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Welcome Back!

August 23, 2011 1 Comment

We want to welcome all of our readers to another year of Project PLN. We are excited to bring you some great posts and new topics in the coming months.

This month is all about advice on starting the school year. We have a wide variety of advice from amazing educators from all over the world that might be what you are looking for or might be perfect for teachers in your building.

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 things plan.

We are dubbing the October issue”The Best” issue. We want people to share something that they think is the very best. It could be a lesson plan they really love, it could be a mobile app, it could be a web tool or anything else that you think is the very best and you want to share it with the rest of the PLN.

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.

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 @ProjectPLN or say hello on Facebook.

Believing in Our Students – Greta Sandler

August 23, 2011

We started working on a special project to help build a better community and stop bullying issues. Our first step was to focus on what a group is, how it should work and how special each and every member is.  I encouraged my students to imagine that our class was like a giant puzzle and that each puzzle piece was one of us. It was a highly enriching opportunity to discuss our thoughts, feelings and expectations. I was excited to see how engaged kids were and how everyone spoke their mind. While we were sharing our ideas, Martin* raised his hand and said: “We’ll never be a good group… All the teachers always tell us how terrible our group is.”  I was deeply hurt by what he said and what hurt the most was the fact that Martin was totally convinced of his words. At that exact moment, I remembered a wonderful talk by Angela Maiers on the importance of believing in others and letting them know they matter. I looked at Martin, then I looked at each of my kids and said: “Each of you is a wonderful child. Please, don’t say that again… Yes, there are things we can do better, but I believe in this group and most important of all, I believe in each of you.”

I gave all my students a puzzle piece and invited them to decorate each piece and add information about their likes and hobbies too. They put such passion into their work! It was inspiring to see kids who are usually reluctant to use colors, draw bright colorful pictures. It was amazing to see the shiest kids step in front of the class and proudly present their pieces. It was powerful to hear what everyone had to say about our group; what they thought they were doing well and what they thought they could do better. It was such a special time that we all decided to create a video to treasure the moment forever. Guess, who came up with the idea?… Yes, Martin!

Do you believe in your students? Are you positively convinced you can make a difference for them? I know it can sometimes be hard. All it takes is caring, believing in them, connecting with them and most important of all, patience and effort. We need to tell our students we believe in them at ALL times. How do you feel when someone believes in you? Imagine how powerful this can be for a kid! If we show our students how much we care and trust them we’ll be definitely paving the way for them to thrive.

* not his real name

Greta Sandler – Bio

Greta Sandler is an ESL teacher. She teaches fifth grade at a K-12 school in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She is passionate about teaching and technology. She loves to create meaningful learning opportunities for her students by combining her two passions. She is the co-creator of Blog4Edu and she is also part of the #elemchat team. You can check out her blog About a Teacher and you can also find her on Twitter (@gret)

First Day of School Activities

August 23, 2011

Many of us are starting school this week or have already started.

I thought I would share some ideas for the first day of school. I am not very creative or cutesy so if you want those types of ideas I can point you in the right direction.

First and  foremost I highly recommend reading the following post by @whatedsaid:

Now I will share with you what I tend to do.

1. We all have some time of cute welcome back message. Last year I created a Voki as part of my message and this year I created a Xtranormal video and put in on my class web site.

2. I do a getting to know you activity. I put what looks like a bingo board on the board with different personal questions and the students need to find other students in the class that match the square. For example “I am the oldest in my family” or I have no sisters etc.

3 This one I am trying for the first time this year. There are a number of theories about class rules but if you are going to have more than one  them I recommend this approach: Setting class rules- Have essential questions around the room  Why do communities need rules?

What is the purpose of the Mitzvoth ( Commandments)? ( We are a Jewish Day School)

Why does a Class need rules ?

What three rules would you say are the most important for our class?

Give students sticky notes and have them go around answering the questions.

