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Using the Common Core Standards Scandalously to Bring Freedom to Learn

At Anastasis Academy we use the Common Core Standards as a basic framework to start from.  We don’t purchase ANY boxed curriculum. At all.  At least not in the typical fashion.  We tailor learning to meet the needs of our students.  All of the resources we purchase are purchased with specific...

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#RSCON3 How a blog post and Twitter conversation started a school

Posted by admin | Posted in Reform Symposium Conference | Posted on 22-07-2011

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Today is Friday! The day elicits joy in and of itself but this Friday is a particularly exciting Friday because it means that we are exactly one week away from the Reform Symposium virtual conference!!  I’m excited for the learning and sharing in store for all of us next week.  If you aren’t familiar with the Reform Symposium check out my last post HERE or search the #RSCON3 hashtag on Twitter for all the latest buzz.

In the past I have only done the behind the scenes work as an organizer of the conference.  This year we had a last-minute shift in our Keynote presentations leaving one slot open.  I was honored when @ShellTerrell suggested that I take the spot and talk about the school I am starting.  I’m excited to share the journey with all of you and better get my tush in gear if I have any hope of being ready for that.  :)

I hope you will join me for my Keynote next Friday, July, 29 at 4:00pm MST (if you want to translate that into a different timezone you can choose that here.)  I’m looking forward to sharing Anastasis Academy with my PLN who played such a LARGE part in making it what it is.

I’m only a small part of this 3 day FREE conference, take a look at the presenter page and you will quickly understand why I was so honored to be asked to be a part of that group-greatness!

See you there!


One more thing- if you are interested in lending a helping hand during the conference, we are still in need of some moderators!  You can learn more about what is involved in moderating here.

Brown Sharpie: Mathematical Cartoons Inspired by Sharpie Fumes

Posted by admin | Posted in Analyze, Blogs, Create, Math, Middle/High School, Secondary Elementary, Teacher Resources, Understand (describe, explain), Websites | Posted on 21-07-2011

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What it is: Math geeks, eat your heart out…Brown Sharpie is for you!  I found Brown Sharpie by accident today as I was perusing the app store in iTunes.  Brown Sharpie is a collection of “mathematical cartoons inspired by sharpie fumes” drawn by Courtney Gibbons.  Gibbons is an aspiring mathematician and the cartoons were created as she completed her undergraduate and graduate degree.  Many of the cartoons reference higher math and may be too complex to use in the k-8 classroom.  There are a few here and there that could be used with younger students with a little explanation.  High school, college math students and math geeks are the main demographic for these cartoons. The cartoons are shared blog-style so you can search through them using the “next” and “previous” buttons or you can view by tags using the “view by…” word cloud in the right side bar.


How to integrate Brown Sharpie into the classroom: The Brown Sharpie cartoons would be a fun start to math class.  Put a cartoon up on a projector-connected computer each day for a little math humor to kick off class.  The cartoons will give you the opportunity to discuss current math topics as well as give an introduction to math concepts not yet touched on.

Why not hold your own Brown Sharpie day?  Give each student a brown fine-tipped sharpie to create their own math cartoons?  These can be shared on a class blog, website or wiki.  This will help your visual learners and artists think about math in a whole new way!  Students of any age can create a Brown Sharpie cartoon of their own!

In addition to the blog, Brown Sharpie is also a free app in the iTunes app store.

Tips: Some of the cartoons are PG-13 with alcohol or relationship references.  Best to preview the cartoon before displaying before your class. :)

Please leave a comment and share how you are using Brown Sharpie in  your classroom!

PBS Learning Media 14,000+ k-12 resources!

