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October Issue: The Very BEST #Project PLN

October 4, 2011

Welcome to Project PLN!

This month was all about “The Bests” in education. We have some great submissions from all over the world sharing the “BEST” project based learning, tools for learning, lessons taught and lessons learned.  We hope that you enjoy it!

We encourage you to share Project PLN with anyone and everyone. We want to see this online magazine reach far and wide as we try to grow our knowledge base with amazing ideas from our PLN.

In the coming months, we have some very exciting topics planned.  We hope that you will join us by sharing your words of wisdom!

In November, we are having a #SchoolDidAGoodThing issue. We want people to share the stories of how school did a good thing for them. These stories serve as an inspiration to teachers and the community. It is a nice reminder why we all do what we do. We really hope you will share a story with us on how school did a good thing.  Bonus points: Have your students write a #SchoolDidAGoodThing post and share them here!

December is going to be epic. We have an idea for the December issue that we really love. We have declared December, “The Student Voice Issue”. We want to encourage teachers to have students write about, film, draw, etc. what they want their dream school to look like. Our goal is to have 13 posts with 1 post representing each grade of K-12. We still have some logistics to work out, but we want to get the idea out there now so interested teachers can think about working with their students on this exciting project.

We hope you like this month’s issue of ProjectPLN and we want to hear from you about what we can do to make it better.

As always, feel free to email posts to, check in on us at Twitter @ProjectPLNor say hello on Facebook.

-Your Editors: Nick Provenzano and Kelly Tenkely

My One Great Lesson This Year- Deven Black

October 4, 2011 3 Comments

This has not been my most successful year as a teacher.

Even so, I had one great lesson.

My 7th grade social studies class was learning about the British and Dutch colonies that eventually became the first thirteen American states.

To begin my lesson I made a grid of nine possible tasks my student could do in the next two weeks.

I assigned each task a separate spot in the classroom and asked students to stand in the spot of the task that most appealed to them.

I immediately noticed that my group of six girls who always wanted to work together did not all choose the same task. Interesting.

I looked around the room and noticed that three of the tasks did not have a single student interested in it.  They all seemed like good tasks to me, but it has been a long time since I’ve been a 12-year-old.

What would have happened had I assigned one of those unpopular choices as the assignment for everyone? Or if, thinking I was offering differentiation, I had given my class a choice of those three unpopulated tasks

I shudder at the thought, especially since I’ve been guilty of both approaches more often than not.

Here are the six tasks students chose:

Create a 3-dimensional map of the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam;

Write and enact a conversation between as many colonists as are in the group;

Write and produce a newscast as if television news covered the colonies;

Make broadsides or brochures aimed at convincing people to relocate to the colonies;

Create a map of one or more of the colonies showing some aspect of the colonies not usually seen on maps of them;

Write a letter or deliver an oral report to King George III about life, development and events in one or more of the colonies.

Gezicht op Nieuw Amsterdam by Johannes Vingboo...
Image via Wikipedia

Each group was about evenly divided between boys and girls and each had students from different levels of prior performance. The students had self-selected more heterogeneous groups than I could have created.

I told the students to get to work and they did.

Each group immediately sat down and started to plan the execution of their task. As I wandered the room I heard the students discuss approaches, talk about what kind of map they should make, divide their tasks into parts, discuss which students were better suited for different parts of the task.

I asked each group if they had any questions but none did.

They didn’t need me.

Their excitement was palpable.

When the bell rang to end the period they kept on talking. I had to throw them out of the room.

Every day for the next two weeks, as soon as the students arrived in class they went to work in their groups. I’d walk around observing and being available for questions or instructions.

They didn’t need me.

At the end of the first week I asked each group to give me a brief oral report on their progress. All were making strong progress.

The map group was making a resource map. The persuasive writing group had decided to make a broadside AND a modern-style real estate brochure.
Scripts were being written and revised. Rehearsals were starting.

They didn’t need me.

In the second week I saw the 3-D model group folding brown packing paper as if they were doing origami. I wandered over and in response to my quizzical look one girl explained they were creating the ships for the harbor.  Then a boy asked me if I knew that Wall Street was called Wall Street because the Dutch had built a wall on that location as the boundary between the settlement and the natives. I smiled broadly as I walked to the next equally busy group.

They didn’t need me.

Midway through the second week four of the groups presented me with a joint letter explaining why they needed one more week to prepare their projects and presentations.


