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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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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Thank you twitter for the titles!

My journey that led me to sit at my computer frantically making lists of titles began with two books:In the Middle and the English Teacher’s Companion. Oddly enough, neither of these were books that I purchased, they were books I found, laying around unused in the school where I teach.  In the spring of 2010 I read the English Teacher’s Companion and joined the ning. I loved the ideas I got from other teachers and I grew as a profesional from my use of it, but reading and writing on the ning never really became a daily habit.

Fast forward to the Fall of 2010 when I picked up In the Middle.  I was inspired by Nancie Atwell. “Wow,” I said to myself, “a love of reading is really important and I am not helping my students with that at all!” You see, my district asks me to use a specific reading curriculum. Luckily, that was also the year that I transitioned from being a high school teacher to a middle school teacher. As a middle school teacher I got an hour with my students after lunch for homeroom. This was the time for me to teach them health, art, career skills, etc. “Well then…I bet I could finagle that time a bit and build in some time for a Reader’s Workshop…” When I proposed the idea to the higher ups at my school it was a go.

I started off with approximately 200 books in my classroom library last fall. I quickly learned that this was not nearly enough. Afterall, my classroom library is the only truly accessible source for my students to get books.  Our school librarian is also a Special Ed Aide and does not get time to be in the library with students. Meanwhile, the town library was unstaffed (meaning not open at all) for a good chunk of last year. Finally, since we live in a 300-person Inupiaq Eskimo village that is only accessible by plane we obviously do not have a bookstore. So, I needed more books in my classroom library.  The question then became, what books will my readers enjoy? What books will help my readers grow? Honestly, I didn’t really know. Although I’ve always been a reader myself, my familiarity with young adult books was limited to the books I had read when I was a kid. I also didn’t really have anyone to ask on my staff, because there are only ten teachers in our school.

I started reading some book blogs, paying attention to book reviews in the New York Times, etc. but it wasn’t until I started actively using twitter that I really found my place. I started following other reading teachers. I lurked around a few #titletalks. My list of books for my kids just kept growing and growing and growing!

Now, approximately once a month I open up goodreads to find the books that I ‘ve heard mentioned on twitter. Then I go to and set up a project where people can donate money to buy these books. One to two months later the books arrive in our classroom and students love them!

I’ll admit that I’m still a bit of a lurker on twitter. It’s hard to participate in conversations sometimes since Alaska is four hours behind the East Coast. Even though I don’t always participate in conversations, the ideas and books that you all share on twitter have really had a big effect on my classroom. So really, this post is a long-winded way of saying thank you to all those who share book recommendations on twitter.  Teaching and learning in Alaska is incredibly difficult, we don’t have access to libraries, bookstores, and other resources that make life easier. Your recommendations and insights not only help me feel less isolated, they also provide my students with a steady stream of top-notch books. So thank you! 

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