Posted by admin | Posted in Apply, Interactive Whiteboard, Knowledge (remember), Middle/High School, Primary Elementary, professional development, Secondary Elementary, Subject, Teacher Resources, Understand (describe, explain), video, Websites | Posted on 20-07-2011

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What it is: PBS Learning Media is a fabulous collection of 14,000+ resources that are separated by subject area.  The collection reminds me a lot of the popular Discovery Streaming with one big difference- the resources on PBS Learning Media are free to use!  Resources can be searched by grade level, media type (document, image, interactive or video), language (English, French, Spanish) and accessibility (caption, full mouse control, display, transcript).  Resources include great descriptions of the resource, the grade level appropriateness and the ability to add the resource to your favorites.  PBS Learning Media is a great stop for high quality resources that will meet the learning needs of your students.  Many of the resources have associated support materials for both students and teachers.

How to integrate PBS Learning Media into the classroom: The resources in PBS Learning Media are wonderful for all grade levels.  The site is easy to search and “favorite” so that the resources you need for your classroom are always at your finger tips.  PBS Learning Media is a great place to find videos that enrich learning in the classroom, can be used for anticipatory sets to introduce a concept or to illustrate a difficult concept.  The interactive resources are the high-quality games you find on the PBS and PBS Kids websites.  Some of the games are appropriate for an interactive whiteboard or projector-connected computer and played with the whole class, while others work well in a computer lab or computer center activity.

PBS Learning Media would make a good media center on classroom computers for students to explore areas of interest in learning, research and make connections in learning.

Tips: If you don’t already have a PBS account, register for a free account to gain access to more than 5 resources at a time. :)

Please leave a comment and share how you are using PBS Learning Media  your classroom!

Pegby: Online Collaborative Peg Board/Organizational tool

Posted by admin | Posted in Apply, Classroom Management, collaboration, Create, Evaluate, Middle/High School, Secondary Elementary, Teacher Resources, web tools, Web2.0, Websites | Posted on 19-07-2011

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What it is: Pegby is a neat online organizational tool that has fantastic customization features.  With Pegby, students (and teachers) can share boards enabling them to collaborate with friends, family, coworkers and classmates.  Pegby is organized by a series of columns, students can decide on the number and organization of columns.  Columns can be easily expanded and collapsed so students can focus on exactly the columns they need at any given moment.  Students (and teachers) can add cards to each column.  The cards look just like a 3×5 note card and can include a title, content, tags, attachments, a due date and color coding.  Note cards can be dragged from one column to the next, shared with others or added to a stack of cards.  Students can filter all of their cards by tags to find exactly the cards they are looking for when they need them!  Pegby lets you have multiple boards so you can organize life to your heart’s content.  A Pegby board can be downloaded as a .yaml file (not familiar with that file extension, it is a unix executable file.)

How to integrate Pegby into the classroom: Pegby is one of those tools that I get totally geeked out about.  I love the 3×5 note card look, the columns, the tagging, the associated calendar dates.  A recipe for edu-love I tell ya!  Pegby is a great tool for organizing your teacher self this year.  Add ideas for the school year, tasks, lesson plans, to-do items, etc. to your board as cards.  Create columns that make sense to you and organize to your heart’s content!  Want one better?  Share your board with colleagues so that you are all on the same page and can share lessons/resources/task responsibilities.

Older students can keep their school year organized by adding assignments, tasks, uploading work, taking/keeping notes and sharing their board with Pegby.  As students work on and complete tasks, they can move items from one column to the next.  Those unit tests won’t be a problem because they can tag pertinent information and easily study and review tagged information.

Pegby would also be a great tool for organizing research projects (even collaborative research projects).  Students can decide how they want to organize their research and notes, tag information and attach documents.  All of the research is in one place and tagged for easy reference when it comes time to compile the research.  Pegby could be a useful tool for students attending college classes online.

Does your school use standards to keep track of learning?  Why not create columns of Standards headings, and associate each standard with a note card?  Students can upload any files or work associated with the standard.  OR instead of making each column a standard heading, columns can be associated with mastery level of the standard.  As a student moves through levels of mastery, they can move that standard card from one column to the next making stacks out of the standard subject.  Students can keep track of their own learning, share their “Standards” board with teachers and parents.

Is your class collaborating with other classrooms? Create a collaboration board where all involved classes can organize a project together.