Then come up with 3-5  basic class rules


Akevy Greenblatt

I have been an educator for over 20 years. This blog represents my personal views. My goals is to share my ideas about education and leadership with others.
Twitter: @Akevy613

Reflecting Back to Forge Ahead – Vanessa J. Alander

August 23, 2011

It is said that hindsight is 20/20.  It is with hindsight that I begin the planning for next semester.

Before I even start thinking about what my course syllabus is going to look like or which texts I am going to assign for in-depth study or look at my course roster, I pause.  I load up my daily, reflective notes from the previous semester.  I pull out the student work samples I asked to retain, the good, the bad and the ugly ones.  Finally, I open the 9 1/2 x 13-inch manilla folder chock full of student evaluations.  I lay them out on my kitchen table in their distinct piles, sample student work divided out by specific assignment.

I start with the student sample work.  This helps refresh my memory with what students accomplished during our time together.  I make notes on what worked.  Did the student product match my end goals?  Did students have the needed skills at the end of the semester?  It not, where did it go wrong?  Did I spend too much time?  Not enough?  Was there one area that the students generally need more instruction on (this is how I discovered I needed to spend more time on plagiarism)?

Image via Flickr by User: By luxomedia

Next, I go through my daily reflective notes.  What did I struggle with while in the deep end and daily grind of learning and teaching?  Did I try a revision activity that utterly flopped?  Did I stumble upon a great new way into the personal narrative that will help move students beyond the pithy “so-what” in their writing?  Did an article in English Journal help shed some light on my teaching style?  How can that blog post I read become part of my core teaching beliefs?

I open my student evaluations for the first time.  After I remember what we did in the class, I’ve looked at student work, and I’ve refreshed my mind with what I thought at the time in teaching, I look at what my students thought about my course and my teaching.  What worked for them?  What didn’t?  What do they think that they could use more time on?

My student evaluations are invaluable and every word the students write, weigh heavily on me.  My courses are shaped on these assessments.  I tell the students this prior to them filling them out.  I encourage them to be completely honest.  I let them know that what they write about will influence the course next time I teach it.

After I’ve looked through the evaluations, I type up my first thoughts.  What seems to be the commonalities and the differences?  My evaluations are anonymous so my own teacher biases, which I try to step away from, are removed for me.  I summarize my thoughts from gathering and viewing this data.  I note what assignments and activities seemed to have been the most productive for the students.  What activities ‘stuck’ with them?  What will the students take with them outside of the class?

After this data extraction and synthesis, I start with a blank file document on my computer.  I review my notes; what assignments am I going to use again, or am I going to change them and which new assignments am I going to add?  Which readings resonated with the students, which ones did we all dislike?

When completed, I step away for at least a few days…sometimes a week.  I let my mind percolate before I sit back down and backwards plan for the next semester.  This process results in drastically different outlines for each semester I teach.  Finally, I only complete the roughest of outlines for the semester—big picture themes and assignments.

No matter how much time I spend looking back, the biggest variable in planning for the start of the new semester are the students themselves.  And that is one aspect of starting the year off teaching that I am unable to complete until we’ve already started.


While Vanessa Alander searches for a high school English position, she spends her days as an Adjunct English Professor (First Year Composition and Literature) at Plymouth State University.  She has dual M.Ed’s with dual certifications in Elementary (K-8) and English (5-12).  She enjoys using technology to foster writing skills and is implementing a paperless classroom this year.


I’m Ready – Josh Stumpenhorst

August 23, 2011 1 Comment

The walls of my classroom are bare and my lesson plans are empty…yup, I am ready for school to start.

Yes, you read that correctly. I am just a few days away from student’s first day and the walls in my classroom are completely bare. The only thing you will see is a draped green screen and a few posters indicating which way to sprint and scream in case of fires or inclement weather. I watch my colleagues frantically putting up posters and bulletin boards while I spend time sucking the final drops out of the fruit of summer. Why do I choose to leave me classroom bare? Am I really that lazy? While that might be a perfectly reasonable explanation, that is not the whole story. The room in which I teach is not my room. Sure, my name is on the door and nobody else teaches in it during the day. However, I don’t think of it as my room. It belongs to my students. It is their room and their space. As a result of this, I believe it is their right to decorate and create the learning space that suits them. I don’t have a seating chart. How can I when I don’t know the kids yet? I don’t put posters up on the walls. How can I when I haven’t met the kids and determined their interests and needs? I have not filled in the bulletin board. How can I when I haven’t asked the kids what they want to look at every day? Yes, my room will fill in and be a place of comfort and learning but it will not happen until the owners of the room create it. You will see student work, pictures, posters, and all sorts of evidence of the true owners of the room.

