3rd grade plant documentaries with imovie

A couple months ago our third graders created documentary films about plants to show their learning at the end of a unit of inquiry. For my class, it was the second go with imovie after making digital stories of Christmas narratives. After posting the plant movies, we quickly moved on to the next thing and did not have too much time to reflect on the process or product of making the movies. Now that the school year is finished, I’d like to look back to see what went well and what could be improved with this project.

A note to blog readers and members of my PLN, I will embed the movies throughout this post. Feel free to “like” my students videos or even leave a comment if you have time. Thanks!

YouTube Preview Image


Collaboration – Students worked in pairs to make their imovies, and I think that was perfect for this project. We did mini-lessons on cooperation and working together, and the two people could help each other with the research, writing, and technology. For third graders, I think 3 or more people would have been too big.

YouTube Preview Image


Technical Skills – Each of my students created an imovie 3 months before this project, and the second time was much smoother. For our first try, we enlisted 6th graders to help the younger girls with the technology. This time around, my class could do everything on their own, and I rarely had to answer questions about the software. The other classes were working with imovie for the first time, however, so they went through the typical frustrations of trying something new. As our students move into fourth grade, they now have imovie as a communication tool, and I think it was worth the struggle.

YouTube Preview Image


Non-technical Skills – The movies were merely a tool of expression, and most of the hard work involved non-technical skills. The students had to read various non-fiction sources, take notes, and then write and edit scripts based on their three lines of inquiry. This process was much more difficult (and important) than learning which button to click to record their voices.

YouTube Preview Image


Citation – I wrote a separate post about how our students learned to find “free-use” images. That went well. What didn’t go so well was the citation of these images. We had the urls of each image we used, and at first the students tried to paste them as subtitles within movies. The urls were way to long though. Next we tried to give credit in the youtube description. Again, all of the urls were way too long (there is a limit to the length of your description).

In the end, we just…gave up. I know, not perfect, but I think the students understand the idea of copyright and citation and free-use images, so that’s a start. I guess I could go into youtube editor and somehow try to paste the credits into an annotation, but at this point I’m not sure if it matters.

YouTube Preview Image


Global Audience – Like everyone else in the world, our students love youtube, and they were excited to have their work available for anyone to see. It really motivated them to create a great product they could be proud of. In fact, one of the challenges as a teacher was to limit the perfectionist-instincts of some students. You can only record your voice so many times before you need to move on to the next section. I’m sure some groups would still be polishing their movies now if I hadn’t forced them to move forward.

YouTube Preview Image


YouTube Preview Image

Commenting – One nice way to follow up a project like this is to have students comment on each others’ videos. This first requires some lessons in what makes a good comment. We used edmodo to do this, and the students appreciated the feedback.


Overall, our 3rd grade team was happy with the project, and we feel more prepared to try it again next year. I’m also excited to see what our students will be able to do with their new skills as they move into fourth grade.


How coaches can get their teams to break down their own games

For both team and individual sports, most coaches would agree that videos are a powerful tool for helping athletes improve their performances. When I was in high school, this meant gathering the entire team into a room (usually on a Saturday morning), cramming around the biggest TV our coaches could find, and watching the film together (usually there was yelling involved too).

While sessions with the entire team have their benefits, now there are easier ways to use video and sports. For my latest season of coaching, I experimented with youtube commenting to have my players break down their own games.

This was middle school girls basketball, so I didn’t want to make it too intense. My goals were to have the players:

1) Reinforce positive basketball habits.
2) Build up each others’ confidence.

The prerequisites here are to be able to upload videos to youtube and have some knowledge about the sharing settings. If you are new to this, Craig has a detailed post that will fill you in. If you wondering if your teenage athletes have gmail/youtube accounts, I can answer that: they do.

The instructions were simple: watch a youtube clip of a game, and whenever you see somebody do something positive, add the time and what they did well in a comment. When they put in the time (3:23, for example), youtube will automatically skip to that part of the video when you click on the number.

