Archives for December 2013

Subtext: Read Socially

Subtext-LogoI love reading and I love being social. An app I’ve been exploring, Subtext, combines these two loves of mine in a digital way. Whenever I look at apps I use personally, I always think about how they can be used in the classroom. In addition to the social aspect, Subtext has major potential with close reading, a strategy for helping students master the Common Core State Standards in reading.

What is Subtext?

Subtext is an app that allows for digital social reading. It has all the features of a typical e-reader, such as iBooks or Kindle, in that students can take notes (or make notes) directly in the text and they can look up unknown words.

  • One major difference, however, is that when teachers make classroom groups, all of the students within that group can access the notes of their classmates.
  • Another difference is that students are able to have discussions about sections of the book with one another and with the teacher. Teachers can ask text-dependent questions right next to the text itself.
  • Teachers are also able to search the Web from within the app in order to find articles that are relevant to the classroom if they can’t purchase ebooks.
  • All of the features of Subtext are highlighted here. (

There have been a number of blog posts written previously about Subtext. Greg Kuloweic from EdTechTeacher talks about how to use Subtext, but also how to create custom ePub files for student use. That seems to be a relatively advanced feature, but he makes it sound so easy! Another teacher, Katrina Kennett, gives some great suggestions for how she might use Subtext in a high school classroom. These could easily be adapted for the elementary classroom.

Tutorial videos can also be found on Subtext’s Vimeo page, located here.

Subtext offers two levels of service. The free version allows the teacher to create groups of students— small groups or whole class— that can read and discuss a book. If the teacher upgrades the students to the Premium level ($2.99 per student, available as an in-app purchase), he or she can create assignments for students. A teacher can view all of the lessons without being a Premium subscriber, but they can’t be assigned to students.

Common Core Connection

According to Subtext, “The Common Core is at our core.” If you have had any experience with close reading or annotation, it is easy to see how Subtext will support these Common Core skills. Using Subtext for social reading also helps students develop a number of the 7 Cs, specifically Communication and Media Literacy, Computing and Digital Proficiency, and Critical thinking and Problem Solving.

What Do You Think?

How have you used Subtext in the classroom?

Cool Gmail Tip: username+anything

gmailI recently rediscovered something that I had learned about a few years back and then forgot about because at the time, I didn’t really understand how it worked. I had wanted to start blogging with my 6th graders, allowing them to create their own blog attached to mine, and I was exploring using Through this website, I learned that I could use my own gmail address,  add +student1 (or something that makes sense for you) and students could use that to create their edublog accounts.

It seems like everything I recommend to teachers to do with students requires them to have an account, which means they would need an email address. Not all students have email addresses, so this “trick” seems like an easy way for students to create accounts for tools such as Evernote, Voicethread, Wikispaces, and other Web 2.0 tools. Just be sure to have obtained parent permission through an AUP or something similar for students to be accessing these tools.

From the Google Support website:

“Gmail doesn’t offer traditional aliases, but you can receive messages sent to For example, messages sent to are delivered to”

Here are the steps you would need to take:

  1. Create a gmail account separate from any personal accounts you may have (for example,
  2. Assign students a number or have them use their first name to set up accounts
  3. When asked for an email address to sign up for something, students put in
  4. When the website or application sends a verification email, it will come to your new gmail account. Verify all the accounts and your class is in business!

The students will always their +student1 email address to log into the account, but any correspondence from the tool will come to your inbox. It shouldn’t be a whole lot to handle, but you should be aware that it will happen. This isn’t the ideal situation, but it works in a pinch!

What Do You Think?

I’m sure there are other ideas for using this Gmail trick with students. What are yours?

Keeping your Digital Hands to Your Digital Self

photoPart of my job as an Academic Coach is to present demo lessons. A lesson that has been requested  often is the one I facilitate on creating a classroom Acceptable Use Policy (AUP). You can see an example of what an AUP should contain by visiting Having an AUP in place before starting with mobile devices (or any technology) in the classroom is a critical step in having a successful mobile device initiative and Common Core implementation. The classroom AUP is created with student input, is stated in positive language, and is created in addition to the school or district AUP.

The lesson I facilitate with students takes between 30-40 minutes depending on how much experience the students have . Throughout the lesson, the students and I create a Tree Map (from Thinking Maps, with “iPads in the Classroom” as our topic and the following three branches: Classroom Behavior, Device Management, and Educational Uses. For each branch, there are non-negotiable elements that the teacher and I have discussed. Even if the students don’t generate these ideas in their group conversations, the teacher or I will make sure that these topics get put on the Tree Map.