In addition to my walls, the pages in my lesson planner also lay bare. Sure, I have a few ice breaker activities for the first few days penciled in, but nothing beyond that. Again, how can I put plans together before I have met the kids they will impact? Is it possible some lessons from last year will work again with my new group? Yes, but I will not assume what worked last year will work again. I work with plenty of people that just roll over their plans from year to year. To this day, I cannot fathom how a teacher can do this. If your students change, shouldn’t your approach to teaching them? As a result, my lesson plan book will lay bare until I get to know the kids in my class and see how we will achieve our learning goals. The learning journey in my class will again be driven by the kids on the journey. As a teacher I know the targets we need to hit and the standards we need to master, but the decisions of how to accomplish these will not be in my hands.

I urge you to clean out your lesson plan book and clean your walls. Let the kids in your classrooms create their own learning space as well as direct their own learning journey.


Josh Stumpenhorst

I am a 6th grade Language Arts and Social Science teacher in suburban Chicago, IL. In addition, I am a basketball coach, computer club advisor, and aspiring Jedi. I consider myself fairly competent in digital media and technology integration. Please read and share anything you find useful and I am always looking for ways to engage and connect my students to the best learning opportunities available. I am never happy with my work and am always finding ways to make it better for me and better for my students. The day I settle or am content is the day I need to step away. Until then, I will advocate for my students and push them to be the best they can be.

Back to School – Amanda C Dykes

August 23, 2011

So I go back to school tomorrow. Kids will be back on Monday. Trying to wrap my head around all of this. Trying to get my mindset going. This admittedly has been a really hard summer with a lot of unexpected events taking place.  That makes changing gears a little more difficult. But my biggest question to myself is “What is my goal this year?”

My mom told me a story  few weeks ago about Louis Pasteur. Of all of the things that Pasteur did in his life time, when asked what he wanted on his tombstone he responded “JOSEPH MEISTER LIVED.” You see Joseph Meister was bitten by a dog a with rabies. Pasteur at the time was researching a rabies vaccine. He had never tested the vaccine when Meister’s mom begged him to try it on her son. After 10 days of injections the 9 year old lived.

Pasteur’s tombstone does not have the sentiment on it (actually he does not have a tombstone, but a beautiful tomb), but to him it was important. As teachers we forget that every day in our classroom is important. Every lesson is important. Also, every student is important. Often teachers focus on the “big tech project” or this unit that is time consuming or extravagant, but we forget that the lessons everyday are not to be forgotten. Don’t do one big PBL activity a month, do small ones every day. Lets students know these are just as important because learning is happening.

It is the little everyday events, conversations, lessons, that matter. It is the 9 year old that who needs just 10 days of attention to survive. So as we go back to school, don’t focus on the big stuff, focus on the everyday. That is this year’s goal.


Amanda Dykes
Tech in Ed Specialist
6th Grade Science
MS Cheer Coach
McAdory Middle School

Blog – Upside Down Education

Twitter – @AmandaCDykes

Ready or Not… – Melissa Schur

August 23, 2011

The new school year is just around the corner. I have been working off and on all summer trying to get things ready. I prefer to do a little here and a little there. I would be to stressed out if I waited until the week before school starts to do everything! My family thinks I’m a bit crazy working on school things for the fall already in June, but it makes sense when I have a little more free time the week before school starts.

Some of the first jobs I tackle involve getting the room looking good by decorating bulletin boards, putting up posters, arranging the room, organizing the workstations, and so on. This is more fun than some of the other work I have to do to get ready, so I like to start here. After I finish I can look around the room and see that I’ve accomplished something, and it feels rewarding.