Check the comments here for an example of what this looks like (to see the comments, you need to open in youtube rather than watching the embedded video):

YouTube Preview Image


As you can see, there is nothing revolutionary here, but if you are already uploading game film to youtube (which I recommend), this is a simple way to have players watch the games more actively, reinforce what you are trying to teach, and have your athletes build each other up.

Creating Homework Tutorials (flipped classroom light) on youtube

A month ago the renowned educational technology guru, Alan November, came to speak at my school in Tokyo. Though he was only visiting Seisen for a day, he pitched several ideas and encouraged us to choose a few that resonated and experiment with them.

One big idea was to let students “own the learning,” and Alan not only promoted the flipped classroom idea but wanted students to be publishing to the world. He highlighted a high school math class in America that has a website full of tutorial videos to teach other students math concepts.

As a third grade teacher, math seemed the simplest way to get started with this approach.  At Seisen we try to embed math into our units of inquiry as much as possible, but we still use “Everyday Math” as a skills supplement. And the last month, we’ve studied multiplication methods that, to be honest, are completely new to me. Using an ipad and Doodlecast Pro, I put together a quick instructional video:

YouTube Preview Image


I was bunkered down and ready to commit hours to creating videos, but it was surprisingly easy. So easy, in fact, that we immediately moved to having students create the movies:


YouTube Preview Image


When the videos were finished, I put them on edmodo so the students could watch for help with their homework. The reaction from the students was fantastic, and they’ve shown great appreciation for the video assistance.

And as predicted by Alan November, the excitement and motivation of the students creating the videos was high. They happily stayed in from recess to make them and are eager to do more.

After experimenting with only 4-5 tutorials, I definitely see this as a win – win situation for any class. Students who master concepts quickly will be motivated to create and communicate and share with students around the world; students who need more time have a resource, created by their teachers and peers, they can come back to  anytime.

The next question is where to go with this in the future, especially in regards to Alan November’s emphasis on a “global audience” for students work. I will need to think about it over the summer, but it wouldn’t be too difficult to create an entire site of 3rd grade math tutorials covering all of the concepts in our curriculum. And math could be just a beginning.

Teaching lower elementary students to find “free use” images with google drive.

After an entire day of copyright discussion at our COETAIL class last month, I walked away with the same question I usually have: “What does this mean for my students?” When a roomful of teachers needs 8 hours to sort out issues of copyright and “fair use,” how do we expect students in lower elementary to deal with the same questions?

My solution, for now, is to keep things as simple as possible. For imovies my class made recently, we used only “free use” images.

The first step is to explain to students that people own images on the internet, the same way a kid might own a bike.

Photo credit Ian Britton (freefoto.com)

Next, teach them that going around and taking images from all of the internet would be the same as going around and taking other kids’ bikes. They understand this metaphor pretty well.

Finally, explain that some nice people out there will let you use their bikes, as long as you  give them credit (citation is a whole different concept to be handled).

So now your students are hopefully familiar with the idea of copyright and “free use.” The next step is showing them how to search for images with these licenses. Again, this is not easy. It took me 20 minutes to get the above image of a bike, and I’m pretty sure I still didn’t cite it correctly. Google advanced search and flickr are both nice but a little overwhelming.

Luckily, there is an easy way to find free use images within google docs. Simply follow this tutorial I’ve made:

Unable to display content. Adobe Flash is required.
If the embed doesn’t work, please click here:


There are several other technical, copyright, and citation issues to tackle here, but hopefully this will get your students started.

Course 1 Final Project

Course one has come to a close, and though it’s a little late, I’m finally getting my final project posted. Thus far COETAIL has energized my teaching and provided several new ideas that I’ve already tried with my students, so I’ve created a unit plan that will help my students go further with what they already know (and try a few new things as well).