For younger students, create a class Pegby that can be accessed on an interactive whiteboard or projector-connected computer.  The Pegby can be added to and organized as a whole class.  Make Pegby updater one of your classroom jobs that happens first thing every morning.  Each student will have the chance to be in control of the board throughout the year and all students will benefit from observing and helping organize the day.  (Something we don’t model enough for kids in my humble opinion!)

Tips: Pegby does require a verified email account for access!

Please leave a comment and share how you are using Pegby in your classroom!

History Buff: Primary source newspapers, historic panoramas, audio

Posted by admin | Posted in Evaluate, History, Knowledge (remember), Middle/High School, Secondary Elementary, Teacher Resources, Understand (describe, explain), Websites | Posted on 18-07-2011

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What it is: I’ll admit it, when it comes to websites, I’m a judge-a-book-by-it’s-cover kind of gal.  If the website isn’t user-friendly and visually appealing it is an almost guaranteed skip for me.  History Buff is one of those forgettable websites. It isn’t overly visually appealing, it isn’t even really obvious how to get started.  I nearly skipped it.  History Buff has something going for it though: thousands of primary source newspaper made available digitally.  Students can search through newspapers from the 1700 all the way until 2004 and see the scanned version of it digitally.  I have to admit, it is pretty cool to be able to “hold” history in your hands that way.  To interact with the “actual” newspaper is pretty neat…worth the lack luster of the site even.  To search for articles, students just need to  choose a time period folder, choose a subfolder and go to exploring these primary source documents.  History Buff also boasts historic panoramas.  Students can view a virtual tour of Colonial America, the Henry Clay Ashland Estate, the William Henry Harrison Homestead, Daniel Boons gravesite, Davy Crockett’s childhood home, Anna Jarvis Home, the site that marked the end of the Civil War, historic sites for Abraham Lincoln, the national historic site for James Garfield, the William McKinley monument, the birthplace of Thomas Edison, Warren G. Harding’s Tomb, and the homestead of William Howard Taft.  A reference library on History Buff contains articles and audio on a variety of events and even hoaxes in the news. Students can also find facts about any state and interactive quizzes.

How to integrate History Buff into the classroom: History Buff is a website that can help history come to life through story, virtual tours, audio and primary source news papers.  I suspect that most students fall into the judge-a-site-by-it’s-cover category like me.  For this reason, if I was using it in my classroom, I wouldn’t send students directly to the website to do a lot of digging on their own.  Instead, I might direct them to the portion of the site I knew we would be using through a classroom website, wiki, blog or use a Weblist or Symbaloo to link to them.  It is amazing how changing something as small as the entry point into a site can change a students attitude about the site (heck, I’m like that too!).

Once I got into History Buff, I really appreciated the connection to primary sources and the way that the “actual” newspapers bring history to life.  I REALLY liked the hoaxes in news section and suspect that students will get a kick out of it to.  Your kids will be asking, how can people be SO gullible?  These kinds of stories are wonderful discussion starters and will make students think critically about their own news media.  As a fun extension, have your students write their own hoax news stories.

Okay, now for demystifying the navigation of this site. See the itty bitty brown words in the left sidebar that are all squished together? That is the navigation. For real.  I didn’t notice it at first either!  Go ahead and click on one to test it out…not so bad when you know what you are looking for, right? Right.  For your convenience, I’m linking to each page of the site below so you can easily find what you are looking for.  :)

Tips: History Buff has a newsletter you can subscribe to if you are, you know, a history buff.  Just enter your email in that box under the header and click “subscribe” and you are on your  way to becoming even history buffier…or something like that.

Please leave a comment and share how you are using History Buff in your classroom!