After sprucing up the classroom, I have a lot of things that need to be done on the school network and the Internet to prepare for the first day. And I’ll have to sit down and write up my lesson plans for the first week of school.

I work with the same students every year at a small school where there aren’t often too many students coming or going. That means we all know each other pretty well and don’t have to spend a lot of time doing the “getting to know you” activities the first day. I like to have the students get right on the computer working instead of doing a lot of talking. This year I am going to have the older students create a poster about themselves using Word which will be a great segue into later lessons on Glogster. The younger students usually need a refresher on how to log on to the computer and how to log off. This can take up most of our 30 minute class period at the beginning of the year. I give them a little time in between to play a game or two for fun. The computer lab and library are completely new to the littlest students in the building, so we do spend time talking about expectations. After that I get them on the computer using a simple program called Stickybear’s Early Learning which they seem to love.

With the classroom decorated, lesson plans written, and programs updated, I am ready for the students to walk in on the first day. It’s still as exciting after 14 years of teaching as it was when I was newly hired!

Melissa Schur
Computer/Library Teacher

Personalising Learning – Stephanie Hendy

August 23, 2011

Beginning a school year provides a great opportunity to get to know your students and to establish and develop a supportive environment in which they can learn.  I wanted to share two activities which I have used which were quite successful.  Both of these ideas can be adapted to apply to different contexts.

The first activity was designed to help me plan the learning activities for the year by gauging the interest of a new Year 10 Art Class so I could best cater to their needs.   The curriculum provided some flexibility for me to do this.

I got this idea from a professional development workshop I went to. I gave students a green, orange and red card. On the green card, students were asked this question, “What aspects of art do you like or feel most confident in?

On the orange card they answered, “What would you like to know more about?”

and finally on the red card they answered, “What do you dislike or feel less confident in?”


I had a list of art electives on the board to help or they could add their own.   To provide a quick representation of the results I entered their responses into .   The larger the word the more times it was mentioned,   I then displayed the results to the class.  This activity gave me insight into tasks which were relevant to students to encourage motivation and participation.  It also informed me on areas which may need  attention.  This activity can be used in many ways it could also be done digitally using sites such as where students can go to a different link for each question.

The next activity I like to do to get to know the students.  I ask them to create an avatar, which is a cartoon representation of themselves.  This can be done as a collage activity or using online sites.  Some of my favourites are sites which allow students to add items of interest such as or but there are many more to choose from.

Students create an avatar of themselves and select items which show their interest.  I discuss the use of symbolic imagery and how images are also a form of communication.  There are a number of different activities you can do with the avatars such as:

  • Print out the avatars and have the names of students on cards and see if the class can match the correct names to the avatars.  The students can then explain the items in the image.
  • Students could create an avatar of each other.
  • Students can write about their avatar explaining the symbolic imagery used in their image.
  • Students can use their avatars to create a class comic book.

The avatars are also a great way to decorate and personalise your classroom.  By getting to know your students and showing interest in who they are, students can feel valued and comfortable in their learning environment.


What does this image say about me?

Stephanie Hendy

I am currently working as a Senior Project Officer (Digital Pedagogy) at the ICT Learning Innovation Centre, Sunshine Coast,  for the Department of Education and Training, Queensland, Australia.  In this position I have the opportunity to offer professional development to teachers on strategies to integrate technology into their practice and in particular integrating digital creativity across the year levels and subject areas.  My background is in Secondary Art and Multimedia teaching.


Starting the New Year – Dr. Robert Dillon

August 23, 2011 2 Comments

Starting the year in an active, authentic to our style way was key for me as we began the new school year journey at Maplewood Richmond Heights Middle School. It was refreshing to really look at who we are as a learning community when planning some of our technology training. Reflection revealed that we are active educators that love to create. This fits well with our efforts to balance our technology-rich environment with our expeditionary learning model, so the challenge became how to plan a meaningful afternoon for this group.

