School Week Round-Up: Week Thirty-Seven

This was the last week of school.

Lessons: 
This was the week I gave students the closest thing to “free time” they ever get when using technology: a menu of choices with the ability to ask for more choices that I might have been unaware of or forgotten.

Except there was an element that we had never had before.

Chickens.

Okay, so if you follow me on Twitter, you certainly knew about the chickens already. I think I’ll write about them in more detail in their own post. But to summarize, I had my afterschool science group set up and study an incubator. The program ended the week before the chickens were due to hatch. I kept the incubator in the computer lab so when chicks hatched, we livestreamed it using Periscope so everyone in the building could see without issues. The chicks hung out in my room until the last day of school (today). Another teacher took them to her father, a farmer, who will try to provide us with fertile eggs in the future so we can repeat the activity.

And it did sort of work out, class management-wise.

 


Support:
 One of the more techie things I did this week was DJ the end of year carnival. I’m really glad I solicited requests in advance, firstly because it’s clear I am not very aware of what music the kids are into lately. Secondly, because I was able to find clean versions of some songs that were requested.

Things I Did Well: Everyone I was responsible for made it to the end of the week healthy. Even fourteen chicks.

Things I Will Do Better: Friday Caitlin left Tuesday Caitlin a heck of a lot to do. Friday Caitlin feels some guilt. But not enough to have actually done more.

Cold Prickly: Lots of physical damage this week. I’m talking about folks in the building, not the technology. The person who wore the “I Survived Field Day” shirt on Field Day ended up in the emergency room before noon. This is not a joke, but she did turn out okay so it’s still kind of funny.

 

Warm Fuzzy: Doesn’t get much warmer or fuzzier than this. Happy summertime!
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School Week Round-Up: Week Thirty-Six

This was the second-to-last week of school. Next week, we lose a lot of structure; we have field day at both our elementary and the other one in our city, so that will disrupt both building’s typical schedules. Each grade level will have at least one field trip; third grade will have at least two. And the last day of school is our End of Year Carnival. So there will be more flying by the seat of one’s pants this upcoming week.

Lessons:
So I usually let students have free time* during their last computer lab class of the year; invariably I seem to promise it in a weak moment of classroom management earlier for some reason or another. So, some classes already got that this week, because I will not have them next week (because of field day or field trips). Most classes did not, though.

*Free time is not actually free in my classroom, because when you tell students sitting in front of internet-connected devices, you don’t actually want them to do whatever enters their head. Like doing a Google search for “play Five Nights at Freddy’s” which is a game you have to pay for and that they cannot install on the computers without admin privileges, which means that they click on an ad that says they can play it for free, except it’s not free, and the cost is that some janky website adds an extension onto Chrome without prompting, and then the kid gets pop-ups about hysterectomies that they don’t understand on multiple levels.

Yeah, that really happened once. I was so mad. I specifically told that sub not to tell the students they could do anything they wanted, and he basically told the students they could do anything they wanted. It was over a year ago and it still irks me.

Anyway, instead of truly free time, students get a menu of choices that they can explore independently. Most of those choices are websites that they find engaging anyway because there are games, but a couple are actually programs on the computers themselves.

Support: Lots of physical damage this week. I think some kids or teachers are stacking things on top of Chromebooks.

Things I Did Well: There was one weird day this week where I had a sub so I could attend a training at our school admin building. But then, the training only lasted through the morning. But when I went back to school, it turned out they were short a sub anyway, so I was going to let my sub remain in my room and I was going to cover this other person’s class. But then our receptionist went home sick (something really atypical for her). So then we combined the class I was supposed to cover (very small class) with another very small class, and I ended up covering the office for the afternoon! Whoa. On one hand, I can see why they don’t just put any sub there – too much risk of a negative interaction. Then again, it didn’t get nearly as hectic as it sometimes does. I was actually able to use some of my natural abilities (knowing where all 320+ kids in the building should be at all times) combined with the training I was just at (it was for an add-on to our gradebook I used to access rosters). I actually got a lot done. Not just covering phones and giving out ice packs either, there was also stapling, so you know I’m hardcore.