Throughout the three weeks there were a variety of visitors to the room. All of them saw me wandering around fairly aimlessly watching and listening as the groups worked. Worked hard. Worked almost constantly.

They didn’t need me.

In the fourth week the students used Flip cameras to make videos of the newscast, the conversation, the oral report to King George III, and of the groups explaining their map, brochures and 3-D map.

They knew I had the Flips so they decided on their own how to do their presentations.

All the projects showed tremendous effort even if some of them showed less than tremendous execution.

The students clearly demonstrated they had learned a lot about the colonies and, in reflections they wrote afterwards they said they had learned about cooperation, about process, about how when they realized one approach was not working they were able to switch their work to a new one because they had discussed various approaches at the beginning.

They deeply appreciated that I had not steered them, that I let them choose their own assignments and decide on their own what they should include and how to accomplish them.

They didn’t need me.

Some of the projects proved to be more difficult than expected, usually because the students over-reached and weren’t totally up to the task.

These kids are very high achievers who are not used to failing. Some of them were a little dejected by their less-than-perfect work until one very sharp boy said that he was thrilled with his project no matter how bad it was because he finally felt challenged by a school assignment.

I was going to say something like that but, again, they didn’t need me.

I needed them, though.

I needed them so I could learn to let go, to get out of the way and to trust my students to work on their own.

I needed them to show me that students know how they learn best even if they can’t put it into words-

I needed them so I could realize that even an old teacher can learn new tricks.

I needed them to help me discover that if you just point kids in the right direction you might be surprised at how far they travel on their own.

Most of all, I needed them to let me have one great lesson this year.

I needed that most of all.

   Bio: Deven Black

Middle school teacher-librarian/media specialist in NYC. If you expect simple answers to complicated questions you are in the wrong place.


Twitter: @devenkblack

Accessing and saving Goodreader files in Evernote- Bec Spink

October 4, 2011 3 Comments

Using iPad 2 Goodreader app and Evernote to complete paperless running records and reading assessments. Has changed the way I teach, made me a better assessor!

I have had a fabulous response to my use of Evernote, Goodreader and the iPad. It has been great to hear from like minded educators about how they are using these tools in the classroom. Today however I have had lots of questions and Twitter conversations about how to save files from Goodreader in Evernote so thought I would do a quick ‘how to’ post to hopefully make it a bit easier on users.

Once you have your files saved in GR, tap the file which you would like to annotate. When you click on a drawing tool to annotate you will get the following menu. Tap ‘Create an annotated copy’.


Once you have finished annotating, tap save.


Once you have saved tap the ‘Open’ icon in the bottom right hand corner.


Tap ‘Open in’


Tap ‘Flatten annotations’


Tap ‘Evernote’


The file will automatically open to your chosen default notebook in Evernote.


You can also change the file name in Goodreader before sending to Evernote using the ‘Manage Files’ section.

Once I have my file in Evernote I copy and paste it to the selected student note, this however, I have only figured out how to do using Evernote on my computer, if anyone knows of an iPad way, please share. Depending on how you have your notes set up you could just rename and tag the note that has already been created.

 Bec Spink

Bio: I am a primary school teacher in Melbourne, Australia. I love learning about new technologies to inspire and engage myself and my students!


Twitter: @MissB6_2

The Best Lesson I ever taught- Patricia Williamson

October 4, 2011

The best lessons I have ever taught have been the lessons when the insecure, slightly weaker student confidently shared with classmates in front of the WHOLE class. The understanding or the creative project (often with technology) was so thoroughly understood that this child became the “master” of the class. That child went home and positively and proudly told his/her family about the winning feeling that day.

Bio:  Patricia Williamson has taught for 38 years in Frederick Co. Public Schools, Virginia and is currently an Inst. Tech. Res. Teacher with gr. K-5.

Best Way to Have a Writing Contest Ever!- Michelle Lampinen

October 4, 2011 1 Comment

I teach English in a school that has a science focus. And when I say it focuses on science, I mean it FOCUSES ON SCIENCE. Students take two years of lab science every year. Their electives are science. Most of the clubs are science. Their mascot is a double helix, goggles are a fashion statement, and if anyone yells out, “hip hip hooray!” everyone responds with, “it’s DNA!”

