Friday, December 19, 2008

Not My Usual Subject

I asked my students a couple of weeks ago if any of them had used chapter maps in their other classes and, if they had, would they be willing to share them with me so I could share them with others. Before I knew it, I had a large stack of papers sitting on my desk! Fortunately for me, these were papers I wasn't going to have to grade.

One thing I love about my seventh graders is that they are very generous young people. I'm sure they love the fact that I'm adding these to my blog so that other teachers will be able to see them! Of course, keep in mind that I don't teach science when you read these...

And when it comes from one of my special needs students, I have to say this is the most beautiful thing I've ever seen:

A few more for you:

I love when they add a key!!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Mapping Our Chapter

It has been far too long since I've posted to my blog. For the most part, I've just been extremely busy with school. But I also haven't really had a topic that I felt I absolutely had to blog about. Until now.

I'm trying to really emphasize study skills this year with my seventh and eighth graders, starting with the different ways to take notes while reading a textbook. We've done two-column notes (similar to Cornell notes), and we've done the standard outline (surprising how many of my students did not know how to do that!) But, by far, our favorite note-taking activity has been chapter maps.

Last year, our principal sent all of the teachers to a workshop on a writing program called Step Up to Writing. It's a wonderful program for teaching our students how to construct a coherent sentence, paragraph, and, eventually, essay. But it also includes many other helpful lessons, such as note-taking.

Chapter maps have proven to be a wonderful tool for my students because they can actually have fun while doing something they usually consider a painful chore: taking notes. These chapter maps seem to have something for everyone. For my artistic students, they can be as creative as they want, including in their notes illustrations and lots of color. For my future engineers and architects, they can still be very linear thinkers if that's what they want. I have one student, whose map is included here, who was very reluctant to do something "artsy" with his notes. He's a by-the-book, everything-in-its-place, kind of guy.

And then came chapter maps...

When I first told the class that we would be doing something other than two-column notes, I actually heard him let out a groan. Change? Do something different? It can be intimidating if not downright frightening for some. The next time I asked them to do a chapter map, however, I actually heard him say "Yay!" Now that's cool!

Some of my favorite maps came from my special needs students. Normally, note-taking can be a fairly painful experience for them (and me, as the one who has to read the notes). But they really got into these chapter maps and created notes that nearly brought me to tears!

Here are two examples:

Aren't they gorgeous!?!

The best story came a few days after we first tried chapter maps...and it wasn't even for one of the subjects that I teach! One of my seventh grade girls came up to me and told me she'd made a chapter map for something they were studying in science. She explained that she'd read the material in the book several times, but she just couldn't "get it." Then she decided to try creating a chapter map on the section they were studying. As she said to me, "It all made sense after I was done!" I almost cried! You mean I've actually taught my students something that works? Something they can use in other classes as well as into the future?! That, my friends, was an amazing teacher's moment! In case you're curious, here's her science chapter map (sorry, it's not in color):

If you'd like to teach your students how to create a chapter map, here are the four steps from the Step Up to Writing handbook:
  • Find the chapter title. Write the topic anywhere on the page as long as additional information can be built around it. Put this topic in all caps, put a circle around it, or box it in. Illustrate the topic. Novelty and pictures help learning and memory, so be creative.
  • Determine what subtopics you will need. The chapter subheadings may help. You should have several subtopics. Print these subheadings in large letters and connect them to the main topic. Again, it will help if you add illustrations.
  • Look for supporting details by doing a careful reading of the chapter. Check your entries to make sure that what you write down is accurate. Connect the details to the heading. Don't forget to use color, symbols, or pictures.
  • Go over your map. Be creative but remember that you want your map to be a collection of facts. When you are finished, you should be able to explain all of your drawings and markings to your classmates.
© 2008 Sopris West Educational Services

We took some liberties with the instructions, of course. First of all, we didn't map an entire chapter, just one section of it. Secondly, I wanted my students to feel free to be as creative as they wanted with these maps. To me that meant letting them make some decisions about their maps on their own. If they had not been given this freedom, I don't think I would have gotten a set of notes with a Key like you would find on a regular map!

I try to remind myself that I just need to give them the information they need and then get out of their way. This is a wonderful example, for me, of how getting out of the way of our students can allow them to find their own wings so they might soar!

Ok, before I more chapter map. I think you'll agree that this one is suitable for framing!

Some Step Up to Writing links

Website of Step Up to Writing author Maureen Auman
A teacher's site with an excellent explanation of the program.
Anchorage School District language arts site

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

First Days of School

Summer is quickly winding down for me, and like many teachers I am working on my lesson plans for the first days of our new school year. Several teachers that I follow in Twitter and Plurk have been sharing ideas lately and I thought it might be a good idea to put them all in one place. At the very least it will be a quick and easy reference for me!

Here are some blog posts I've found with first day ideas:
Here are some links to websites with first day ideas:
Both of these lists are far from complete, I'm sure. If you have some to share, please do and I'll add them here. I've also created a Diigo list for the First Days of School. I'll be adding to it as I find new resources.

I'd also like to share the two things I make sure to do on the first day of school. First, I take a picture of each student individually and quite a few of them in groups, at work, and at play. The individual photos are taken in a certain spot in my classroom. During the last week of school, I take individual photos of them in that same spot and add it to my end of school year slideshow so they can see how much they've grown (or not, in some cases).