Things I Will Do Better: We had a Right to Read themed week going on, and I missed the memo on things like Epic Hair Day and Pajama Poetry Day. Fam, you know I’m all about this stuff. I really gotta engage better with building-wide initiatives.

Cold Prickly: At least four of our chicken eggs are total duds, meaning no chickens inside. They looked the same when candled at Day 15 as they did at Day 5 – clearly all white and yolk inside. A couple more eggs look to me like they developed somewhat, but not as far as others. Whether that means they are developing slowly or late, or that they started and stopped, I don’t know. But we are definitely not expecting all twenty eggs to hatch.

Warm Fuzzy: We are expecting more than half the eggs to hatch still. And, I was worried about whether or not I’d be able to find homes for chicks, but I think I’ve got it covered! One local farmer even offered to take chicks and, in exchange, provide us with fertile eggs in the future! Then take chicks, and in exchange, provide fertile eggs again later on. Eggs and chicks in perpetuity! Who cares which comes first!

School Week Round-Up: Week Thirty-Five

 

It’s definitely feeling like May up in here. A lot of teachers are using their personal days before they lose them, and so our building gets a little more subby than usual at times, particularly Mondays and Fridays. And indoor recess in May is a goshdarn travesty. (This is me, shaking my fist at Mother Nature.)

Lessons:
So I wanted to do something with my classes that tied in with the curriculum from 4-H my afterschool group is using. So I plotted out an open-ended project where students identify a problem or challenge for animals, then come up with a high or low tech solution for them. It involves brainstorming, research, creativity, design, and communication. The only actual requirement is that they create an image of their idea, then write a paragraph explaining it. Some students are writing about endangered animals, others about pets. One student is writing about his own pet, describing the steps his family is taking to identify what they suspect is a food allergy causing their bulldog discomfort. A pair of students started working together on deer; one found the PETA Kids website on hunting, one found an online hobby magazine that lists positives of hunting. Their ongoing disagreement is surprisingly polite as they bounce ideas off each other.

Unfortunately, I took two afternoons off this week (instead of taking one whole personal day). So I didn’t have my Tuesday or Thursday third grade classes. Tuesday was already a week behind everyone else due to the PD day we had the week before. Then, I found out that I also have to do day-long trainings outside my building next Tuesday and Thursday too. So, I will not have them again this week either. (Not something I knew when I planned my personal time off, I assure you.) And that means I won’t have my Tuesday or Thursday afternoons again until… the last week of school.

These classes are also sometimes challenging in the classroom management department; I don’t think a sub could lead them through an open-ended assignment, not without additional support. It’s too much. Or rather, I bet a sub could lead them through, but I want my sub to keep coming back so I won’t ask her to. So I am planning alternate lessons that my sub can do with these kids.

Support: Actually I got really excited when I came back after time off Wednesday, because a sub left a note describing a computer issue a student had. “He figured out to do X,Y, and Z, and I let him, and it worked – I hope it was the right thing to do?” Yessss. A sub who is comfortable enough to let kids try troubleshooting and trust their results. Hearts and stars forever!

Things I Did Well: I got my sub to pick up all this week, and at least one day for me next week. (I am really not super thrilled about missing so many school days in the last month of the year. I think it’s possibly the worst time for subs and sub lesson plans!) I had never met her in person before Tuesday, but I know she picked up for me before. In fact, she remembered that I left her a paper mug and a K-cup of hot chocolate. I joke that I like to roll out the red carpet for subs, because their job is like mine but also harder in some ways. (Maybe easier in some ways too, but it’s not important for me to focus on that.)

Things I Will Do Better: I did not budget my time particularly well on Tuesday, so when my sub came, I didn’t have lesson plans written out. So I scribbled out the schedule and told her about Google Classroom, but I didn’t actually leave the detailed document I would have liked her to have as a safety net. I did better for Thursday. But, I need to do even better next Tuesday because I’ll be gone all day. Yipes!