Needless to say, the students who apply to come here have an inherent interest in science. When I first started teaching here seven years ago, I was worried about not only their literacy skills, but also their interest in English. How could I motivate them to read and write well when all they wanted to do was clone stuff and dissect things? Boy was I surprised! Sure, our kids are high-achieving, science-oriented students, but they’ve got lots of other dimensions. They have a variety of interests, and many of them are just as talented and passionate about literature as they are about gel electrophoresis.

While we’ve always had a handful of readers and writers here, last year, something happened. For one reason or other, we began to develop a bit of an underground literary society. After six years of collecting dust, students started taking books out of my classroom library. They wanted to share their writing in class more. We were developing a culture of literacy. I’d be lying if I said that last year wasn’t my favorite year of teaching, and this sudden onslaught of lit lovers reignited my own passion for the subject.

On my class Facebook page, one of my juniors posted a link to some hilarious similes that students had supposedly turned in to teachers over the years. A few students and I began commenting on the link, and through our discussion, the Ridiculous Simile Contest was born! I set up a form on Google Docs and spammed my students via email and my class Facebook wall. The contest was open to the whole school and wasn’t a requirement for anyone. It was just for fun.  And ya know what? We got seventy submissions! This is especially exciting considering the fact that we only have about three hundred students in the school (though some students did submit multiple entries). Ok, so I offered homework passes as incentive, but half the kids never even claimed them.

Once the deadline had lapsed, a student and I chatted in the Google spreadsheet and narrowed down to the top ten. Once I posted those, students had forty-eight hours to vote. After 201 votes, we had a winner! The prize was something silly from the dollar store, as well as the satisfaction of winning. No grades, no extra credit, no trophy, no candy. They did it for the fun of it. It took no time away from my class because the entire contest was online, and it was not limited to the students I taught because the entire school was invited to participate.

This year we’re going bigger and better. We just completed our second contest, the Worst First Lines contest. This time I didn’t even offer the homework passes, and we still got a slew of entries. We have now expanded our newest contest, and we’re in the middle of holding the first ever inter-academy writing contest, which means students from all five career academies in our district can enter (thanks to @thereadingzone for the idea of expansion). After only two days, we already have twenty-one submissions from students from all five schools. Beyond that, we already have plans for a purple prose pageant in the works, and I’m sure the ideas for new contests will keep coming.

This is something that is incredibly easy to do, and it’s created a buzz about writing amid a sea of science. Students ask about it in the hallways; kids whose pieces are in the top ten come up to me excitedly about how they don’t believe theirs was picked. They are learning about writing for a broader audience, and they’re having a blast while doing it. If that’s not the best ever, I don’t know what is!


Michelle Lampinen is a National Board Certified English teacher who lives in New Jersey, has two cats, and loves chocolate. She has been teaching English I, IB Language & Literature HL, and Digital Literacy at Biotechnology High School in Freehold, NJ for seven years. The school is a great fit for her because it’s full of nerds, and she’s pretty much the biggest nerd ever. While she loves technology, and I mean REALLY loves technology, she also understands the importance of unplugging and enjoying nature every once in a while. By the time you read this, she will have completed her first half marathon, hopefully without too many problems.

Best Lesson + Video Tool- Sarah Doane

October 4, 2011

I did this hand casting lesson with my students for the first time last year.  They all told me that it was the “best lesson” they had ever done!  They had so much fun with it.  I love that they were able to showcase their personalities and interests through the project.  Once they were finished with their pieces, I took photos and then uploaded them to  Animoto is the “best tool” for a fun and flashy presentation.  It is so easy to use.  They literally walk you through the directions step by step.  Just make sure to sign up for an educator account so that you aren’t limited to a 30 second clip (look at the bottom of the screen for “Animoto for Educators” to apply).  I show the Animoto videos to my classes, post them on my blog and Artsonia site as well as e-mail them to parents and administrators so they know what we are doing in class too!


Sarah Doane

Art teacher

Coolidge Middle School

Reading, MA

Hand Casting Project Video

Challenging Young 2.0 Writers- Marta Lavista and Alejandra Quaglia

October 4, 2011

I teach digital natives who grow up surrounded by technology as an integral part of their everyday life. If I am going to prepare them for a world that is constantly changing, I must think of ways for them to meet the challenges ahead. Together with the ICT coordinator, Marta Lavista we started thinking how I could adapt my educational practices to engage our students with motivating activities.

As I am a Language Arts Teacher in Y6, we thought about launching a new writing process methodology focused on developing students’ writing skills, providing assessment for learning based on a writingassessmentframework within a 1: 1 class technology environment.