Automatoon: Create HTML5 animations

Posted by admin | Posted in Create, History, iPod, Language Arts, Math, Middle/High School, Primary Elementary, Science, Secondary Elementary, web tools, Websites | Posted on 13-07-2011

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What it is: Oh. My. Word.  I’m slowly but surely making my way through my Google Reader and stumbled on a post by @rmbyrne on his EXCELLENT blog Free Tech 4 Teachers about Automatoon.  I immediately started playing with Automatoon and cannot say enough about how COOL it is!  Automatoon makes it simple for students (or teachers) to create animations within a web browser.  My very favorite part? It was built-in HTML5!! Do you know what that means? It works on iDevices (like the iPad and iPod touch).  A non-flash animations site! Pure genius.  This is one of the easiest animation programs I have seen.  Students can draw characters in pieces (kind of like a puppet or paper doll) and then create points where the pieces connect.  The drawings can animate by moving, bending or adding pieces to the picture.  SO cool!  After watching the demo video, I think even young students could have Automatoon mastered in no time.  The tools built into Automatoon are pretty robust for what a simple program it is to use.  Your students will look like animation masters, bringing their creations to life.  When students are finished creating their animations, they can download them as a zip file to be uploaded to any site.  There are two ways to login, students can login with a “throwaway” login that will not save their animation (but will let them create and download a quick animation) or login with a Google account.  This is fantastic for schools that take advantage of Google apps for education!

How to integrate Automatoon into the classroom: Kids of all ages love cartoons and animations, Automatoon gives them the tools to be the creator of those cartoon animations.  Students can create animations to animate processes in science (think the water cycle, plant life cycle, rock cycle, etc.), vocabulary words (in either native language or a second language), animate a piece of creative writing, animate a persuasive argument (think advertisement), animate a “book report”, animate solving a math problem, animate a story problem or animate an event in history.  The possibilities are really endless on this one, students will only be limited by their imaginations.

Automatoon is easy enough to use that with a little pre-planning, students could create animations in 5-10 minutes.  This is handy for those situations where you have one or two computers in the classroom or a limited time in a computer lab.  After learning how to use Automatoon, students can quickly create animations to illustrate learning.  Automatoon is a FANTASTIC little tool for your visual learners…they will “get” it.

Are your students having a hard time understanding a math or science concept or a vocabulary word?  Why not create an animation that illustrates the concept/word and share it on an interactive whiteboard or projector-connected computer?  The animation can be saved on the classroom website so that students can go back and access it throughout the year.

If you have a classroom website or wiki you could create a classroom animation collection.  Students can upload their creations to the class site for a great collection of learning.  It would be neat to animate sight words (Snapwords style), math or science vocabulary and create a visual “glossary” online that all of your students have contributed to.  Classes can add to it every year or you can work with other classes around the world to create a collaborative glossary.  This would also be a great tool to aid students in creating their own “e-textbooks” about any subject.  Students can create animations to embed in their other research, reflections and links.

Way cool.

Tips: Be sure to watch the intro video (above) to get a 5 minute low down on how to use Automatoon…very useful!

Please leave a comment and share how you are using Automatoon in your classroom!

Boy’s Life Comic Creator

Posted by admin | Posted in Create, Foreign Language, Language Arts, Math, Primary Elementary, Secondary Elementary, web tools, Websites | Posted on 12-07-2011

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What it is: Boy’s Life Magazine is a great place to reach those boys in your class that are reluctant readers or writers.  On the Boy’s Life site, you will find a Comic Creator where students can create a comic strip.  The Comic Creator is easy to use, offering enough tools for boys to really customize their comics but not SO many that they get lost in the forever search of pictures.  A great balance!

How to integrate Comic Creator into the classroom: The Boy’s Life Comic Creator is a great little tool to help your boys connect with writing and story telling in a way that they enjoy and understand.  The tool is simple enough to use as a writing station/center on classroom computers.  The comic does need to be created in one sitting, there is no way to save and come back to a comic later.  Completed comics can be printed off and shared.

The Comic Creator is a great entry point into writing but could also be useful in math for creating and solving story problems.  Students can create a short math comic strip that can be traded with other students to solve.

Students taking a foreign language class could practice new words by creating a comic strip story in Comic Creator.

Use Comic Creator the first week of school as a way for boys to tell all about themselves.  Each student can create a comic strip that stars them as the main character.  Invite other students to try to match the comic strip with the student as a fun interactive bulletin board activity (Think comics on one side, student pictures on the other and string to draw the “line” between matches).