Cold Prickly: I was the person in charge of giving all the make-up standardized tests. I thought the last one was Wednesday, for a child who had been sick for a week and then came back. He wrapped a day later than most because he had two parts to make up, plus the day he came back there was a class field trip. And who wants to miss a field trip to take a standardized test? If that were me, I would definitely be wondering what my classmates were up to instead of concentrating on math. So we postponed his makeup so he could go on the field trip, which is a reasonable thing to do when you have the time.

But then another student had to make up both parts, and showed up on Thursday to take tests, and it was a bit of a schedule blip that I hadn’t anticipated (no one could have, really).

Warm Fuzzy: So many warm fuzzies this week. First, when I took off Tuesday, that meant I wouldn’t be there for the afterschool program. I got another teacher to sub for me, but the leader of the activity was actually a third grade student. He had pitched some ideas for the afterschool group over the past couple weeks. I shot a couple down because they were too expensive, too time-consuming, or too dangerous, but he didn’t give up. Finally he found a video of a science demo on getepic.com that seemed doable. (In fact, it is something I did years ago at a different school.) He put together a shopping list of materials, I got them for him, and he led the activity in my absence (with adult supervision). He also got rave reviews! I’m so proud of him!

Also, when I was on my way to school on Wednesday, I decided to go through the Dunkin’ Donuts drive-thru to get a treat. (Wednesday is the one day I consistently drive my car.) The line was long (what do you expect at 7:30am?) so I was rocking out to some tunes. When I got to the window, the person said, “You can go on forward, the person behind you is going to pay for your order.” WHAT? Usually it’s the person ahead but okay! Every time my day got a little rough after that, I reminded myself about the kind thing someone did for me, and adjusted my attitude accordingly.

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School Week Round-Up: Week Thirty-Four

Huh. So I came over to WordPress to write this post, and realized that my post from last week never published. So I’ve backdated it appropriately and published it.

To be honest, I’m a little disappointed in myself for not writing more frequently about other topics. Lately it’s just been weekly roundups. That’s better than nothing, I should hope, but it doesn’t really give me the opportunity to reflect more deeply on a broader spectrum of topics. Part of it is time; I have less free time this quarter. Writing on the blog ranks below sleeping and eating on my to-do list. Part of it is that, while I do reflect every day on my teaching, it’s another thing to organize my thoughts in a way that can be communicated to others. I think I’m going to try to work on that for the next couple weeks.

Lessons: What a roller coaster week! We had a teacher PD day on Tuesday (due to local elections), then mathematics AIR testing on Thursday and Friday for third grade. I also threw my own twists into things, so lessons were not super consistent this week. It made me glad that students are so used to routines that classroom management was almost never an issue.

For the most part, we wrapped up the assignment from last week and went on to do math and literacy activities online.

Support: When it comes to standardized testing, I much prefer the ability to use devices connected to the internet than the old paper-pencil method. It is so much less stressful to distribute materials, and then not the urgent need to collect and send away after. But when something goes wrong, it can be heart-stopping. Luckily, we didn’t have any huge issues this week. Most small issues were solved with reboots. One student in my group had an issue with ChromeVox being on (which was, of course, very distracting for him) but we got that fixed before we officially started.

Things I Did Well: I started to become concerned with the “countdown” we’ve been using on our morning announcements. Since the beginning of the school year, we’ve included how many school days have gone by, and how many were left. It was really useful when approaching breaks, and when we neared 100 days of school. I kept it in because many teachers enjoyed hearing it (maybe more than the students, even!). But as that number of days left became smaller and smaller, I became concerned that it would lead to some sense that they also mattered less and less.

So what to do?

Well, I have also been in touch with our local 4-H office. They provided me with rocket launcher materials so that my after-school group could do this:

Now they have provided us with… an incubator! And 20 fertile chicken eggs.


Now our school day countdown has become a countdown to hatch day (May 23rd, if you were wondering).

Things I Will Do Better: I wanted to better incorporate the concept of the incubator into our tech lab lessons next week. I want students to explore the idea that technology is not just computers and phones and tablets and Internet; it can help animals too. So maybe we’ll use the incubator as a jump-off point and it can inspire research and design through the end of the year.

