Our video cast about some great art apps to use in the classroom.


Email Overload

As a teacher, but also a parent,  I feel like there are way too many emails sent to parents. Do people actually read them?  I’ll admit to not reading every email from my child’s teacher.  And as a teacher, I’ve been asked questions by parents that were in my weekly email so I know they are not read by everyone.

So I decided to go back into my personal email account to check how many times an email was sent to me last school year, 2014-2015.  I have two kids and they were in kindergarten and grade two at the time.

66  Grade Two teacher

83  Kindergarten teacher

13  Speech Pathologist for daughter in Kindergarten

26  Learning Support for daughter in Grade Two

24  Room parent Grade Two                7213840796_9bee53c57f

17  Room parent Kindergarten

68  ISM Upcoming Events

9    AFAC (after school activities)

49  Elementary School Office

14  Learning@ISM

8   Superintendent

17  CMC aka the library

394 total emails in one school year!

When the school calendar is only 180 teaching days per year, that’s well over two emails per day.  On top of that, there are blog updates from both teachers and students as well as Twitter.  Talk about information overload.  But the big question is…

Is it worth it?

The Pros

Parents need/ deserve/ want communication on how their child is doing.  In some families, students spend more waking hours with their teachers than they do with their parents. ISM costs a lot of money and parents want to know that their child is getting the best education.

I suspect communication on all these platforms is like baby turtles.  A sea turtle lays 100+ eggs because she knows that most of them are not going to survive until adulthood.  If ISM shoots out almost 400 emails plus blog posts and tweets, they know not all of them are going to be read, but enough will to survive to make the school year run smoothly!

The Cons

Most parents at ISM are important people leading very busy lives. Time is money and they don’t have time to read everything the school sends them. Since the school sends them so much information, many parents aren’t sure what is important and what is not.  I have anecdotal evidence that some parents just give up.

Time is a huge factor for teachers who create this content.  It takes me about 30 minutes to write my weekly class update.  Each blog post takes 20 to 30 minutes when you factor in taking photos and uploading them.  Of course, parents expect zero grammar and spelling errors.  We are teachers after all.  All this time is taken away from planning lessons or marking work.  Is the opportunity cost worth it?

The internet is littered with articles by self help gurus on how to manage your inbox. ISM doesn’t seem to be doing very much to help this situation. It seems like our solution to the delicate balancing act of giving parents too much or too little information is to give them too much and let them sort it out.  But can we do better?



Screen Time for Kids

How much screen time should Johnny be allowed?

Is it a good idea to take the iPad away from Sally?6579418433_05259b7453

I get these questions from parents all the time.  Recently, we finished parent teacher conferences and at least a third of parents brought this subject up.  They are looking at me as an ‘expert’ but I’m really not. So I thought I’d really read up on the subject to find out more.

The American Academy of Pediatrists (AAP) has had a guideline for a while that screens (TV, tablets, video games and computers) should be avoided for children under 2 years old and allow a maximum of 2 hours a day for older kids. However is that realistic?  Many tweens and teens are using screens way longer than that.  Over 4 and 6 hours respectively per day.   The AAP acknowledges that times have changed and are working on updated guidelines that will be out this fall.

One of the big problems with screens is that too many times they are used as a babysitter instead of as a tool for learning and interaction. Many people argue that all screen time is not created equal.

The Common Sense Census: Media Use by Tweens and Teens identifies four main categories of screen time.

  • Passive consumption: watching TV, reading, and listening to music
  • Interactive consumption: playing games and browsing the Internet
  • Communication: video-chatting and using social media
  • ​Content creation: using devices to make digital art or music

There is an obvious difference in the levels of interaction, learning and brain development between these four categories.

So as a parent, what do I do with this information?  One recommendation is to be a proper role model for your kids.  I’ve been guilty of endlessly surfing the net for hours.  Should I be surprised when my kids exhibit the same behaviour? So now I wait until my girls are in bed!

Another recommendation is to set screen usage rules in the house and explain the reasons behind them.  That takes some more education on your part.

The last recommendation is to avoid screens in the hours right before bed time.  The blue light emitted from screens plays havoc with our bodies circadian rhythm or biological clock.  This blue light creates less melatonin in your system which can cause sleep issues.

Ultimately parents can choose to raise their children how they see fit. I have some families where the iPad is used as both a carrot and a stick. Other families only allow screen time on weekends.  Some families allow more educational screen time during the week such as Raz-Kids and math games only after kids have completed their reading or other homework.  We are fortunate to live in a society where we have the power to choose how we want to address these issues, however, a little education on our part goes a long way.

Book Creator

Recently I started playing around with an app called Book Creator.  It was one of those  apps on my classroom iPads that had been there for a while but I just never got around to opening it. As well none of the kids in my Grade One classroom had used it either.  It requires a longer time investment to get started than many of the other apps.