The second thing I do is give each student a small wooden heart (which I purchased this morning from Michael's). I give them fifteen minutes to decorate their hearts however they would like, but one side must have their name and the other has one quality that they like the most about themselves. When they are finished, they put their hearts in a basket which I take around the classroom allowing each student to draw one heart. The name they draw is the classmate who will be their prayer partner for the year (remember, I teach at a Catholic school). Whenever we say prayer in class or in church, they are to keep that person in their heart (hence the wooden hearts). I preface the drawing by saying, "The classmate whose name you draw now is the person that God is asking you to pray for this year." This tends to prevent the loud "I can't believe I got stuck with him/her" groans.

Do you have a favorite First Day of School activity? Please feel free to share it in a comment.

Now, one final question before you get started preparing for your first day of school: What do you keep in your teacher survival kit? Do you have any of the following? Is there anything I should add?
  • chocolate (it always comes first!)
  • a small sewing kit
  • safety pins
  • bandages
  • suntan lotion
  • change
  • snacks
  • tea bags or coffee singles
  • bottled water
  • breath mints
  • tissues
  • hand sanitizer
  • aspirin!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Electing a President

I'm very excited to finally be able to teach social studies this year. My dream job, yay! To celebrate the realization of a life-long dream, the country has been kind enough to hold a presidential election that should prove to be quite interesting, to say the least. I've spent the past couple of days looking for resources to use with my students this fall, and just this morning found this fabulous video posted on Twitter.

Our friends at The Common Craft Show have taken a break from all things Web 2.0 to create Electing a U.S. President in Plain English. It's perfect!

After you watch the video, if you have a Digg account I know the folks at The Common Craft Show would appreciate a quick Digg here.

Monday, July 28, 2008

No More Time to Waste

Professor Randy Pausch passed away last Friday (July 25th), losing the battle with cancer that led to his Last Lecture video and book. [You can see that video on my blog here] It has always amazed me how people come and go in our lives, some close by and some at a distance. Some stay for a lengthy period of time, others flit in and out of our lives rather quickly. All have something to teach us if we're willing to stop and learn.

Professor Pausch was given an amazing gift to be able to reach so many people with his story. And yes, I did mean to say that he was the one given the gift. And I'm willing to bet he might agree with me. As a teacher I can tell you that teaching is a gift that you share with your students, but you keep a big chunk of that gift for yourself. It's a wonderful thing to be able to go home at the end of a day and say, "Wow! I reached at least one person today!" How it must have felt to reach millions, I can't even imagine.

My sympathies, my prayers, and my thanks go to his family at this time. Especially my thanks for sharing Randy with all of us, even if only for a short time.

But there's one more lesson to be learned. This one is all about time management. And it comes from the man who had so little to waste.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

How to Break In Your New Laptop

If you're wondering what the best way to break in that new laptop might be, this is NOT it!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Spam I Am

If you hate spam but love Dr. Seuss, this is the slideshow for you!


Wednesday, July 9, 2008

THE Web 2.0 Directory

I was sent a link this morning (thanks @kolson29) to the Web 2.0 Directory that you see below. It is a comprehensive list of Web 2.0 sites, everything from abazab to Zypsy. If there's something you'd like to accomplish on the internet, chances are you'll find a solution here.

Seeing this directory also led me to check out the website it came from, Scribd. Scribd is a website that allows you to "Publish Yourself Online." You can upload your own documents if you'd like to have a worldwide audience and possibly get feedback from the community. You can also explore their library of "over 12 billion words" to find documents that might be of interest to you. Once you join the website you can save any documents you like by marking them a "fave", or even download the document to your computer. If you'd like to share the document on your blog, you can easily get the embed code right above the document (that's how I managed to include the Web 2.0 Directory here).

Once you join, add me as a friend. I'm McTeach there also.

Read this document on Scribd: Web2-Directory

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Another Grammar Post?

Yes, I know, two grammar posts in a row. While you might not think of this as entirely a grammar issue, I just had to share it somehow. Nothing irks me more than finding grammar or spelling errors in publications or advertisements like the one I saw at the gas station today. Picture this mild-mannered grammar teacher standing there, pumping my gasoline (I'm still trying not to think about how much that cost me), when my eye is caught by the sign above the pumps. I read it and reread it a few times before my mind actually acknowledged, "Holy cow! There's a big glaring typo on this sign!" And it wasn't on just that one pump. No, it was on each of the six pumps, one sign on each side, twelve signs in all.

At first I was shocked, then amused, and then teacher mode kicked in. Frantically I searched the gas station for someone with a cellphone who could take a picture for me. No such luck. I even waited for a few minutes to see if someone would pull up who could help me with my future grammar lesson. The only people who pulled up were the landscaping crew from up the street. No cellphones.

What's a grammar teacher to do? Well, drive home, get her camera, and drive back to take the picture, of course! At this point you're either shaking your head or, like my mother, just outright laughing at me. That's fine. I can take it. I've got big shoulders. And somehow I will work this photo into my curriculum next year. In fact, I'd like to ask for your help. If you find an advertisement or billboard or street sign with an error, please take a picture of it for me. You can either email it to me at or add it to the group I've created on Flickr. Follow this link to the group's page, Stop the Grammar Madness. How's that for a catchy title?