Cold Prickly: I did not walk to work even once this week. There was always something, either during the school day or right after it, that necessitated me having a car. For example, it was Monday when I drove out to the farm to pick up the fertile eggs — could not have walked there! It was nice to have an extra fifteen minutes to get ready at home (or, on one morning, pick up some coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts). But, this morning in particular, I realized how a twenty-minute walk (fresh air, listening to a podcast instead of music) really helps me get in the right mindset to begin the work day. I really look forward to walking again next week.

Warm Fuzzy: The cafeteria lady has fed me twice today. She runs our school cafeteria by day (today serving cheese quesadillas) and her family restaurant by night (Chinese-American cuisine; she is from Singapore originally). My husband picked up the takeout but he said he saw her working. So she’s fed me twice today!

Maybe I’m just happy not to cook?

School Week Round-Up: Week Thirty-Three

This week has been much better than the previous two, I think.

Lessons: This week I decided to give students an assignment that requires them to take snapshots to insert in their Google Slides. They already know how to Google search for images, and how to manipulate images, so I thought snapshots might be useful to them in the future.

I used another Christine Pinto template/lesson as the starting off point, but I didn’t follow her idea exactly. For example, I didn’t make the slides collaborative; I have done that before and it becomes hard to manage for certain amounts of students. (I would absolutely do it for students working in small groups.) I also upped my expectations of students since mine are older than hers.

Interestingly, students also challenged themselves. It was really obvious to me how different classes have different personalities. One class wanted to share their slideshows with their friends; no other class asked about that. Some students asked if they could use some of the items I have in the lab as props. One student asked if he could take a snapshot with his entire class in it. I said he had my permission, but I wasn’t going to arrange it for him. So towards the end of class, he had to wrangle and direct his own classmates (almost all of whom were willing to participate) in order to take the snapshot he wanted.

Some students asked things like, “Can I draw on the snapshot after I take it?”

I responded with, “Are you asking for my permission, or my instruction?”

The student would say, “Am I allowed?”

I would say, “Yes.”

Then the student would ask, “Can you show me how?”

And I would say, “I don’t know how.”

There are a lot of things you can do with GSuite apps where I’m pretty sure they’re possible, I just don’t know how to do it off the top of their head. And I don’t mind if students explore in a safe setting in order to answer their own questions.

Support: The person who needed the most tech support this week happened to be myself. Snapshots didn’t work in Google Chrome until we changed some of the pop-up and Adobe Flash settings in the browser. Luckily, once I figured it out, it was a pretty quick (if repetitive) fix. When the activity wouldn’t work in Chrome at all, I had the student reopen it in Safari and it always worked just fine there, too.

Things I Did Well: I liked how I handled classroom management this week. But, students were out of seat taking creative snapshots, or taking snapshots with friends, or asking classmates for help because I was already helping someone else. At one point the principal looked in the open door and scolded a particular child for being out of his seat, because from the outside looking in I guess it might have appeared that he was off-task. (Also he has had some issues being on-task in my class in the past, it just wasn’t this particular week.) So I just shut the door for the future.

Things I Will Do Better: I think I am having some weird time management issues. Some of it is outside my control, but some of it is within my control. Especially since we only have like twenty days of school left; I think it’s really important to maintain order as we go into the summer. And that has to start with self-discipline.

Cold Prickly: Because of commitments outside the school day, I did not walk to school as much as I usually do. I drove so I could make it to after school meetings in different locations. Having my car at work led me to, er, have fast food for lunch way way way more often than is typical for me. Man, I am not impressed with my willpower (or lack thereof).

But at least now I have a Yoshi toy from McDonald’s.

Warm Fuzzy: My spouse’s semester is wrapping up (he is a college professor) so his schedule is different, with a lot more grading. But he has used some of his flexibility this week to make some things much, much easier for me. And I am very grateful to him for that.

School Week Round-Up: Week Thirty-Two

Yikes. This was not a banner week to be me.

