Middle School Teacher in Rural Alaska

Using Technology to Bring Books Into the Classroom


Links from presentation:

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Codeswitching Charts

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Diamante Poetry

This lesson plan to teach Diamante poetry is awesome! It even comes with an interactive tool for the students to write their own poems.


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You wouldn’t think that adding just two books to your classroom library would change your instruction that much.  Two new books among hundreds of other books shouldn’t be a huge deal. But, when I added Poetry Speaks to Children and Hip Hop Speaks to Children these two books completely changed my poetry instruction and the way students thought about poetry.

This fall, thanks to the wonderful support of DonorsChoose, I added Poetry Speaks to Children and Hip Hop Speaks to Children to my classroom. As the name implies these books are both poetry collections designed for children.  The poems in these books are very kid friendly and are supported by wonderful illustrations.  Yet, the thing that really makes these books stand out is that they come with an audio CD where the poets read the poems aloud!

One day after my students had been reading silently I opened up itunes on my smartboard, put the book under the document camera, and played Charles R. Smith’s “Allow Me To Introduce Myself.” The students loved listening to this and asked me to play it again and again and again. There is something pretty special about listening to the poet read his or her own work.  Listening to a poet read his or her work gives you such a good sense of the mood and tone of the poem. And, it really is just FUN to listen to these poems!

After I discovered that my students loved listening to these poems we listened to one each day as a whole class and then analyzed the poems. The students really enjoyed this time. It has also been a great time to review literary terms, practice close reading skills, and do some great critical thinking.

Coincidentally, the first grade teacher in my building also bought these books over the summer and has been using them with her students as well. While she and I use them in different ways, this is a great book for students of all ages.

The bottom line here is that if you are looking to add more poetry into your classroom you HAVE to get these two books.

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Increasing Participation

So, I must admit that I’m becoming a bit obsessed with the Teaching Channel. Because I am the only 6th/7th grade teacher at my school I don’t often get to meet and talk with grade level peers. I get fantastic ideas from my colleagues, but I still am always looking for more ideas. The Teaching Channel has given me a wonderful window into the classrooms of colleagues across the country. I stumbled on this one today, that I love, about increasing participation. I have wanted to start implemented the “Cold Call” technique from Teach Like A Champion, but hadn’t quite figured out a way to do it. I do keep a can that has notecards with student names on them that I use for calling on students, but I think I like this method better- it will feel more random to students.  The idea is simple: tape playing cards on students’ desks. Then the teacher pulls out a playing card from his or her desk to call on students.

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This video describes how a teacher manages transitions in her classroom. With my middle school students I have the “magic word” – which is “Go.” Students aren’t allowed to move or do anything until the word “go” is stated. This teacher uses a similar idea, except that the transition word changes each day and is related to academic vocabulary. I’m always trying to find more ways to incorporate academic vocabulary in my teaching, so this is one thing I may try.

In the video she also dismisses students by groups through a grab bag quiz. To earn their way back to their seats students need to answer a quick academic question. Looked to me like a great way to transition when you don’t want all students moving at once and is also another great way to fit academics into every moment.

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More Iditarod Photos

Our dog Thunder with the musher we got him from- Bruce Linton.

Thunder's son Philadelphia.

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I use this blog mainly about my teaching experiences and professional development, but my wonderful PLN has asked for pictures of the Iditarod. Since I get so much from my twitter friends, I can at least give back a little by posting some pictures. 🙂

Most of the pictures below are taken by my husband.

Ally Zirkle leaving Koyuk in the morning.

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Geography & Technology

At ASTE I learned some great things about using technology to incorporate geography in my class. Although I was a geography major, I readily admit that I don’t incorporate enough geographical thinking in my classroom, especially in my reading and writing classes. So, I’m pretty excited about working to incorporate some of the following things into my classroom.

  • GoogleLitTrips Have you ever wanted to connect students with the real world places mentioned in the books? Sometimes I open up Google Earth and will quickly point out, “Oh, this is where Birmingham is.” GoogleLitTrips takes it a step further. They trace the journeys that characters take in books using GoogleEarth. Each stop along the character’s journey is way pointed with a description of the place. The site has maps made for tons and tons of books. If you are an English/Reading teacher who wants to incorporate a little bit of Geography they are awesome!
  • GoogleMaps I use GoogleMaps all the time, but just for mapping driving directions. I didn’t know that you can create your own maps by going to My Places on the left sidebar in GoogleMaps. Students can pin places and then write their own descriptions of these places. I think I will use this at the end of the year with my Ancient History class. I will have students pinpoint the different places they have studied and write descriptions explaining the key contributions of these different civilizations.
  • GIS Lessons GIS stands for Geographical Information Systems. It’s basically a way of creating maps to analyze spatial data. GIS is a hugely growing career field, so I feel like it’s important to expose students to it. The easiest way to start is to use a pre-made lesson and walk students through it. Great pre-made lessons are available at ArcLessons.
  • GIS I’m pretty excited that ESRI now has tools that are easier to use than their desktop edition. The tool that is easiest to use is ArcGis Map Viewer. You can create maps and analyze spatial data with this. ArcGIS Explorer is a step above the MapViewer and offers more layers and a great presentation tool. The best way to learn about these is simply to play around on them. Finally, I’m really excited that opportunities exist within the state to get the full desktop software. I won’t be using that level with my students at the moment, but if I get back to teaching high school that is definitely something I will take advantage of.
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ASTE 2012: What I Will Use Thursday

For the past four days I have been inundated with new ways to use technology in my classroom at the Alaska Society of Technology Educators Conference in Anchorage. I have been inspired by the presentations I have seen and have some long range plans for my classroom. But at the moment I want to share the top things I learned that I will be using on Thursday when I return to my classroom.

  1. Google Search by Reading Level When you are doing a google search you can filter by grade level! All you have to do is go to the Advanced Search section of the page (usually the gear in the top right corner) and then select the reading level you want. This will be huge for the elementary students that I each
  2. Google Search by Usage Rights On google advanced search you can also search by usage rights. So now when students need to download an image I can simply direct them to select “free to use or modify” in the Google Advanced Search and we can be in compliance with copyright laws.
  3. Free Online Comics Makers Students can make their own online comics! is a fun, easy to use website. I will be having kids make comics about topics we are studying in Social Studies, classroom rules, etc.
  4. Easy Animated Videos  This is a super easy to use and fun website for creating quick animated videos. You select a setting, characters, and then type dialogue in and it will animate the video for you.
  5. GIS in the Classroom. ArcGIS now has incredibly easy to use tools to make and display maps. ArcGIS MapViewer is the most basic level, but ArcGIS Explorer Online is a great way to analyze geographic data and then present it.
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