To begin with, our students write afirstdraft in a Google doc. Then, I use the comment feature to add feedback and the document header function to include an overall feedback as it is clear for them when opening it. Thus, I’m providing real-time feedback to students during this writing activity. In addition, I use the highlighting tool based on a correction code which is inserted as an image in their documents. I consider it a very visual strategy which enables students to  spot their errors, revisit and correct, either spelling, tense or punctuation mistakes according to the highlighted  word.

Secondly, our students completeaselfreflection on their assignment as reflection leads to deeper learning, identifying areas for improvement[1].

Thirdly, students edit a 2nddraft by copying the existing Google doc, thus allowing them to focus on the mistakes that they made, correct them and not make them re-write sections of text that are well written, that can actually inhibit the learning process.

Fourthly, students redraftafinalcopy focusing on the different aspects pointed out in the feedback. Finally, they complete aselfassessmentrubric,  taking ownership of their own learning for the purpose of doing better work in the future.

We believe this process is a reflective learning cycle, showing how students respond to feedback and guidance on how to improve their writing skills with the use of technology.

  This writing process methodology had a massive impact on my approach to both using Google docs in the classroom as well as the way I approached assessment for learning.

[1] King, T. (2002), King, Terry; Development of Student Skills in Reflective Writing; 4th World Conference of the International Consortium for Educational Development in Higher Education (ICED); Perth, Australia


Marta Lavista                                                            Alejandra Quaglia

ICT Coordinator                                                Language Arts Teacher

St Andrew’s Scots School                                    St Andrew’s Scots School

Buenos Aires                                                             Buenos Aires

Argentina                                                            Argentina

@mlavista on Twitter                                                @aquaglia


Lost in the Documentation Abyss- Stephanie Shouldis

October 4, 2011

After spending the past five years as an Intervention Specialist, I’ve come to one realization.  Those who teach early childhood education, do so because they have a true love for children.  Those who teach special education, do so because they have a passion for paperwork.  There have been times when I have felt like I was spending more time documenting than I was teaching students.  The most frustrating part for me was that nothing every happened with the documentation, no one ever looked at it.  I would file it in a three ring binder, and then put it in a filing cabinet to collect dust.  A former special education director told me to keep it for seven years in case the school was audited.  I had to question that practice.  Is that why I am collecting documentation, in case we are audited?  Shouldn’t documentation guide our teaching and IEP writing?  I needed to find a way to make my documentation authentic, guide my practice and be available for parents in a way that they could understand.

While browsing through comments on Twitter, I noticed a large amount of people tweeting about the site  At first I was intrigued, but dismissed it thinking that it would not be an authentic fit within my classroom.  Then as I was reading Fair Isn’t Always Equal (Wormeli) the author explains the use of portfolios to collect records, accomplishments or reveal areas of needed growth within the student’s work.  Finally, I found a use for the tool that was so intriguing to me.  I decided to create ePortfolios, using LiveBinders, for the use of documenting student’s progress on their IEP goals and objectives.

During the last half of the 2010-2011 school year, I piloted this ePortfolio idea for my own use.  I created a binder for each student’s current IEP. Within the binder I created a tab for each student’s goals and objectives.  For any evidence of growth or area of weakness, I would upload my documentation into a new subtab, under that particular goal or objective.  Now I was able to access documentation for any of my students, no matter where I was, as long as I had a computer with an internet connection.  In the past, I would take notes for everything.  For example, student’s reading fluency or noted areas of weakness within their process of completing math problems.  I don’t know about you, but that takes too much time, and takes away from actually teaching.  Now that I am using an ePortfolio, I am able to upload a recording of the student actually reading, me conferring with the student or a SMARTboard recording of a student actually completing a math problem.  This has saved me so much time, when documenting, and increased my one-on-one time spent with students.

After I discovered how much time an ePortfolio has saved me, in the world of documentation, I decided to use this as a transparent tool for parents and general education teachers.  I started at a new district for the 2011-2012 school year, and explained my idea to the administration.  They loved my idea, and asked me to pilot this program for the district.  However, they were concerned about the confidentiality part of the IEP.  I assured them that I restricted each ePortfolio as private, and only people with the access key could view the ePortfolio.  Since this was a new idea, within the district, we decided that it would be best for me to send a letter to the parents explaining my use of the website.  Here is an excerpt from the letter that I sent home to the parents, explaining our confidentiality concerns.