We use the IB PYP planners at my school, but this time I’ve attempted to use the understanding by design format. I’m not completely comfortable with this planner yet, so I will try to explain as much as possible in this blog post.

My third grade class is starting a new unit of inquiry on plants. Specifically, they will look into plant diversity, human and plant connectedness, and conservation and sustainability. For the PYP fans out there, this is part of the “Sharing the Planet” trans-disciplinary theme.

Throughout the unit, my students will employ a variety of familiar and new technology tools to help their inquiry. Here is how each tool will be used:

Familiar Technology – Google Drive

Since I’ve started COETAIL, my students have gone “all in” with google drive. They each have their own google accounts and they are familiar with creating, sharing, and collaborating on documents. For our unit on plants, my students will record their knowledge and research with digital learning logs. They will also use drive to co-create a movie script for their summative assessment (more on that later).

New Technology – Google Document Commenting

While I’ve used commenting for my students’ digital learning logs, they haven’t tried it on their own. In fact, right now, they only share their learning logs with me. As they complete research for this unit, however, the students will share their writing with peers and use the commenting feature for questioning, adding ideas, and giving feedback.

New Technology – Blogging

At least once a week, students will choose a piece of writing from their learning log and publish it to a class blog. This will be my first time to have students blog, but as a blogging veteran (well…since January), I will hopefully be able to lead them into this unchartered territory.

Familiar Technology – imovie

My students have used imovie as a digital storytelling tool for narrative stories they’ve written. Here is an example from this week:

YouTube Preview Image


For their unit summative assessment, they will be creating their first non-fiction movie, which will demonstrate their understanding of our “Plants” central idea and lines of inquiry. Now that they are familiar with imovie, they can concentrate on the content of their videos.

New Technology – youtube

Of course my students are familiar with youtube, and we’ve even become creators rather than just consumers. However, up to this point I’ve handled all of the uploading and sharing. For this unit, I would like my students to learn how to safely upload and share their own creations. I am especially interested in having them share with other third grade classes around the world.

I think that’s enough for a 6-week unit. Stay tuned for updates on how things are going.

Here’s a link to the planner if the embed doesn’t work:

Plants Planner

Enhancing Student Feedback with Digital Learning Logs

For several years I’ve given my students notebooks to use as “learning logs.” Each night, as part of their homework, they explain or reflect on something they learned during the day. It’s a great way for students to express themselves and think about their learning. And I always try to give feedback on what they write by underlining good ideas and making notes in the margins of their pages.

There are several problems with this  system, however.

1. Infrequent Feedback

Since the students bring their notebooks home every night, I can only check them during the normal school hours or on the weekends. When everything is running smoothly, I get to check everyone’s learning logs at least once a week. However, it is not uncommon for me to fall behind and go a week or two without giving students any feedback at all.

2. Space-Limited and Less Specific Feedback

When I write in the margins and at the bottoms of the students’ notebook pages, there is only so much room to make comments. I’ve often wanted to give detailed feedback but end up cutting it short due to space constraints of the notebooks. Instead of giving specific feedback, it is often limited to a general “good job today” type of comment.

3. Slow and Time-Consuming Feedback

Let’s be honest: handwriting comments on an entire class’s notebooks, on a daily or weekly basis, takes a ton of time. I’ve never measured how much longer it takes for me to handwrite something vs. type it, but I know the difference is huge. I believe checking students’ learning logs is important, but it takes away many planning periods when I could be preparing lessons or collaborating with colleagues.

Enter the Digital Learning Log

At our very first COETAIL session, Adam and Kim asked us to brainstorm a list of ideas on a shared google doc, and then we used the commenting function to give each other feedback on the ideas. Although I had used google docs for several years, this was my first  exposure to the commenting function. My first thought…this would be a perfect way to give students feedback on their ideas and writing.