Lessons: I had to print interims this week, which in the past has been something a little more time-consuming and stressful than it has any business being. Plus, someone gave me a huge box of dot matrix printing paper. So, I linked students to Art Hub for Kids and let them choose what they wanted to draw and color. I swear, the computer lab has never been quieter. The kids grab paper and pencils, pop on their headphones, and follow along to whatever they want to draw. I also provided crayons so that students could color their drawings if they wanted to. I like the site because it has a lot of tutorial subjects that they probably don’t cover in art class, like Pokémon and Shopkins. They can’t simply trace from a desktop, either (which is how I created Lion King artwork I was so proud of when I was their age). They can pause and rewatch videos. Some students used the search engine to find what they wanted; others browsed the site until something caught their eye. Quite a few first graders clicked on ads, especially one that declared they could play Minecraft for free. Better they learn now, in a safe environment, that such claims can’t be trusted!

So yeah, it was a very self-directed week in the lab. So… of course my principal dropped in for an unannounced observation. Yikes. I haven’t been able to bring myself to read it yet.

Support: I spilled coffee on my own work laptop on Friday, despite being the person who should probably know better. Coffee also got on the interims I had already printed, a stack of pictures students had drawn during class, and my pants and chair. I guess it was good I was wearing black pants.

I was putting the lid on my coffee cup at the time.

Things I Did Well: I started doing the after-school program this quarter, and I think the classroom management from the school year up til now is really helping the “homework” portion of the program run more smoothly than before. (Plus, not going to lie, I’m relieved that we no longer assign math homework apart from simple facts practice. I had to use Khan Academy to refresh myself before subbing for a math lesson about fractions on a timeline.)

Things I Will Do Better: Spilling my coffee wasn’t my only bad moment this week. I’ve also spent the entire week with a nasty sunburn. I spent most of Saturday outside on a sunny day; I had purchased sunscreen specifically but left it behind when I actually went out. I got it on my face, neck, and chest (when I realized I had forgotten my sunscreen I made a point of keeping my jacket on, despite becoming very warm). My forehead and nose were particularly bad, especially in contrast to my eyes which had been covered with sunglasses. I call the look “reverse racoon.” Anyway, I couldn’t do much for my nose (especially when it started peeling – makeup would have made it look worse, not better), but I wore hats and headbands creatively this week to cover my forehead. It was a good plan, especially when I lifted my school logo ball cap on Tuesday to scratch my head, and a second grader cried out, “WHAT HAPPENED TO YOUR FACE?!”

I also forgot my purse at a restaurant for almost 24 hours. Again, not a banner week for me.

Cold Prickly: So I had a weird week emotionally, I think, and it was affecting my performance in the classroom. Particularly, there were a few times when students’ behavior would have merited a stronger response from me. Instead of handling the issues myself, I got in touch with my principal or other teachers and sort of passed on the problems. It was like, I couldn’t escalate my own emotions, particularly anger, even when it was an appropriate response to a given situation. In fact, I felt like I couldn’t intensity of multiple emotions at work this week, even positive ones.

Then on Thursday I realized I had left my purse at a restaurant after spending significant time searching for it at both work and home. And I was so angry with myself. So angry. I berated myself in the car, and I came home and just laid in bed for thirty minutes, clenching my teeth, near tears. All the mistakes I was making were affecting me harshly, and they were no one’s fault but my own. So I think I was having a hard time being angry with other people because I was spending to much emotional energy being angry at myself.

And then on Friday I spilled coffee on my laptop.

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YOU HAVE BETRAYED ME, BITTER WAKEY DRINK

I really needed a weekend by that point.

Warm Fuzzy: I am looking forward to the March for Science this weekend. I see it as less of a political protest, more of a show of support for a spectrum of scientific issues. As an educator, I feel like it’s important to support scientific inquiry early in life; therefore it’s logical to support science across the board. Otherwise, what is the point? Understanding the scientific method can help us think critically about many things. Some people might believe it needs to remain politically neutral, and in a perfect world, it probably could. But we don’t live in a perfect world; we live in a world where scientific research needs funding, and policies that ignore its findings could have repercussions that affect our planet in ways we can’t even fully comprehend until we’re facing them.

