Category Archives: video

Mystery Number Skype Makes Learning Stick

One of the best parts of my day is when I get to see kids apply what they learn to a real problem. It’s even better when I can see the wheels turning in their brains- which is just what happened this afternoon in Ashley Lawrence’s class.

Ashley’s class did a Mystery Number Skype with a class outside of the United States (we can’t say where because they have a geography Skype in the works!) In a Mystery Number Skype each class chooses a number and keeps it secret. Students in each class ask yes/no questions to try to narrow down the choices until they hone in on the correct number.


There’s a lot more to it than just guessing numbers. Students come up with problem solving strategies while forming questions. Because one strategy is to guess which number is in each place, place value is one skill that is strengthened. From here, students need to remember what it means to be odd or even. They show understanding of the concepts of less than and more than. In some cases step counting is a skill that is necessary to solve the puzzle.

This fourth grade class decided to up their game and use their understanding of factoring by asking if the other class’s number was divisible by 5 (it wasn’t)- so they could eliminate both 0 and 5 in the ones place.

Imagine how you could expand this with students who can use multiplication and division skills, decimals, and fractions. The possibilities are endless.

The whole experience, start to finish, was about 15 minutes. Compare this experience with 15 minutes of worksheet practice. Which one do you think sticks better?

To find classes to connect with via Skype, see the Mystery Skype site or join Connected Classrooms Workshop  on Google +.


Phone It In: 5th Grade Blogging

Last month I went fishing for elementary school teachers willing to try blogging in their classrooms. Second year teacher Ryan Burk shut his eyes and grabbed the bait- his class is glad he did!

Blogging is a great way to get kids thinking and writing. There is something about knowing you’ll be published that increases the care students take in writing. They are make a point to know facts,  write in a grammatically correct structure, and to sound as if they know what they are talking about.

We started the blog with a field trip to the Maine State Museum. The goal was to capture moments of interest from the museum tour so students could look back and remember what they saw and learned. We used EasyBlogger Jr, an app that allows students to take videos or photos and easily narrate over top. One tap of a button publishes their post to the classroom blog.

The setup was easy. I had the app on my phone but could just as easily have used an iPad. Ryan identified photographers and videographers ahead of time and we met with the class to go over guidelines:

  • The purpose of this project was to record learning, not to take selfies
  • Students had the choice of what they chose to blog about, but they needed to know facts about the items they showcased. They also needed to speak about them in their own words- no reading off the exhibit placards.
  • Fluency is important- students were encouraged to practice before posting.
  • Real people would be reading and listening to their work.

After a reminder in the museum lobby I gave them the phone and then we let go.

The kids roamed the museum in chaperoned groups. Our bloggers collaborated with their peers to determine what should be covered. They learned about the items they were looking at, took photos and videos, and became roving reporters. They posted their reports on the fly. Once back in the classroom they were eager to review what was published.

Ryan followed up in the classroom with a session on expanding the blog. What else, he asked, should they be reporting? His students chose eight categories that fit their needs with the understanding that these could be increased as needed.


As an aside, we set the blog up a little differently than the app intends. Normally students each have an account identified with their name and photo within the app. For compliance with our digital citizenship curriculum we decided to create “content accounts” based on the categories the students chose. 

Students choose the category that best fits their post and stay within our internet safety rules by remaining anonymous.

The result? Students are excited about writing. They WANT to write and post to the blog. They plan their posts carefully for content and grammatical correctness. They look for feedback in the form of comments and use these comments to improve their work. Most importantly they are viewing content through a newer, worldwide lens. Families can follow the blog and get a birds-eye view of what’s going on in the classroom. Take a look at Mr. Burk’s Classroom Blog and send some feedback their way.

Using Video for Critical Thinking

Today a colleague asked me to resend a link for a site that offers free documentaries. He was talking about DocumentaryTube, a well organized site offering free documentaries on demand. He might also have meant YouTube’s Documentary section, with a mixture of free and low priced videos available. I’ll also toss Snagfilms in there, and of course I’ll send him to my go-to guy Richard Byrne and his FreeTech4Teachers entry on the Best Free Documentary Websites.

I won’t stop there, however, because it’s important to reinforce the importance of guiding students when using video. Just turning it on and tuning out as you grade papers is a poor strategy- because it is exactly what students will want to do (ok, without the papers, but you get the idea). Using video in the classroom is a GREAT way to help students practice their critical thinking skills, but only if you give them a framework within which to work.

How many times have you chosen a video for class and thought “This will be a great piece to use as the center of discussions about a,b, and c?” You show the video and ask what the students thought about a,b, and c…and nada. Not a peep, except maybe from your top student.  It’s not that the video wasn’t relevant or your students slept through it- perhaps is just is too long from critical thought to discussion.