I turned to a model that I stumbled into one night at a local theater where they were showing a 72-hour movie festival. The concept was that all of the movies were completed in three days from topic to post-production. The results of movies were mixed, but they showed some incredible efforts to be creative, collaborate, and meet deadlines. This is the same spirit that I wanted in my staff, so we embarked on the two-hour movie project. The idea of our project was to create random groups of three that would produce one-minute movies that answered the question, “Who are we as a learning community?”

The teachers would be asked to include audio, video, and still images that showed an ability to use multiple devices to gather information as well as render their video in some program that they could present to the staff, two-hours later. The process and idea were secret to the staff until they arrived for the training, but they had received a lot of our new technology transparency devises the day before. The teachers would be asked to think quickly, be active, work together, and use our technology at a high level.

The hope was that this project would build greater capacity in staff as well as spark ideas how students could use the equipment as the year progressed. It was a good energy producer for teachers, and it will be seen whether it continues to impact our technology integration progress throughout the building.

Dr. Robert Dillon is principal of Maplewood Richmond Heights Middle School in Saint Louis, MO. Be a part of his personal learning network on Twitter @ideaguy42, and at this blog,

Classroom Management Stuff for New Teachers – Jason Buell

August 23, 2011

I participated in a twitter chat for David Coffey’s  Facilitating Learning Environments (#FLE11) class about the first day of school. While it’s in my head, I figure I can leave some advice for new teachers.

Remember, context is everything. So my advice is based on 6 years of teaching 7th and 8th grade science in a school located in an urban area. I’m going to focus on classroom management stuff because that’s the only reason my school doesn’t renew a new teacher. I attribute that more to admin focus than any particular deficiency in our new teachers but that’s a conversation for another day.

For most of you this will be entirely obvious. For me it wasn’t. I (am still) not a “natural.”

Most of this stuff I use because it allows me to be even lazier. Of these, I’d say #3, #5 and #6 save me the most time during the day.

Oh, and best advice? Get comfortable shoes. Actually get a few and rotate.Trust me.