One of the most important things that goes on the Tree Map is: “Keep Your Digital Hands to Your Digital Self.” In the elementary schools I work with, the students are sharing the devices. For this reason, some additional rules about acceptable use need to be discussed. Here are the things I tell the students:

  • Leave photos in the camera roll, even if you didn’t take them
  • If another student has started a presentation of any kind, leave it alone or save it and start a new one
  • In a shared Dropbox or Google Drive account, only open your own work and keep comments appropriate
  • Get permission before using the camera and before taking photos or video of others
  • If you come across anything that is not appropriate for school, tell the teacher immediately

The concept  “Keep Your Digital Hands to Your Digital Self” leads to more robust lessons on digital citizenship. The AUP lesson is just the introduction so that there are guidelines in place for students to begin using the devices in the classroom. Follow up lessons with more practice with being good digital citizens is the key to continued success as Common Core requires students to interact with content on digital media.

What Do You Think?

How do you introduce iPads and Acceptable Use to your students?



Kids Can Code!


HTML Code by Marjan Krebelj under CC License 2.0 is hosting the Hour of Code throughout the week of December 9th-15th, 2013. The creators of the website believe (rightfully so) that anyone can learn code. The most successful people in life will be those who are able to code and who understand the principles behind coding. Everything electronic is run by code, not magic! And by learning to code, students also learn to think critically, to solve problems, and to be creative.

In order to expand participation of Computer Science in schools, is promoting one hour— 60 minutes— of time for students to learn to code. On the website, there are a number of coding activities for students to try using blockly, JavaScript, and Scratch. There is even an opportunity to try coding to create apps!

Apps for Coding

Speaking of apps, there are two apps to help students gain coding skills on the iPad.

  • Daisy the Dinosaur, which is perfect for Kindergarten through second grade as an introduction to coding, and
  • Hopscotch, which is a little more advanced.

Daisy the Dinosaur allows students to choose one of two modes: Challenge or Free Play. Challenge mode provides guidance for students and teaches them how to navigate and make Daisy do things; Free Play is just that— students program Daisy without direction from the app.

Hopscotch looks a little more like Scratch and other programming languages I’ve seen for kids. The toolbox with the commands is on the left and the students drag commands into the workspace on the right. Pressing the play button animates the character or characters the student has selected to use. One of the great things about programming this way is that if the program doesn’t work, students can tinker with the numbers to refine their program.

Common Core Connection

The Common Core State Standards do not include coding as a standard. However, the standards are in place so that students can leave schools College and Career Ready. Students need to be able to solve non-routine problems and think critically, and these skills are reinforced using these types of apps to practice coding. Coding apps and websites also promote Creativity and Innovation by allowing students to play with scripts and see what happens.

I’ve heard many stories recently about students who get high-paying jobs straight out of high school because they have the skills necessary to be successful in jobs that require writing code. Daisy the Dinosaur and Hopscotch can help young students begin to build the skills they will need to be College and Career Ready.

Let’s Hear from You!

What apps have you used to explore coding with your students?


VoiceThread: Student Conversations in the Cloud

imagesMy friend and colleague came to me last year and asked for a technology recommendation for a particular project she was planning. She shared the 7th Grade History and Social Science California State Standards that were addressed in the lesson, and we discussed the 4 Cs and how Communication and Collaboration could be incorporated into the project. Immediately, VoiceThread came to mind.

What is VoiceThread?

VoiceThread is a Web 2.0 tool that allows students to upload images from their camera roll, record their narration and annotation on each image, and share their final product for commenting and conversation. It also has a free iOS app. Currently there isn’t an Android option, but there is a Chrome extension if you are using Google Chrome. If students are using the web version, they are also able to upload full videos and/or presentations.

Using the VoiceThread App

When using the VoiceThread app, students can only upload images, not full presentations. In the project that we did, which was called “The Voice(Thread) of Islam,” students first created Keynote presentations on their iPads. Then they put the presentation into full-screen mode and took a screenshot of each of their slides. Next, they uploaded the screenshot of each slide to VoiceThread and recorded a narrative that explained the life of Mohammed and the tenets of Islam.

Once the students published their VoiceThread, they shared them with other students in their grade level to teach them what they had been learning about Islam. These students were able to ask questions, and the creators of the VoiceThread answered back. This created really interesting conversations between classmates. Parents, teachers, and students from around the world were also able to ask questions and leave feedback on each VoiceThread. The best part for the teacher is that she was able to grade the projects by leaving a comment for each student, and she did so from her smartphone!

Common Core Connection

Communication and Collaboration skills  are developed naturally when using VoiceThread, especially when students work in collaborative groups to create a VoiceThread. In addition to these skills, the CCSS ELA Speaking and Listening Standards 7.4, 7.5 and 7.6 are all developed using VoiceThread. In addition, there is the potential to develop CCSS ELA Speaking and Listening Standard 7.1d, Acknowledge new information expressed by others and, when warranted, modify their own views. This would occur when students hear from other students or adults who may have a deeper understanding of the topic.

Your Thoughts

How have you used VoiceThread with your students?