But on to this morning's find.

I'm hoping that any one of my seventh graders could tell you what's wrong with sentence number one. That's right, even a seventh grader can tell you how to spell "available." Perhaps I should suggest to Chevron that they hire a few of my students as proofreaders. Just a thought.

On to error number 2. Now, unless they are actually planning on adding armor to your tires, I would suggest that they make "ArmorAll" one word and, to be completely accurate, they should also add the "registered trademark" after ArmorAll (you know, the little circle with the "R" in it). I'm sure the ArmorAll folks would appreciate it.

So, in your travels this summer, if you happen to spot an errant apostrophe, a glaring misspelling, or, heaven forbid, poor grammar, please take a picture of it and send it to me. Let us band together and say "Stop the Grammar Madness!"

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Grammar Rules!

Now, that title could be taken one of two ways. Either you're reading it to mean the rules of grammar. Or, if you're a stickler like myself, you could be reading it like this: Grammar RULES!!! Woo-hoo! [I can almost see my brother rolling his eyes at me.]

Since discovering podcasts at a technology conference last year, I've been a regular listener of Grammar Girl, aka Mignon Fogarty. Her "Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing" are quick snippets of grammar rules done in such a way that makes the rules easy to remember. No, really! You can find her podcasts, which I highly recommend, at her website or through the iTunes store.

Of course, if you're more of a visual learner do I have exciting news for you! Grammar Girl has written a book!! (I hope she doesn't get upset with me for using two exclamation points there, but I'm excited!) If you'd like to preview the first chapter, you can click on the book to the left. I'm sure after a few pages you'll be ready to preorder your copy which is due out July 8th. Just follow me over to to preorder.

I can't wait to hear the comments McBro will be making about this post!

Dance Globally

With tremendous thanks to Lisa Parisi, I have found how I will start my year off with my new seventh graders in August. Lisa shared this video with us on Twitter this morning, and I can't stop thinking about it. I've decided to show my students this video and ask them one question: "How will we connect with the world this year?" I don't expect them to go out and dance their way across the planet, but I do want connections made.

In this video you will see an American man named Matt Harding doing one simple thing: dancing. But what you will also see are real human connections being made in a universal language: dancing. You can watch the video here, but I recommend you go to YouTube and, before the video starts, click on "watch in high quality" right underneath the video (you can also choose to watch it full screen). It really makes a difference!

My favorite parts are the ones with kids (in Fiji and the Solomon Islands), the tribesmen in Papua New Guinea, and the dancers in India. That one is priceless!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Thinking About Thinkfinity

I spent two days last week in a seminar learning all about the website Thinkfinity. Once I left the seminar all I could think was "I can't wait to share this!" With three new preps starting in the fall, I know I'll be spending a lot of time this summer exploring the website and all the lesson plans it has to offer. If you're in a similar situation, or if you're just looking to find some new lessons to add to your repertoire, please start here!

According to the website, Thinkfinity:
makes it easy for educators to enhance their classroom instruction with lesson plans, interactive activities and other online resources. also provides a wealth of educational and literacy resources for students, parents and after-school programs.

All of's 55,000 standards-based K-12 lesson plans, student materials, interactive tools and reference materials are reviewed by the nation's leading education organizations to ensure that content is accurate, up-to-date, unbiased and appropriate for students.
Before you read any further, I should also warn you that I've been playing with screencasts using Jing. That's been a lot of fun! So let me show you how to get started with Thinkfinity.

Once you're at the website, click on the link for "educator." This will take you to the "educator resources" page where you can choose to either do a search for what you're looking for (on the right side of the page), or check out the "content partners" (on the top left of the page). These are the organizations who have created and contributed the thousands of lesson plans that you'll find here.

Contributors include National Geographic, the Smithsonian, National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), the International Reading Association, and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

Aside from the fact that you will find wonderful lessons and activities here, what I love most is that each lesson comes with links to everything you need to conduct the lesson in your classroom: handouts, worksheets, website links where you can get more information or your students can do their research. No more spending hours upon hours looking for just the right resource to share with your students.

If you can't already tell, I'm very excited about using Thinkfinity and sharing it with my friends and coworkers. If you have any questions about this wonderful resource, please don't hesitate to leave me a comment or send me an email. Feel free to visit the list I've created on Diigo where I'll be saving all the lessons I'm finding on Thinkfinity that I'm anxious to try next year. You can find that list here:

Monday, June 16, 2008

My Delicious Tag Cloud

Following others in my Twitter network, I used Wordle to make a word cloud of my tags. It definitely shows me what topics I've been spending the most time researching. For those who've never seen a tag cloud, the largest words are the tags that you use the most, for instance "internet safety" for me.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Today's Eco-Tips

Did you know that if one million people turned off their office computers at night, we could eliminate up to 45,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year? That's like taking almost 8,000 SUVs off the road!

Here's one that drives me crazy...literally. Many people seem to think that they need to let their car engine warm up by letting it idle (I have a neighbor who will let his car idle for up to ten minutes!) Today's fuel-injected engines don't need that warm-up period. In fact, it can actually lead to excessive engine wear. According to Climate 411, following the 10-second rule (don't let your car idle for more than ten seconds) could save you gas and decrease the amount of pollution you put into our air.