So while I’m not super pleased that people felt strongly enough about this that a march had to happen, I’m happy it is, because I think it will feel nice to be around like-minded individuals en masse. My prediction, too, is that signs of cheesy STEM jokes will outnumber signs of politically vehement slogans, so yay.

And then on Sunday I have no plans whatsoever, and I intend to keep it that way.

Teachers, Challenge Your Misconceptions in 2016

That’s my younger brother there, bound for an Ivy League university this fall. He’s a smart guy, but even smart people fall into the trap of believing something that’s not quite true because someone with authority told you.

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I don’t blame my father. I think the whole “sky blue because it reflects the ocean” is a pretty common scientific misconception. And when kids “learn” things at a very young age, they may spend years taking them for granted without even examining their ideas closely until they face a direct challenge. This is well-documented in science, but I remember having some false beliefs about Catholic teaching that I got from my mother giving me short, simple answers — and me filling in the blanks for myself. Kids might do this on their own, too, by observing simple cause and effect in everyday life. A child might notice that water freezes when cold and becomes hard ice, whereas cheese melts and becomes gooey when exposed to heat. This child might become very confused when gooey cookie batter becomes hard, blackened discs when left in a hot oven for too long. Maybe the right idea enters their head, but sometimes they come up with their own private explanation that’s actually far off the mark.

It’s a phenomenon I’ve become more familiar with as an adult. I’ve said things to students that seemed, to me, like passing remarks — but a student took them to be carved in stone. I try to be careful and admit when I don’t know something, maybe even model how to find it out. But I also try to guide students through evaluating sources such as those on the Internet, since I don’t want them to accept everything they hear and read unquestioningly for the rest of their lives.

So, I forgive children this mindset. And I forgive the adults who tell them things. Kids in certain stages of development have to have very concrete ideas that we can hopefully move towards more abstract ones. But this happens at different speeds for different children. Some kids can wrap their minds around theoretical ideas with relative ease; others, like my brother, graduate high school without fully understanding how sunlight gets scattered by molecules in Earth’s atmosphere.

It’s also not entirely children who fall into this trap, either. Adults might have misconceptions about any number of things, and if you don’t pause to examine them, you might never recognize that they’re misconceptions at all. And this is not something that has to do with intelligence. Sherlock Holmes famously had no idea how the solar system worked, which most sixth graders could probably reasonably explain. Smart people fall into wrong ideas all the time. The fact that we can filter the sources that reach us through online news and social media doesn’t help this; humans tend to choose to listen to things we already agree with. We have to continuously question the authorities we trust and examine our beliefs.

I personally strive to confront my ideas when I encounter information that provokes deeper thought, and sometimes I have to seek out a larger variety of perspectives in order to do so. I hope that doing so makes me a better model for my students, and helps me better understand them as they struggle to reconcile difficult concepts.

Nature: Still Weirder Than Pokémon

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What is this?

Yesterday I went walking around our local university campus for a smidgeon of Pokémon Go (I’m an adult, and I get to decide what that means). I bumped into a woman I had bumped into on campus previously, who was also playing Pokémon Go. This woman, in her forties, told me that she had lost a whole lot of weight in the past few months but started to flag and gain it back the past couple of weeks. At the urging of her adult children, she downloaded Pokémon Go and started using it to get herself to walk more out of the house.

Well, this time she had a buddy with her — one of my former students! Now a fifth grader, he started going for walks with his neighbor, her for the exercise, him to play Pokémon Go. I dig that system! I joined them for a bit, my former student and I telling each other our favorite pocket monsters.

We started noticing weird bundles of leaves dangling down from some trees — one, two, three. One dangled down far enough that we were able to get a really good look at it. It was some sort of caterpillar with its head poking out of a cocoon. (Not a chrysalis, I assured my spouse later — it was definitely a structure separate from the caterpillar and not its hardened body.) Not only did it have a cocoon, but it also used leaves from the tree to graft onto its cocoon. How peculiar! My former student wanted to believe it was a monarch, but I suspected otherwise.