You can improve this by using some simple tools. All involve giving students prompts to think about or find examples of in the video. Then-

  • Create a twitter hashtag for students to use to respond to the prompts while the video is on. This allows students to quickly post ideas while they are thinking of them. Of course, all students would have to have a twitter account. You can create a classroom account for students to use if you wish- this comes with a caveat to also talk about acceptable digital behavior.
  • Use a backchannel chat tool like TodaysMeet to let students make points or ask questions as they watch.
  • If the idea of a chat makes you nervous, use a shared bulletin board like Padlet
  • Create a viewing guide to be printed or shared on GoogleDocs to help students formalize their thoughts or take notes

When students have their thoughts in print it makes it easier to go back and have the conversations you originally planned. The Twitter, backchannel chat and bulletin board tools have the added advantage of giving you the ability to monitor questions as the video goes along. You can stop the video and let discussions come up as they bubble into existence and thoughts about the topic are fresh.

TEDEd-The Simplest Flipped Classroom Yet

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I’m always so appreciative to work in a district with such smart colleagues. Dan Tompkins, Tech Integrator in Richmond, sent this along to me and it’s a goldmine.

I’ve always been a fan of TedTalks. They are often relevant to what we teach but finding them and then figuring out the best way to use them can be time consuming. Not anymore! offers the ability to “build a lesson around any TED-Ed Original, TED Talk or YouTube Video” – or use one that someone else has shared.

Each lesson has questions, resources for deeper learning, and discussion questions that can be answered online in a forum environment. By logging in and creating a class you can create a classroom of your own using some of the “too many to count” TedEd resources, or you can make your own with your flipped videos that are posted on YouTube.

Some intriguing titles I found:

This tour site is well worth the time to visit.



If we’re being honest, all of us have had evil thoughts during a presentation at some point in our lives. Presentation software is one of the most poorly used tools available- but it doesn’t have to be. Whether you are … Continue reading


Truthfully, by the end of May I am spent. I have several more weeks left in the classroom for which I need to stay energized. It’s especially important in a performance based environment because truthfully, the school year may end on June 13th but the opportunities for students to work towards meeting measurement topics they may have missed (or get a head start on the ones they will be working on in the fall) don’t end.

Screenshot of MentorMobThe management of this flexible learning environment takes a bit of creativity, and MentorMob is a tool that fits really well into this model. I learned about MentorMob from Carla Casseli in a twitter feed- more evidence that my personal learning network is always there to feed my brain.

So what is MentorMob? It’s a collection of learning playlists. Each playlist consists of videos that have been created and posted by educators like us. Think YouTube meets Wikipedia.

So how can this help? The site is well organized with sections for each content area as well as other areas of interest. You can also upload your own videos to share with your students. Many of the playlists are organized into steps, making completion of work a little bit easier if you can either find ones that match your learning progressions OR organize your lessons around a particular playlist.

There are tabs for both academic and recreational playlists. It’s worth a trip through all of it. It includes teacher professional development playlists and is a treasure trove for tech integrators.

UPDATE: Moments after posting this blog entry, up came this blog post by Daniel Edwards about how MentorMob fits into a scaffolded taxonomy. It’s a good read.

FindThatFile Search Engine

Findthatfile is a way to search for downloadable files (audio, video, image, document and software are among the many options) on the web. It offers ways to search for all files in a particular topic or just a certain type of media.

Unlike a regular search engine, It DOESN’T give you links to webpages or descriptions of the content, so the interface looks a little different from what we’re used to.  A sample search on the topic of cyberbullying looked like this:

You can see from the image that it shows you the size of the file, the date it was published orginally, the format type of the media and the link to the website it came from. Some files have an icon that indicates that it is certified to be virus and malware free. Because this icon doesn’t show up on all files,  you’ll need to make sure your protection software is up to date and running before using this service.

Next up is  how and why you would use this service. You might:

1. Proceed carefully. Make sure that you stay within educational fair use guidelines. This is not an opportunity for you to create a media rich digital textbook and publish it on the web. Respect the intellectual property of others and don’t distribute anything without proper licensing or attributions.

2. Use it ss a resource to provide information to accomodate a variety of learning styles. You may find that you can point students to resources that are created in a format that fits the way they learn best. You could also use it to find ways to “front-end load” the information prior to attacking a reading piece.

3. Use it ss a way for students without internet access at home to have access to material. Because the files are provided for download by the authors, students can download them to their laptops or iPods for personal use.

Take a look- see what’s out there. Send some feedback with your thoughts.