For more eco-friendly tips, visit the Environmental Defense Fund website or one of my new favorites, We Can Solve It.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

All About Reading

My second year of teaching has come and gone, and I've just noticed that I've been a bit lax in keeping up with my blog. Report cards are done, my students have left, I have no excuses now.

Before my future seventh graders left for their summer vacation, I gave them their summer reading assignment. It is very similar to the one I gave them last summer, but this year I decided to create a wiki with the assignment and reading list on it, and email the link to their parents. No excuses of "I lost the handout" this year!

I had never created a wiki before, but I'm feeling pretty proud of my creation. Not only does it have the summer reading assignment and the reading list, but it also has a page called Challenge the Teacher. The student who manages to read more than I do this summer will receive a gift card to Borders (conveniently located up the street from our school).

While explaining the wiki to my current sixth graders/future seventh graders, they asked if they could also challenge next year's sixth graders to a Read Off. I ran it by my boss and our fifth grade teacher and, well, Challenge On! The class that reads more (as a class) over the summer will receive Skittles from yours truly.

I'll do anything to get my students to read more!

Feel free to stop by my Notes From McTeach wiki and let me know what you think.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Happy Mother's Day!

A little entertainment for all you moms out there! Happy Mother's Day!

"The Mom" song, sung to the William Tell Overture, by Anita Renfroe.

What a mom says in 24 hours, condensed into 2 minutes and 55 seconds.

"The Mom Song"
Get up now
Get up now
Get up out of bed
Wash your face
Brush your teeth
Comb your sleepyhead
Here's your clothes and your shoes
Hear the words I said
Get up now!
Get up and make your bed
Are you hot?
Are you cold?
Are you wearing that?
Where's your books and your lunch and your homework at?
Grab your coat and gloves and your scarf and hat
Don't forget! You gotta feed the cat
Eat your breakfast, the experts tell us it's the most important meal of all
Take your vitamins so you will grow up one day to be big and tall
Please remember the orthodontist will be seeing you at 3 today
Don't forget your piano lesson is this afternoon so you must play
Don't shovel
Chew slowly
But hurry
The bus is here
Be careful
Come back here
Did you wash behind your ears?
Play outside, don't play rough, will you just play fair?
Be polite, make a friend, don't forget to share
Work it out, wait your turn, never take a dare
Get along!
Don't make me come down there
Clean your room, fold your clothes, put your stuff away
Make your bed, do it now, do we have all day?
Were you born in a barn?
Would you like some hay?
Can you even hear a word I say?
Answer the phone!
Get off the phone!
Don't sit so close, turn it down, no texting at the table
No more computer time tonight!
Your iPod's my iPod if you don't listen up
Where are you going and with whom and what time do you think you're coming home?
Saying thank you, please, excuse me makes you welcome everywhere you roam
You'll appreciate my wisdom someday when you're older and you're grown
Can't wait till you have a couple little children of your own
You'll thank me for the counsel I gave you so willingly
But right now I thank you not to roll your eyes at me
Close your mouth when you chew, would appreciate
Take a bite maybe two of the stuff you hate
Use your fork, do not burp or I'll set you straight
Eat the food I put upon your plate
Get an A, get the door, don't get smart with me
Get a grip, get in here, I'll count to three
Get a job, get a life, get a PHD
Get a dose of,"I don't care who started it!You're grounded until you're 36"
Get your story straight and tell the truth for once, for heaven's sake
And if all your friends jumped off a cliff would you jump, too?
If I've said it once, I've said at least a thousand times before
That you're too old to act this way
It must be your father's DNA
Look at me when I am talking
Stand up straighter when you walk
A place for everything and everything must be in place
Stop crying or I'll give you something real to cry about
Oh! Brush your teeth, wash your face, put your PJs on
Get in bed, get a hug, say a prayer with mom
Don't forget, I love you
And tomorrow we will do this all again because a mom's work never ends
You don't need the reason why
Because, because, because, because
I said so, I said so, I said so, I said so
I'm the mom, the mom, the mom, the mom, the mom!!Ta da!!!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

RSS Awareness Day

Where would I be without my Twitter network?! Last night I was in a panic because I could not for the life of me find my teaching materials for the book Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, which I'm just starting with my sixth graders. So I sent out an S.O.S. to my Twitter friends and within minutes had two fantastic websites sent to me by Diane and Pat. My Twitter network continues to amaze me with their continued generosity and kindness! Thank you one and all!

Fast forward to this morning...without a tweet from Will Richardson I never would have known that today, May 1st, is RSS Awareness Day. I'm willing to bet that very few of us knew that! In case you're scratching your head and trying to come up with what "RSS" might stand for, let me just stop you right there before you come up with something really off-the-wall. RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication which is the format we use every day to get our blog feeds sent to us. Care to know more about RSS or RSS Awareness Day, then please visit the website. Thanks again to Mr. Richardson for this one!
Blogged with the Flock Browser

Sunday, April 27, 2008

One Last Lecture

Would it surprise you to know that one of the most popular videos on YouTube has nothing to do with strange people doing stupid stuff? In fact it is a video of a college professor giving his Last Lecture. This video has probably already made its way into your emailbox, or you've heard friends or colleagues talking about it, or you might have seen Randy Pausch himself being interviewed on ABC recently.