I tried taking pictures, but the wind blew it around and I couldn’t get it to focus. I ended up taking video, which was also mostly out of focus, but I was able to screenshot one very clear half of a second.

Then, when I got home, I tried using search engines to figure out what it was. Alas, “caterpillar cocoon dangle tree leaves” is not a specific enough to get the results I wanted. I tried a bunch of other keywords, but the fact is, I do not know enough about creepy crawlies to have a useful and effective vocabulary for online searches. The Internet would not be enough!

So today we went to the local nature center, which is affiliated with the same local university, to hopefully ask someone who knew more than I did. I leafed through some of their materials before I took out my phone and showed the screenshot to someone in the know. Lo and behold, they recognized it — a female bagworm. This one would have been tricky to figure out online even if I had better search terms. Bagworms make their bags covered in the leaves of the tree they live in — in this case, sycamore — so when you look up images of them, they all might look very different from each other and it’s hard to tell whether it’s really the same thing. Additionally, the person I showed the picture to could tell it was a female bagworm because female bagworms never turn into moths, only males do! The females create and then live in their bags, eventually laying their eggs inside them before they die.

However weird those Pokémon get, never forget — nature is weirder.

Virtual Endangered Zoo

I’ve been working with one of our second grade teachers (she of the superior graphic organizers) on a project with her reading/social studies class.

We have now reached the culmination of our project, and the Virtual Endangered Zoo is now open for business! Each child researched an endangered species of their choice, and built a website about them. Their teacher, Mrs. Pancake, created a hub website where you can easily access all their sites.

This was a fun project that also turned out to be easier than I thought it would be. Firstly, students did research projects earlier this school year, so they already knew research methods basics. Secondly, Weebly For Education was very easy to use once we played around with it. We discussed other ideas such as publishing an eBook, but I thought more parents would be able to see a website than would be able to download an eBook. Plus, Weebly uses responsive web design by default. This means that their sites adjust accordingly when viewed on a smartphone or tablet. My guess is that means even more of our families will be able to see our sites, since not every family has a computer hooked up to the Internet at home, but many may still have smartphones.

In addition to research methods we used in the past, we added a social media element for kids who were up for it. When a student got stuck with one particular detail, we sought out a zoo or aquarium we thought might know the answer. Then, we tweeted them. Students wrote their question on a dry erase slate and I took a photo of them and tweeted at the zoo or aquarium. This got us around Twitter’s 140 character limit, and I think it also displayed to others that these were real kids asking questions.

How long does it take to tweet a zoo? Minutes, fellow educators. Mere minutes, even if you include a photo or a video. (I’m trying to convince more of my coworkers to sign up for Twitter, can you tell?)

On Weebly, we could even embed the responses to our tweets thanks to the “embed code” widget!

(Another thing I really liked about Weebly for Education was its image search. It has its own search engine for images, and if you include a free-to-use image, Weebly automatically appends the site with a Creative Commons attribution. Digital citizenship win!)

I would like to thank the following zoos (particular whoever runs their social media accounts) for their help:

The students who did not use my Twitter account still may have used social media in the form of Youtube. We used specific search terms and checked that videos we put on our websites were from sources we trusted, like the Oregon Zoo or National Geographic.

Students who finished early also entered the Akron Zoo’s snow leopard naming contest that we discovered from looking at their website. So if anyone at the Akron Zoo peeps this, sorry for the sudden influx of multiple entries from my and Mrs. Pancake’s email accounts!

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Thank you again to the zoos and aquarium that reached back out to us over social media. I got excited simply because I’m a giant nerd, but our students were excited because they felt like someone out there was listening to their questions and taking the time to answer thoughtfully. It’s hard to put into words how respected that makes a kid feel, to be taken seriously by an adult they don’t already know. So thank you for taking the time to teach us about animals, as is surely your mission, but also thank you for making the effort to reach out to a kid hundreds or even thousands of miles away.