Rather than diving in with my entire class, I asked four students to pilot digital learning logs. My students had already been introduced to google drive and been given their own google accounts, so the setup only took a few minutes. The steps are:

1. Students create a new document and title it “name digital LL” (or whatever you want to call it).

2. Students share the document with you.

3. Students start writing.

4. You start giving feedback. To make comments, highlight some text and then select Insert –> Comment.

There is also a button for inserting comments:

After piloting digital learning logs for a few weeks, I’ve seen several advantages, the first three being the opposites of the previous problems:

1. More Frequent Feedback

Now that the learning logs are in the cloud, I can check them any time and any place, not just during planning periods and on weekends. Another benefit: no more hauling around notebooks. The result: I’ve been able to check learning logs and give feedback more frequently.

2. More Specific Feedback Unconstrained by Space

There’s no need to cram my notes into the margins of a paper anymore–the commenting function allows me to give specific feedback that would be difficult with our traditional notebooks. For example, here is a comment I made to help a student with subject/verb agreement:

3. Quicker and Less Time-Consuming Feedback

Now that I can type my comments to students, I am able to increase the volume of my feedback while also reducing the amount of time spent checking student learning logs. It’s a win/win situation.

For the three reasons listed above, we plan to continue our experiment with digital learning logs. In my next post, I will mention a few more advantages we’ve found with digital learning logs as well as a few potential drawbacks.


One of the most interesting articles I’ve come across since starting COETAIL is Nikhil Goyal’s piece on why learning should be messy. As a third grade teacher whose room is often in a state of disarray at the end of the day, this idea is reassuring. However, it also applies to the digital realm.

A few nights ago, after giving my class an assignment to collaborate together with google docs, I came home late to see this edmodo message in my inbox:

It was the first time to have the whole class collaborate on one document, and somebody accidently erased half the class’s work (more on how to fix this later). It was digitally messy. And that’s okay. As teachers try new things, experiment, and step outside their comfort zones, there are bound to be problems. Messiness. We should embrace it and keep moving forward.

When digital messiness happens, however, there are no helpful students or cleaning staff to tidy up, so that role may fall on you. So it’s time for today’s google drive tip. First, teach your students how to “undo.” There are three ways to do this. The easiest way is to press “⌘ Z.” You can also select Edit –> Undo. And finally, there is an “undo” button (curving arrow to the left, beside the “print” button).

That only works if the students realize they’ve made a mistake right away, however. Google documents has another function where you can clean up a document that has been made “messy.” Go to File –> See Revision History. You can see all changes that have been made and revert to older versions of the document. This is also a handy tool to see how students have been editing, revising, and digitally collaborating.

So as our students move forward with technology, don’t fear the messiness, embrace it.


Ideas from the Google Apps Summit

I’m just getting back from this weekend’s google apps summit at the American School in Japan.  To get ready for a big switchover to google apps, my school sent more than 20 teachers.  With eight workshops, two keynotes, one “demo slam,” and hundreds of side conversations, the information and ideas are overflowing.

Several people suggested grasping a few things that are cool and exciting and run with those (rather than trying every single idea you hear).  While the information is still fresh, here are the ideas and tools I want to try:

1. Taking google drive to the next level.  

My third grade class has already been introduced to google drive and even started collaborating on projects.  This week, however, the whole school will receive their own google account and  be thrown into the world of google apps. This is great news. Here is a partial list of ideas I want to explore:
  • More collaborative writing
  • Online homework 
  • Digital learning logs
  • Shared vocabulary lists
  • Player created playbooks for my basketball teams

This is only a beginning.  There are hundreds of possibilities, and I am ready to start experimenting.

2. Taking digital storytelling to the next level with youtube annotations.

In the fall my students wrote a choose your own adventure (CYOA) story where each scene branched in two different directions, leading to more than a dozen endings.  It was really cool, but after presenting it to some other students, we had no idea what to do with it.