Randy Pausch is a professor at Carnegie Mellon University who was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer last year. The video is based on a lecture series that asks the hypothetical question, "If you could give one final lecture, what words of wisdom would you leave behind?" In this video Professor Pausch discusses his childhood dreams and how he realized them.

It truly is inspirational.

"We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand."

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Now That's Creative!

Paper Art

From: jovirakel, 1 year ago

It's not my artwork, just something I got on my e-mail box and thought I'd share here. the artist:

SlideShare Link

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Do You Flock?

Image from Flickr user Capitrueno

I've spent some time today trying to figure out Flock. It wasn't in my original plans for today, but problems with Internet Explorer and Twitter started me thinking, "Wait a minute, I remember downloading Flock...why aren't I using it?" A very good question! Flock calls itself the Social Web Browser because you can do so many different things with it: check email, Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, even YouTube. I can even blog directly from Flock, which I'm doing right now for the first time. They make it incredibly easy to share everything you find on the web with your network!

I'm still trying to figure it all out and would love to hear from those who are experts at it. Speaking of experts, be sure and check out the following screencast from Liz Davis, the Queen of All Things Screencasted.

Or for a longer demonstration, check out the following video from last year's TechCrunch Conference.

And for the record, it was very tempting to title this post "What the Flock?" but I didn't know how mom would react to that!
Blogged with the Flock Browser

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Field Trip!

Field trips are a lot of work. First there's the paperwork, then there's prepping the kids for the trip, and, of course, finding drivers, and then more paperwork. And when a driver cancels at the last minute, you check your blood pressure, say a few Hail Marys, and start making phone calls.

And when you're planning a field trip to San Francisco you never know what kind of weather to expect. We were unbelievably fortunate today, as you can see from the photo I took of the Golden Gate Bridge. Beautiful, beautiful day!

Our trip today was to the Legion of Honor, where we were to see the Annie Leibovitz exhibit. I have been an admirer of her work for many years, so to get to see this exhibit was truly a privilege. Her work, mostly done in black and white, somehow manages to capture more of a person's inner beauty than can be discovered on the outer shell. I loved every minute and every photograph, even the ones that made me gasp. Especially the ones that made me gasp.

I found out just before we left school this morning that the Legion of Honor was also holding an exhibit of the Dead Sea Scrolls, along with a number of other antiquities from Israel. They only had one small portion of the Scrolls, Psalm 119 to be exact, but to be that near a religious document that was written over 5,000 years ago was truly awe-inspiring. Flash forward two minutes to find me asking one of my seventh graders, "Did you see the Dead Sea Scrolls?" After receiving the response, "Yup. Cool," I was quickly brought back to reality.

While I loved being able to see both of these exhibits on such a beautiful day in San Francisco, I have to admit that the best part of our trip was getting to spend some free-spirited time with my students. I brought my camera with me and once I started snapping pictures of the kids, the goofiness took over. "Miss McMillan, take a picture of this!" Pose. "No, Miss McMillan, come over here and get this!" Pose. I took seventy pictures in all, and can't wait to share them with my students. Goofballs, each and every one!

As we were leaving the city, I snapped one final picture. The saying around these parts used to be, "Welcome to California. Now go home!" The sign today said, "Dear Yuppies, Make sure you have more to offer San Francisco when you move here than just your Money!" Things have changed...but not by much!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Happy April Fool's Day!

If you're looking for a high-tech prank to pull on someone today, look no further!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Social Bookmarking 2.0?

My Twitter friends and I have been playing with a wonderful new tool the last few days, Diigo! (pronounced dee-go) If you're a regular reader of my blog (hi Mom and Dad!) you'll remember one of my first posts was about the social bookmarking site And I'm sure that, after reading that finely-crafted post, you were moved to venture into social bookmarking. Well, if you've gotten comfortable with it's time to try " on steroids" (special thanks to @lizbdavis for that one!)

With Diigo, not only can you bookmark web pages, but you can also highlight text and attach sticky notes to the pages you are saving. Whenever you return to those pages your highlights and sticky notes will still be there for you. A very handy tool for researching, wouldn't you agree?

Mama always said to share! Diigo makes it incredibly easy to share your bookmarks with friends and colleagues via Facebook, Twitter, or even your own blog. You can also create a group to do research together, or join one of the many groups already set up on Diigo. Once you've saved some bookmarks, you can look for other people who share the same interests as you; people who may have some fabulous information to share!

Ok, have I given you enough information yet to make you want to go check it out? Did I mention it's all FREE? Oh, NOW I have your attention! Well, before you go, check out this video from the folks at Diigo and then go sign up!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Blogging from Afghanistan

I recently read a post on Dean Shareski's blog called "A Teacher and Soldier in Afghanistan." Paul Park, a high school English teacher from Canada, has recently been deployed to Afghanistan. While he is serving overseas, Mr. Park has promised to blog as often as possible about his experiences. His blog is geared mostly towards students; I imagine he is hoping to start a conversation between himself, a soldier and teacher, and students around the world. But it makes for good reading for all of us, and is a wonderful starting point for any thoughtful conversation about the realities of this, or any, war.