At first I played with it and created my own book.  A few photos of pictures I’d draw and a little bit of text and voila, my first ebook by Mr. Riley. So I showed this ebook to a bunch of kids in the class and 5 of them wanted to create an ebook as well.


Shanti decided to add some color to her cover page.

So each child took an existing book they’ve already created on paper and took photos of each page.  Then they used the add sound feature to read their own book like a storyteller.  Afterwards, I showed them how to publish it so it would be available for anyone who used that iPad.



With help, it is now set up so that parents can now go to my classroom blog and download their child’s ebook to their iPad at home.  I’m just waiting to get every student to publish an ebook to start that process.


She also added some text at the bottom.

Overall it is a pretty simple and easy process.  I believe the benefits will be huge.  As teachers, we’re always looking for new ways to motivate kids to write and give them authentic audiences.  I’m truly hopeful that this will help.

Google Forms

Currently when I conference with students during reading workshop, I carry around a clipboard. Kinda old school, I know.  I sit down on the floor while a student reads to me.  I always make sure to provide positive feedback on what they are doing well as a reader and to nudge them towards an area of growth.  Afterwards, I’d have to look through all these papers to find information for assessment and reports.

However, today I learned how to use Google Forms to quickly and easily record information that is automatically funneled into a Google spreadsheet.

Setting up the form was easy.  When signed into Google, I had to use the ‘more’ and then ‘even more from Google’ buttons to find the Forms app.  It was simple to set up my Screen Shot 2016-02-01 at 6.02.41 PMthree questions. The students name was first, then positive feedback and lastly areas for growth.

The only problem I had was finding where the information was going once I completed the form.  With some persistence and collaboration with colleagues, I realized I needed to click on the Response button and then Select Response Destination.  That way Google automatically created a spreadsheet that tabulated the results.

I’m setting up the form on two iPads in the class so that Zel, my teaching assistant and I can both input reading data from our students.

Already I’ve made a change to the form.  I initially had a drop down menu but with an iPad I couldn’t see a 21 student names.  A change to multiple choice solved that problem. I’m also thinking that if I’m providing about the same 8-10 types of feedback to students, I might create a drop down or multiple choice option for that too.


Personal Branding Exercise

So we did a personal branding exercise a few days ago to narrow down what we think is most important about ourselves as educators.  What really resonated with me was the idea of nudging students along their spectrum of learning.  I borrowed the concept of nudging from a Matt Glover workshop. Each student is along their own learning path and I must meet them at their point on their spectrum to help them.  But I can’t give them a big push forward.  That (sometimes) creates resentment and disengagement.  I need to nudge them forward with lots of praise sprinkled in between.

On my Twitter account, I ended my bio with the statement:

Pushing is harsh – nudging is gentle.

I’m pretty happy with it!

Using a Screencast in Grade One

So making the screencast with screencast-o-matic was a breeze.  It was easy to use and you didn’t have to be a tech person to create one yourself.  The only glitch I had was that I wanted sound to come from the microphone I was speaking into and the website.  With the free version it doesn’t do both but the problem is easily solved by purchasing a $15 subscription.

After completing the screencast for the website PebbleGo, I decided to using it in my class right away.  We are completing a writing unit on non-fiction and this website would be a great tool to help kids find information that is at their level.  I played the screencast I created to the whole class.  It definitely kept their attention and got them eager to try out the new website.

So five kids took a Chromebook and five took an iPad to go off on their own.  I heard the screencast being played a few times by kids who weren’t sure what to do.  Below are a few pictures of students using the site to help them write non-fiction.

A few students just surfed the PebbleGo website instead of using it as a tool to help their writing.  I think one boy watch a cat video 10 times in a row! But that’s to be expected in grade one. I helped to redirect their focus and we discussed the goal of the lesson.

After reflecting on the lesson, I can see what I need to teach next. A number of students just copied the text from the website word for word.  We’ll have to have a discussion about plagiarism (in a grade one context) and how to put the ideas in our own words.

I recently did a lesson on paraphrasing and I’ll uses these tools to help students to understand how to use the text without plagiarizing it. So overall I’m very happy with my screencasting experience and will definitely do it again in the future.

1st day of class

Today is my first day of EDT601.  My second last course to complete my SUNY Master’s degree.  Wohoo!

A longstanding goal of mine is to be closer to the cutting edge of technology in the classroom.  I’ve moved farther along the spectrum towards that edge but there is still work to be done.  I’m hoping that this course will encourage me to reach this goal.

I’ve seen the benefit of using individual student blogs in the classroom as well as Twitter. My students have used it mainly as a reflective tool to demonstrate their learning. It is a powerful tool to use that allows students to express themselves creatively in a digital way.