Tips: I learned about the Boy’s Life Comic creator from The Book Chook, be sure to follow this GREAT kids lit blog!  The Boy’s Life website is packed full of goodies that your boys are sure to enjoy (there is even some reading that gets sneaked in there :) ).

Please leave a comment and share how you are using Comic Creator in your classroom!


Reform Sympoisum: Who wants to help moderate?? #RSCON3

Posted by admin | Posted in education reform, Reform Symposium Conference | Posted on 11-07-2011

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Perhaps you will recall a few weeks ago when I wrote about the Reform Symposium virtual conference? This is the FREE conference that will be held July 29-July 31st that you all are invited to!  Ringing a bell?  Good, because now I need to ask for a little help :)

The Reform Sympoisum is a labor of love, put on by people who care about education and professional development just like you!  We need moderators to help with each session.  The job of a moderator is to help the presenter field questions, introduce the presenter and press “record” so that we can make sure we capture each session for our iTunes feed.  It is easy to do and you can do it in your jammies from home!  If you are available the last weekend of July, we hope you will consider helping us out!  We need moderators from EVERY timezone so that we can cover everyone.  If you can help, check out the Moderator Planning Sheet (a Google Spreadsheet) and sign up for the time you are available.  Please be sure to enter your full name, a twitter handle and an email address in the space provided.  We need multiple moderators for each session so feel free to volunteer for a session that has already been volunteered for.

We will send out more information, directions, and training opportunities (easy) for those willing to moderate.


Feel free to spread the word about this request :)  Thank you in advance to all who will help to make this weekend successful!

Mastery Connect: Standards Based Grading made manageable

Posted by admin | Posted in Classroom Management, Evaluate, Grade Level, iPod, Teacher Resources, web tools, Websites | Posted on 08-07-2011

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What it is: Mastery Connect is both an online standards tracking tool (parts of it are free) and a free iPhone/iPod/iPad app.  Because the app is truly free, I’ll start with it.  The Mastery Connect app is a handy way to keep the Common Core standards accessible while you teach.  The app sorts the common core standards by grade level, subject and strand.  This is REALLY nice for quickly locating and referencing standards.  Mastery Connect the website is the real gem.  The site is brilliantly designed, easy to navigate, aesthetically pleasing and best of all, it works the way you think it should.  With the Mastery Connect Master Tracker, teachers can assess core standards, monitor student performance and report student progress to parents and administrators.  Master Tracker makes formative assessment that is standards based manageable to keep track of.  Rearrange standards in the Master Tracker based on the order that you teach them in.  View only the standards you are currently assessing, and view the entire standard as a pop-up.  Within Mastery Connect, teachers can create and share common assessments.  Similar in feel to other social networks, Mastery Connect lets you connect with other educators to share assessments, interact and offer each other support.  It is easy to expand your PLN into the space, just find teachers with similar interests and goals and start sharing!

And now for my VERY favorite part- bubble sheet scoring. Mastery Connect uses GradeCam technology to make assessment about as quick as it could be.  Just hold up bubble sheets to your webcam or a document cam and it is instantly scored and entered into the Master Tracker associated with the student it belongs to and the standard it is addressing.  Seriously cool.  I am not a big fan of multiple choice testing (mostly because I think it is a lazy way to find out what a student knows and doesn’t give a true picture of what a student knows or can do) but I think I have figured out how bubble sheets can be used by teachers during formative assessment.  Students get immediate feedback from Mastery Connect and can see where in the standards they need some extra work.  Teachers can view class wide item analysis of assessment and can track progress by standard.

Students can also use iDevices (iPad/iPodTouch) with the bubble sheet app.  This is connected to Master Tracker so as soon as students input answers, it shows up live.  Are you feeling your assessment work-load lighten yet?

Students can also take assessments using any web browser.  It really is a tool that works for schools with minimal tech, to schools that have ubiquitous tech.