Here is the link to Mr. Park's blog, The Sandbox. And you'll always be able to find the link on my blog under My Favorite Blogs.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

A Little Low Tech

How does one keep their students engaged an hour or two before they're to leave for spring break? That's the question I was asking myself last week as I sat down to write my lesson plans. A test? Sure...did that. But tests don't take long and spring fever has hit. So I decided to try out a game I saw on Brian Crosby's blog called the Write It game.

Let me just say...huge hit! The kids loved it! The funny part was they didn't even realize their teacher got them to write for twenty solid minutes and exchange what they had written with their classmates WITHOUT A PEEP!

Normally students aren't allowed to write notes to their classmates during class. But during the Write It game they are encouraged to do just that. The rules are simple:

  • Write a note to a classmate, starting with a compliment.

  • Ask your classmate a question.

  • Sign your note.

  • Deliver your note.

  • Classmate answers your question and returns the note to you.

After the note is returned to you it is considered "dead" and you start a new note. I told my students that they could only write one note to a classmate in order to encourage them to write to as many different classmates as possible (also to make sure that each and every student receives and responds to notes).

It was a beautiful thing to see 36 students writing furiously for twenty minutes. When I asked for a show of hands of all those who liked the activity, every hand was in the air! I even had a few students who stopped me after school was out, and spring break had officially begun, to beg me, "Please, Miss McMillan, can we do that again?!"


Saturday, March 15, 2008

Lights Out for Earth Hour

My seventh graders and I are currently trying to decide how we will celebrate Earth Day this year. Our goal is to do something to support the environment and, at the same time, encourage others to do likewise. Yesterday, I described for them an event that took place in Sydney, Australia last year. More than half of the city, businesses included, turned out the lights for one hour. For those who say something that simple couldn't have much of an effect on the environment, read the following comment from Chris Betcher's blog, Betchablog:

Earth Day started in Sydney last year with an idea that if we simply turned our lights off for one hour the overall effects could be substantial. Of course, it was a symbolic gesture more than anything else, but on 31 March 2007, 2.2 million people and 2100 Sydney businesses turned off their lights for one hour - Earth Hour. During this single hour, the collective effort of turning off the lights reduced Sydney’s energy consumption by 10.2%, which is the equivalent effect of taking 48,000 cars off the road. What started as a grassroots community idea quickly took hold among the corporate and government sectors, proving that a simple idea like turning the power off for an hour can gather enough momentum to make a noticable difference and raise awareness of the problems our planet faces.

This year, people around the world are being encouraged to join Sydney for Earth Hour on Saturday, March 29th. Already, 25 cities around the world have agreed to participate, including San Francisco, Chicago, Denver, and Miami. My students and I will be encouraging our school community to join millions of people around the world who will be reducing their "carbon footprint" for one hour, starting at 8:00 p.m. local time. Care to join us?

Why don't you start by watching this video about last year's Earth Hour in Sydney. And then click on the link below which will take you to the Earth Hour 2008 website where you can sign up and participate.

Monday, March 10, 2008

The 25 Tools You Should Have

I've seen this list a few times, so I thought I would pass it along. It is a list of 25 "personal productivity tools" that will help you find your way around Web 2.0 and collaborate with all those you meet on the journey. Of course, the best part about the list? They're all FREE!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Social Networking: Here's Why!

It's 3:30 in the afternoon. Do you know where your teen is? Are you worried that they're hanging out online in one of those social networking sites like MySpace or Facebook? Or are you shaking your head and thinking to yourself, "I just don't get the appeal of it!" Perhaps this will help. I was reading Wesley Fryer's blog, Moving at the Speed of Creativity, this weekend and found this video that was made by an amazingly well-spoken young woman named Vanessa Van Petten.

After you watch this video, be sure to check out her blog Teens Today with Vanessa Van Petten or how about the book she wrote when she was 17!! It's called You're Grounded!: How to Stop Fighting and Make the Teenage Years Easier. If you like what she has to say, be sure to check out her other videos on YouTube.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Cool Idea!

This past November I attended the CLMS/CLHS and CUE Technology Conference “Digital Immigrants, Digital Natives,” which featured keynote speakers Marc Prensky, Will Richardson, and Carole Anne McGuire. What a fabulous four days it turned out to be! It was those four days that led me to become so excited about all the possibilities for technology in education.

One of my favorite workshops that long weekend was Ted Lai's Podcasting Bootcamp. Not only is Ted a wonderful presenter, but he has an amazing wealth of technology information stored in that brain of his! It was also a lot of fun to be able to play on the Macbook Pros that the conference had set up for us, and record my very first podcast! I couldn't wait to get back to my students and tell them all about it.

Since then, both my sixth and seventh graders have made their own podcasts (sixth graders are actually just finishing up their book review podcasts and having a lot of fun with it, I might add!) We've been making our podcasts in our computer lab which is filled with these beautiful new iMacs. But when you have 36 students trying to record...well, I'm sure you get the picture. Or the soundbyte, as the case may be.