I wanted to provide you with some background information about the internet site that I am piloting for the school district.  As per federal law, all IEP information is confidential.  I want to make you aware that the information that I am placing into this internet site is not housed within our school’s technology department.   The internet site where I will be housing your child’s information is .  Live Binders posts the following as their stated security policy:

“We have implemented reasonable measures to help protect your Personal Data from loss, misuse, or unauthorized access or disclosure. Unfortunately, however, no data transmission over the Internet can be guaranteed to be 100% secure. As a result, while we strive to protect your Personal Information, we cannot guarantee its security.” 

I then asked parents to approve my use of LiveBinders as a form of IEP documentation.  100% of the parents responded that they were okay with the use of the website.  The administration, general education teacher, paraprofessionals and parents were provided with an access key for the IEP ePortfolios, for each student, with whom they directly work.  This has become an amazingly transparent tool in terms of documentation.  No more binders collecting dust, while waiting for that audit that may never happen.  The lines of communication between all people on the IEP team have gone from that of a basic rotary phone to a Skype video conference call, all because of the ePortfolio system.

Finally, I have found a form of documentation that has helped me go from overwhelmed and under productive, in the area of documentation, to highly organized and thoroughly engaged.  I still am doing the same amount of documentation, if not more.  However, there is a purpose behind why I am documenting, besides waiting for that mysterious audit.  General education teachers can use this information to guide their teaching, even if we do not have a common planning time.  Parents can use this information to follow their child’s progress and hold authentic discussions with their child about their progress.  The IEP team can use this information to guide the decision as to what the best goals, objectives and services may be for the child.  For once, I am excited about the IEP meetings that will be held in the spring.  I can’t wait to pull up the ePortfolio, and be able to discuss the progress that the child has made, and everyone is on the same page because the entire IEP team has had access to this information, literally at any time, within the past school year.

Wormeli, Rick. “Portfolios.”  Fair Isn’t Always Equal:  Assessing and Grading in the Differentiated Classroom.  Portland: Stenhouse, 2006. 43-44. Print

Bio:  Stephanie Shouldis is an Intervention Specialist at Cassingham Elementary, an International Baccalaureate World School, in Bexley, Ohio.  She graduated from Bowling Green State University in 2006 with her B.S. in Education, as an Intervention Specialist.  An avid twitter user and participant in educational social media @WizardOzTeacher .

Can your students join 10,000 others designing our future?

October 4, 2011

Problem finders
At TEDxLondonBLCNaace and a few other events this summer I asked if people wanted to join me in trying to encourage more curricula that were based less on students solving the irrelevant, contrived pseudo problems given to them in textbooks, and based more on finding great, real world problems that need solved.

A superb opportunity for action has come along.

Ever wondered what 10,000 young people could do to solve some of the world’s greatest problems? We want to know for the world’s most important ICT event, ITU Telecom World 11, by gathering young people’s vision for the future on

The October 24-27 event is the flagship meeting of the world’s telecoms industries, brought together by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the specialised United Nations agency responsible for information and communication technologies. In the run up to the event, and during it, we’ll be showcasing the ideas of young people, aged 8-18, alongside the debates, panels and corridor discussions of these influential delegates.

I’ve been at so many events recently that have either totally lacked the student voice, or made third party reference to it through second-hand reportag from their teachers. This is a real chance for your students to make a global impact on problems that matter, wherever they are.

It’s a once-in-a-lifetime real world project-based learning opportunity, that ties into most teachers’ curriculum at any given point in the year.

We’re providing some brief points of inspiration to get you started, over the seven key themes, and will open up a wiki space today where teachers can collaborate and add to each other’s resources on the areas.

By October 24, we hope to have videos, photos, blogs and examples or prototypes of what young people believe might help solve challenges on their own doorstep. Sign up your class, school or district to begin sharing the ideas of your students. We want you to tell us how technology could be harnessed to:

To take part, you just have to sign up your interest, and from there you’re able to submit posts to the project.

Pic: some problem finders in one of our schools in Ormeau, Brisbane, Australia.

Bio: Ewan McIntosh is a teacher, speaker and investor, regarded as one of Europe’s foremost experts in digital media for public services.

His company, NoTosh Limited, invests in tech startups and film on behalf of public and private investors, works with those companies to build their creative businesses, and takes the lessons learnt from the way these people work back into schools and universities across the world. 


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