Mastery Connect exports to ANY gradebook or student information system.  A one touch export feature makes it about as quick as it could be!

Mastery Connect makes it quick and easy to keep parents informed of student progress.  Student reports can be quickly created and emailed or printed out for parents.  You can also enable parent notifications that will notify parents of student progress as it is entered.

How to integrate Mastery Connect into the classroom: Mastery Connect is actually the tracking tool we will be using at the school I am starting, Anastasis Academy.  We are doing away with traditional A, B, C, D, F grades all together.  I have yet to be convinced that traditional grading is productive and helpful for students (or teachers for that matter).

At Anastasis Academy, we are using the Common Core Standards as a framework for setting learning goals.  I see these standards as the critical-mass-of-knowledge that students need to be successful in learning.  Hear me say, I DO NOT believe that these standards are comprehensive of everything a child should, or wants to know.  They are simply the framework that we will use to build the rest of learning around.  They will help us to ensure that we have a rough road map of where we are headed in learning.  Students, teachers and parents will sit down for a conference each block and use those Common Core Standards to help map out learning goals.  You will notice that we don’t leave this up to teachers alone.  We want our students to have ownership and a say in what their learning looks like.  We don’t want the teacher to be the holder of all the keys, slowly revealing learning to students as they see fit.  Instead, we want students who can look at the learning ahead of them, and offer input about how they would like to go about that learning with parents and teachers acting as guide.  The Mastery Connect app will be SO helpful in this process.  Everyone will be able to access those standards easily at any time they need to recall them.  Brilliant.

We will use Mastery Connect a little differently than I’m sure most schools will.  Instead of bombarding students with multiple choice “bubble” quizzes and assignments, our bubble sheets will be for teacher use.  For example, we may create a bubble sheet based on a standard with the specific skills or content that we are looking for.  As we formatively assess students, the teacher can fill in that bubble sheet either on paper or on the iPad for instant input into Master Tracker.

Tips: I have been extremely impressed with all of the Mastery Connect tools.  Not all of it is free but the portion that is not free is very affordable ($4/student/year).  I like that Mastery Connect offers parent, teacher and student all of the information and tools they need to understand where they are and how they are learning.  The people at Mastery Connect have been dynamite, they are helpful, flexible and friendly!

Please leave a comment and share how you are using Mastery Connect  in your classroom!

PlanbookEdu: Lesson Plans in the Cloud

Posted by admin | Posted in Classroom Management, iPod, professional development, Teacher Resources, web tools | Posted on 06-07-2011

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What it is: Planbook EDU is a great cloud-based (a.k.a online) lesson plan book.  Because Planbook EDU is hosted in the cloud, all you need is an Internet connection, your plans travel with you.   Planbook EDU is listed in the Google Apps Marketplace and is a natural fit for schools already using Google apps for education (email, calendar, documents, etc.).  The free version of Planbook EDU has nothing to install, let’s teachers access their planbook from any internet connection, is easy to use with word processor like editing, is fully customizable, works in all major web browser and is iPad/iPhone supported (word processor editing doesn’t work on these devices).

How to integrate Planbook EDU into the classroom: I am a big fan of organizational tools, they let me organize my thoughts so that in the fire hose of ideas what is important (the learning goal) doesn’t get lost. Planbook EDU is a simple way to organize and plan units and your school year.  I love that it is cloud-based so that I can access my plans from anywhere and any time.  The basic features are robust enough to get your planning in place and the extras that can be added on make it VERY useful.

The premium version allows you to embed your planbook directly in your classroom website…very handy for keeping students and parents up to date with what is coming!

Tips: For $25/year, you get all of the free features plus- attach files to lesson plans, assign Common Core Standards, embed your planbook on any website, share lesson plans with anyone, print from your browser, export to Microsoft Word or PDF, built-in spell check and enjoy access to unlimited planbooks each school year.  EVERY user gets a free 14 day trial of all the premium options from Planbook EDU.

Please leave a comment and share how you are using PlanbookEDU  in your classroom!


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