I just came across a new tool for podcasting on Vinnie Vrotny's blog called Gabcast and it allows you to make a recording from your phone and save it to their website for future use. Once you sign up you'll be given an 800-number that you will use to call and make your recording. I haven't had a chance to play around with it yet (I'm adding that to my summer to-do list), but if you check out Vinnie's blog it will take you to his sample recording where he explains how to use it.

Have fun!

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Tweet This!

A couple of months ago I started using Twitter and have recently found it to be an invaluable tool in my growth as a teacher. Through Twitter I have become acquainted with dozens of teachers from across the globe. One of the things I love most about the members of my profession is their willingness to share ideas, collaborate on projects, and encourage all others that we meet on this journey.

Every day on Twitter, teachers share dozens of articles that they come across in their research. Articles that I would probably never have found on my own just doing a Google search (I just don't have the patience to scroll through thousands of entries to find one paragraph of useful information). They also share information from conferences they attend...while they're attending the conference! [I can't wait to hear from all the teachers attending the CUE Conference in Palm Springs this week! hint, hint]

By now some of you may be wondering just what the heck is Twitter? Excellent question, class. Here is the answer you'll find on the Twitter homepage: "Twitter is a service for friends, family, and co–workers to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent answers to one simple question: What are you doing?"

But if you would like an answer that is geared toward we visual learners, check out the latest video from The Common Craft Show. Then sign up at Twitter and you can choose to follow me if you'd like!

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Let's Be Safe Out There!

I attended a parent education evening at school recently on internet safety and our children. Unfortunately, most of the parents who attended (and there were surprisingly few in attendance) left that evening feeling even more frightened for their children's safety. I think a few may have even gone home and thrown their computers out the back window.

I think, and I'm sure many of you will agree with me, that this is the absolute worst tack to take. I mean, seriously, if you tell your child they can't have something, don't they just want it all the more? And if you are so worried about all the wackos out there, why would you ever get on a freeway?! The world is full of, well, let's call them "interesting" people. Our job is not to teach our children to avoid them, because they can't always do that. Our job is to teach them how to handle themselves in any and all situations that come their way.

Would it surprise you to find out that worrying about online predators tracking your child should be much lower on your list than worrying about whether or not your child is being bullied online? Or that, heaven forbid, your child is doing the bullying? Check out the following article from the New York Times on internet safety, and, if you haven't already, talk to your kids. There is much they can teach us!

How Dangerous is the Internet for Children?

Special thanks to Kate Olsen for tweeting this article this morning!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Meme: Passion Quilt

Photo: fotographicpoetry on flickr


Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.

- Henry Ford

Many thanks to Kate Olson who tagged me for this "passion quilt" meme post.

The rules are simple.

1. Think about what you are passionate about teaching your students.

2. Post a picture from a source like FlickrCC or Flickr Creative Commons or make/take your own that captures what YOU are most passionate about for kids to learn about...and give your picture a short title.

3. Title your blog post "Meme: Passion Quilt" and link back to this blog entry.

4. Include links to 5 folks in your professional learning network or whom you follow on Twitter/Pownce.

My Picture

I chose this picture because it shows children totally engaged in the act of discovery. Not only is this something I thoroughly enjoy seeing in my students, but it is also how I am feeling while learning all that Web 2.0 has to offer my students and me, as their teacher.

My Passion

I have always been very passionate about the environment, literacy, and our children's future (not necessarily in that order). I wonder what lies ahead for my students, and I know I may play a small part in that. It's an awesome responsibility.

You've been tagged: I'm passing this meme onto five teachers that I've met through Twitter (and one in real life!); my apologies if you've already been tagged:

Monday, February 18, 2008

Learning in the 21st Century

I have been to a few seminars during this school year that have emphasized the need to make sure our students are 21st century literate. If you have any doubt that we in education are behind in preparing our children for their future, watch this video and then visit

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Blogging With Students

I just saw this video on TeacherTube called "Top 10 Reasons to Blog with Students." Thanks to my TwitterBuds for recommending it! And now I'm recommending it to all of you who still aren't sure why you should be blogging with your students:

Do You Delicious?

If any of my seventh graders see that I’m sure they’ll point out that you can’t “DO” delicious (at least I certainly hope they will). And why is that, class? Because “delicious” is an adjective, not a verb! Then perhaps I should be more precise. I’m referring to which is what’s known as a social bookmarking service. So now I guess we can say that is a noun. Thus ends your grammar lesson for today.

And what is “social bookmarking”, you may ask? Lest you start to think of it as a group of gray-haired librarians sitting around knitting bookmarks, allow me to explain. Social bookmarking is a method of storing, organizing, and managing all those internet bookmarks you used to save to your computer. Now you can do that on an internet website like or furl. One of the advantages of using a social bookmarking website is that it allows the user to save favorite websites to their account from any computer.

Let’s say I were to start doing research for an upcoming speech project for my seventh graders this weekend. If I find any interesting websites I can save them to my account. But what happens if I’m sitting at the desk in my classroom Tuesday afternoon and I find the perfect website that will help bring the entire project together? Do I save it to my school computer, email the link to myself at home, and hope that my email goes through? No. I save it to my account and stop worrying!

The other benefit I really enjoy is that I can share all of my links with other teachers who are in my network. When I join their network, with the click of a mouse, I can see all of the great information that they’ve been finding out there on the web. And the use of tags (think of these as keywords) enables me to find exactly the information I’m looking for.