Classroom Management Stuff:
  1. In the first few days, reading the rules and expounding your philosophy have a (small) place, but really what you need to do is get the kids doing something so you can walk around and learn their names. I get their names when they come in. I get them going with something and then I walk around the class and keep practicing out loud. Guess and let them know it’s ok to correct you because how else will you learn. Use a mnemonic or some other memory technique. For the hard ones I ask them a question and picture them doing it. “What’s your favorite sport/movie/book/etc?” Then it’s, “Jesus who likes the Raiders” and I picture him dressed like fans in the Black Hole. My school starts on Wednesday. I can learn 150 kids by Friday, although I usually forget a few on Monday. Trust me here. Nothing will pay bigger dividends for a tween than you knowing their name.
  2. Don’t make gloop and air rockets on the first day of school and then it’s worksheets and notes the rest of the year. The first few days should be a snapshot of the whole year. They need to understand what you’re about. If you’re about worksheets and taking notes, then do that. Well, do that and then talk to me. We have some soul searching to do. My first days are here.
  3. Make sure you establish signals. Everyone talks about procedures but it’s signals that will make them work. You’ll definitely need a “stop, shut it, look at me” signal. Teach it like a routine. I raise my hand. They raise their hand. Get others attention. Turn your body. Quiet. After they’re quiet, you need to keep the silence for an extra beat or two. That’s the big one. You’ll need to stop kids in the middle of busy and noisy labs. Sometimes it’ll be for safety reasons. No matter how open you want your classroom to be, you’ll need something like that. The hand raise is (theoretically) my school’s universal sign for quiet. If you can get the rest of your teachers on board for a universal quiet signal, your life will be sooooooooo much better. I’ve tried a few other signals for this (counting down, squeaky toy) but the hand raise is good because it requires them to physically respond and doesn’t require you to shout over anyone. I’m not a fan of clapping or chimes but some people really like them. I play a song for clean up (So Fresh, So Clean). Before giving instructions I start with “When I say go…” because whenever I would say “Everyone is going to need a ruler” half the class would stand up and walk over to get it before I was done.
  4. Find your sweet spot for procedures and routines. I know admin go crazy for them but in my first year I probably spent more time teaching procedures than I did actually using them. Stupid Harry Wong. Turns out I don’t really care how a kid gets water or goes to the bathroom. Go with a few high yield, frequently used procedures and do them really well. Opening the class, cleaning up labs, and turning in work are good starts. I also teach my kids how to move the desks to get in and out of groups.
  5. I give my students numbers. 3 digits. The first digit corresponds to period number and the next two are unique. So first period goes 101-130, second period 201-230. Kids get them assigned alphabetically. That goes on everything. During random in-between times (like a group finished cleaning up early), give a stack to a kid and have her put them in order and paperclip. Have her put a post-it on the front of the stack with any missing numbers. Especially for the first few papers turned in, try to get this done immediately so you can track down the kids who don’t turn in anything right away. They need to know you noticed these things. When you’re putting stuff into your gradebook, your papers are already in order so you can just go right down the line.
  6. I do ROYGBIV color coding for each period. Actually OYGBP because red is too inflammatory and I have no idea what the difference between indigo and violet is. Each kid in first period has an orange portfolio and for calling on kids I use colored index cards. I like them better than popsicle sticks because you can put little notes on them.
  7. Teach students how to work in groups. Walk around and comment on how people are working together. Sam’s post on participation quizzes is interesting although far too organized for me to ever pull off. Read Sue’s post on Complex Instruction and work on assigning competence. I was too structured my first year. I took the reins off too much my second. I’m finding a good middle ground between Kagan and chaos.
  8. I’ve gone back and forth on group roles but I’ve decided overall they’re a positive. My first year I used Facilitator, Materials Manager, Recorder, Presenter. I wasn’t happy with the Recorder or Presenter roles because they were things I wanted everyone to be doing. I liked the Facilitator a lot. It came through especially when I’d need to give mid-course instructions. I could just call over the Facilitators. The Materials Manager is good for a science class. Those middle school kids love to pile around the supply table. I’ve changed the other two roles a few times and also gone without roles. I’ve wanted to try these Thinking Roles but I just never get around to it. Riley posted his here.
Non-classroom Stuff:
  1. Get to know your school secretaries, your custodians, the tech person, and whoever works in HR in your district as soon as possible. Everyone gives you this advice because it’s true.
  2. Every principal has a “thing.” Figure out what that is. I’ve had a principal who was big on bulletin boards and classroom look, another who was big on EL instruction, and another who cared mainly about classroom management. I’m not saying compromise your values, but it won’t kill you to spruce up the room (my principal would laugh if she read this. My room is always a mess).
  3. Find allies. You’ve probably heard “avoid the lunchroom” talk. I used to do it. But truthfully teaching is lonely. Between yard duty and working with kids at lunch and after school, I can go days without talking to another teacher. Don’t do that.
  4. Committees are a huge sucker of both time and soul. Sports, while more fun, will take at least double the amount of time you predict. Unless you were specifically hired to coach a sport, it’s totally OK to turn down all committees and sports. I know a lot of new teachers feel they have to impress the admins, but I have never seen a teacher denied tenure because she didn’t volunteer for PTA or coach the soccer team. I was elected (by the other teachers) school site committee president my first year. It was like hazing the new guy. Some contracts say you need to agree to X amount of committees or extra duties a year. First, find out if that’s enforced. My unscientific sample of twitter teachers says that it’s usually not. If it is, volunteer for things with set time limits and no chance of spilling into extra work. Extra yard duty, scorekeeping, dance and other event chaperoning are all good choices because they have a set start and end. Committees, coaching and anything that involves “organizing” will take up much more time than you expect.
If you’ve got any other good classroom management advice let me know. I’ll be happy to steal it.
More info:
Zach Shiner has a really cool thing going on here. It’s got tons of practical stuff.
The MS Math Wiki has got a few things as well.
Jason Buell
8th grade science teacher
San Jose California
Starting 7th year
@jybuell on Twitter

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