ballad of Paul Bunyan for an American ballad example, a site showcasing all the ballads of Robin Hood as an introduction to how traditional ballads as story telling originated and a link to a website that has a published version of ‘Banjo’ Paterson’s “Mulga Bill’s Bicycle”, ensuring the students are also exposed to our native Australian ballads. During the next 3 weeks of the unit, I will be encouraging the students to post their own search results of ballads so that they can be exposed to a wide range of the ballad poem form. I think exposure to examples are important in any writing unit, especially in a form they are not accustomed to.

A final link I have provided on the Edmodo page is a excerpt from the Simpsons’ episode, “Bart the Daredevil”, in which Homer goes hurtling down a slope on a skateboard and over Springfield Gorge, with disastrous results as always. When I read and chose Mulga Bill’s Bicycle as an example ballad, my mind immediately flashed to this episode as it related beautifully to the experience of Mulga Bill crashing his bicycle in similar circumstances. I felt that the students would need a contemporary link to this century old poem, and despite the objections of some in educational circles to the Simpsons, I get great engagement from my students whenever I use the cartoon as a crossover into other literature and thematic discussions.

My plan is to begin the unit reading Mulga Bill’s Bicycle and break the poem down into a sequential series of events. I’ll then present the clip of Homer’s disastrous skateboarding experience and do the same breakdown of events. Using the stanzas in the Paterson poem as a guide, we will co-write a ballad of Homer Simpson’s Skateboard. Here I will introduce the students to another Web Tool I like using for quick and easy collaboration – WallWisher. I’ve embedded the shared Wallwisher Pinboard into a post on Edmodo already. The students will review the Simpsons clip while working collaboratively on building the ballad in WallWisher through post-it notes of individual stanzas of rhyming verse. As they experiment, we’ll be able to see everyone’s attempts on our interactive whiteboard. As each stanza appears, we’ll be able to arrange them into a sequential order to tell the story.


This way, I’ll be able to emphasise the idea of freely writing parts of poems that flow easily from your imagination instead of being stuck on a particular part and not progressing. By using the post-it notes on WallWisher, we will be able to manipulate individual verses and insert new ideas that fit when they arise. By having the board embedded in Edmodo, we will be able to continue this collaboration beyond the classroom lesson time for homework during the week or during independent writing time.

Once the students start drafting their own poems, we will use Edmodo as a collaborative platform for supporting each others’ writing. Children will be encouraged to post their drafts for others to comment on, allowing them to get assistance from myself or classmates if they get stuck for ideas, rhyming words, rhythm and structure. Once their drafts are ready, I will ask them to submit the writing through the Assignment feature of Edmodo. This will allow me to annotate their work with my suggestions and note, but not correct, grammatical/spelling issues ( correcting doesn’t teach them to edit independently).

We’ve identified that this cohort of students is reluctant or lack skills in editing their writing. I want to address this by allowing them to draft, edit and get teacher feedback through ICT. It means they don’t have to rewrite texts completely, instead just making changes where necessary. I’m hoping this will encourage them to make several revisions to their text, rather than the draft/correct/publish cycle we have perpetuated too much as teachers. Edmodo’s Assignments allows for several revisions to be submitted with the ability for teachers to feedback on each new attempt.


Early on in the unit, we will be co-creating a rubric that will guide the students in composing their ballads. This will be posted to Edmodo so they can constantly refer to it as they are drafting and be aware of expectations as well as the structures and features to include in their ballads.

Finally, I’m going to spend a short time near the end of each lesson ( one hour duration ) presenting publishing options. I’ll be encouraging but not requiring the students to consider multimedia tools to present their ballads. By the time the unit is over, I would have already seen and assessed their ballads through the Assignments submissions process and as a result they will already have a written option available. I want to encourage the idea that publishing is not just for the purpose of handing up work for the teacher to assess. We should celebrate the creation of the ballad through a movie version, a multimedia slideshow, a comic strip, a blog post for others to see and comment on, or maybe turn it into a song Mr G style!

I’m looking forward to how this process will pan out. If it goes to plan, I hope that other teachers will try out the lesson structure and the use of Edmodo to encourage better editing of written work by students. I’ll return to this post at unit’s end to reflect on how it went. In the meantime, I would love to hear from other teachers about how you have used Edmodo or similar Web Tools to track writing progress.