Are you ready to have a look? Then follow the link to my account on the left-hand side of this blog (or click on the links in this post) and check out what I’ve been reading.

Oh, and did I mention it’s completely free!!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Never Stop Learning!

We tell our students that they should aspire to be lifelong learners. As teachers, should we not endeavor to do the same? We ask our students to challenge themselves every day by learning new words, new formulas, new theories. How many times have you heard “It’s too hard,” “I don’t get it,” or “Wait…what?” (that one may just be a middle school thing). But so many teachers shy away from new technologies saying “I don’t have time,” “I’ll never get it,” or “Wait…what?” (that one may just be me!) Well, my friends, it’s time for us to practice what we preach. Let’s learn something new today, shall we?

On his blog, David Warlick ( created the following to-do list for those of us wishing to become “21st Century Literate Educators.” I’ve already checked several of these off my list; how many can you accomplish before my next post?

A Path to Becoming a 21st Century Literate Educator — Self Development
  • Find two or more other educators in your school who are interested in learning and using emerging information and communication technologies. It would be of enormous advantage if you can include your schools library media specialist.
  • Identify the appropriate person in your school or district who can provide technical support and configuration for your increasingly utilized computers and network. Bake them some chocolate chip cookies.
  • Identify some edu-bloggers who are talking about the emerging ICTs you are considering. See the Bloggers to Learn From wiki, contributed to by a world community of educators.
  • Delegate! Assign each member of your team some of the selected blogs to follow, and share specific posts with each other.
  • Read, study, and discuss books about teaching and learning and the world we’re doing it in. See the Books to Learn From. wiki, contributed to by a world community of educators.
  • Schedule regular meetings (once or twice a month) at a local restaurant, coffee shop, or pizzeria (preferably with WiFi). Meet and discuss what you’ve learned and what you want to learn.
  • Start a group (A social bookmarks service) account for organizing and sharing web resources.
  • Start a wiki for posting notes, links, and step-by-step instructions.
  • Join one or more of the Ning social networks, such as: School 2.0, Library 2.0, Classroom 2.0.
  • Start your own blogs for sharing your reflections on what you are learning and how you are learning it.
  • Start experimenting in your class and share the results.
  • Share your results with other teachers in your school and Invite them into your conversation.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Basics, Part 2

Now that you know what a blog is, it's time to explore a few. If you haven't already, check out the links on the left-hand side of this page. I've included a few of my favorite blogs here. But there are literally millions of blogs out there. Where do you find them? What topics do they cover? Do you have to go check them every day to see if there are new posts? Answers: Easy. Everything. Of course not!

There are a number of ways to find the blogs you want. I use Google for both creating my blog and gathering up all the blogs I want to read. So, start here: and get yourself an account with Google. It's completely free! Once you have an account (which includes a gmail account), you'll be able to subscribe to blogs easily.

In the Google toolbar, you'll see the word "more" with an arrow next to it. Click on the arrow and you'll see a list. Let's start by clicking on "blogs" to do a search. Once the Google Blog Search opens up, type in anything that might be of interest to you and check out all the blogs that people just like you have created!

Another blog search tool I've found is Best of the Web Blogs: This website separates blogs into categories, which might be a good place to start if you're feeling a bit overwhelmed. If you're okay so far, then let's subscribe!

In order to subscribe to a blog, you're going to need an aggregator such as Google Reader (which is what I use). An aggregator is a Web application that will go out into the vast reaches of the internet and check the blogs that you subscribe to for new posts. When the author of your favorite blog, say "Notes from McTeach," for instance, adds a new post to their blog your aggregator will let you know. You don't have to check all the different blogs you subscribe to for new information. You can just check one place for all the cool information you're looking for! Sound good? Then let's try it!

You've already got your Google account, right? Then let's go back to the main Google page and find that "more" arrow again. Click on it and look for "Reader." Google Reader is really easy to use! Once you know what blog you want (did I mention "Notes from McTeach"?), click on "Add subscription" and type in Click on "add" and you'll never miss another pearl of wisdom from yours truly!

Any questions, class?

Saturday, February 9, 2008

The Basics

Shall we start with the basics? Are you wondering just what a blog is? “Blog”, short for “web log”, is something like a diary or journal on the internet where an author (or authors) can post messages so that others can view and, in many cases, write responses. For an easy-to-understand explanation of blogs, check out The Common Craft Show. Visit and click on the little reporter. “Blogs in Plain English” and “Wikis in Plain English” are both excellent explanations of two tools available in the world of Web 2.0.

Wait…am I going too fast? Sorry, but you’ll just have to pick up the pace! Our students are already way ahead of most of us; we have some catching up to do.


Welcome to my first blog! My goal for this blog is for teachers (especially the ones I work with) to share ideas for using technology in their classrooms. Our students live in a world that is so very different than the one we grew up in, and if we are going to reach them we have to not only visit their world but take up residence in it.

To this end, I will be posting information here that I find of interest and hope that you will do the same. Of course, this blog is by no means limited to discussions of technology alone. Feel free to post any questions or comments here about teaching or life in general. I know teachers have a lot to say, so let's hear it!

Any suggestions for the blog will also be most appreciated.