In December, after I went to Jason Ohler‘s workshop, my class tried digital storytelling and published our work to youtube.  I briefly thought about how youtube might work as a medium for our CYOA story, but I had no idea how to do it. Then on Saturday, presenter Jim Sill showed us a way to create links in youtube editing that take you to other videos.  It’s not too complicated…once you upload your video, you go into editing, then annotations, and then you insert boxes with your links. 

He also had links to some examples of CYOA stories. If we could digitize our adventure story, this would be the perfect way to tell it. This is somewhat of an intimidating project, but I have a few students who, if taught the tools, would run with it (and probably do most of the project on their own time).   

3. Expanding my PLN (professional learning network)

One of the main reasons people go to conferences, in any profession, is for the connections. In two COETAIL sessions, I’ve already learned as much from my classmates as I have from the instructors. The google apps summit was another version of this. There were amazing presenters, but in the audience, sitting around me, I talked to interesting people doing interesting things. I’ve tweeted more in the last week than I have in the first three and a half years of having a twitter account, and this blog has helped me both clarify my thoughts connect with others. These two tools will be large sources of professional growth as I move forward. 

I’m feeling unusually energized for a Sunday evening. Will update soon on how well I’m implementing these new ideas.


Simple Student Collaboration on Google Docs

In my first post, I discussed an easy way to get your class started with google docs.  Once they get the hang of logging in and creating documents, the next step is to start collaborating on projects.

For example, my third grade class recently started a new unit on performing arts, and we wanted to kick it off with an assembly performance.   We decided to take that story of “Hansel and Gretel” and create an original script that would tell the story with acting, puppets, and kamishibai (a Japanese form of storytelling).

We only had a few days to get ready, however, so the script needed to be written quickly.  I gathered the class, turned on my computer’s projector, opened up our class google drive account, and created a document called “Hansel and Gretel script.”  After we mapped out the scenes, I modeled script writing for a few minutes and took volunteers to write each scene as homework that night.  At the end of the school day, the document looked like this:

Right after school I left to coach a basketball game.  I got back later that evening, and when I glanced at the document, it was a fully written five page script.

This is the script after a few more edits.

The best part, however, was when the students went home they had seen each other writing the different scenes on the doc.  Even the students who didn’t volunteer to write peeked to see what was going on.  The next morning, as soon as they came to school, everyone was talking about the script.  Some students had noticed inconsistencies between scenes.  Others had ideas about how to make parts better.  There were a few laptops lying around the classroom, and right away the students picked them up and started working together to make the script stronger.  We went through a few more edits with the main writers and were able to focus on preparing for the performance (which went well, thanks!).

I’ve been a fan of google docs for a long time, and even I was surprised how effective it was in getting students to collaborate together on writing.  I encourage all teachers to give it a try.



The simple guide to starting your elementary class with google docs (in less than 10 minutes)

To kick off my new blog, I will be writing a series of posts on how to start implementing google docs in an elementary classroom.  I teach third grade, but these ideas could easily be used for older or even younger grades.

The thought of one google account for every student in your class is overwhelming at first.  If you have 20 students, that’s 20 usernames, 20 passwords, and 20 kids who may not understand the nuances of creating and sharing documents with other people.  The key is  simplicity: in the beginning, use one google account for your entire class.  Here’s how you can get started in 10 minutes:

Step 1 – Create a google account for your class.  I used a dormant account from when I was teaching 2nd grade, so we are “seisen2b.”

Step 2 – Show your students how to log in with your class username and password at drive.google.com.

Step 3 – Teach your students how to create a new document.  (for those of you new to google docs, simply click the red “create” button and select “document”)

Step 4 – Have students use their own name in each of their document titles.  This will allow teachers and students to easily identify documents.

That’s it!  Your students can now work on their writing at home, in the computer lab, with laptops…anywhere they have internet access.  You’ve also made the editing and revising process much easier and reduced the amount of paper used.

In my next post, you will learn how to use google docs to get students collaborating on projects.