Candace Robertson

One educator, determined to create an engaging and dynamic experience for learners of all ages.

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Using Instagram + Tumblr to Document Student Learning

When I was teaching 6th grade science in 2011-2012, I wanted to cultivate an environment which called my learners to become true scientists and document and share data (report your findings!) every day.  In addition, I wanted to bridge the school to home gap that sometimes emerges in an Inquiry-based classroom and increase parent engagement.  Let’s face it, as educators, we all have enough on our plates.  So, how could I accomplish both of these goals without creating a ton of additional work for myself?  I found the answer in student ownership and pairing technologies!

The technology tools that I had on hand every day were my personal iPod, 2 digital cameras and 4 Flip cams that I bought on sale, and my personal Macbook Pro.  Mainly, we used the iPod and Macbook for the topic that I’ll be discussing in this post.

After getting permission from administration and sending a letter home requesting parent permission to share photos and video of students, we compiled a no-photo list and displayed it near the door in our classroom.  The deal was that we (as a classroom) would never post a name and a face together and that we would never picture the face of somebody who was on the no-photo list…hands were ok!

Every day, different students were assigned the task of documenting our learning.  We typically rotated around the members of one lab group per week.  Everyone at some point had the opportunity to be our documentarian/field scientist. Students took pictures, video, and interviews during our class period.  At the end of the week, a new group of students were selected to create a video that reflected our learning. We viewed the video on the following Monday to connect student learning to the next week and posted it to our website as a sharing/reflection piece.  The awesome part about this was that it provided a connection from each of my class periods as well.  For the first time, they got to see how their peers tackled science content in another class period.  In addition, parents were engaged and could see what we were doing in our classroom every day/week.  They were physically able to peek into our classroom through our sharing on our class website.  We used Animoto and iMovie frequently to create our weekly sharing artifact.  I only taught the first two students how to use iMovie and Animoto, which meant that there was student ownership in this whole process.  Once I had my iMovie and Animoto pros, they had to teach the next set of students how to use the tools.  After the first few weeks, this was a pretty seamless process.

How did we keep up to pace on sharing daily?  When seeking a technology to use, I wanted something that could be embedded on our class website so that it was navigable and I wanted it to be simple enough for the students to use and for me to manage.  In the end, I chose to use a private Instagram account and feed it to Tumblr so that I could make it appear as a photostream, attached to my website.  At that time, Instagram hadn’t gained mass popularity yet and there was no widget to add the stream to my site which is why I utilized Tumblr for curating the photos.  As a class, we set very clear guidelines about posting images.  We agreed to meet these expectations:

  • You have to caption images with the date and text to describe the learning
  • Only Ms. Marcotte could be the person to share  the image as the final step
  • No faces of no-photo students
  • No names/faces together in an image

So, how did I manage this in a classroom with 30+ students at times?  As students documented our learning, if they wanted to share a picture from the day, they had to open Instagram and date and caption the picture. When ready, they had to get my permission and I was the only one allowed to push the final share button. This resulted in our daily photostream.  Check it out here!  There was a lot of positive feedback because by the time the students got in the car at the end of the day, the parents already knew what questions to ask and topics to talk about because they had viewed the uploaded photos. The students loved it and took ownership of it and their learning.  They wanted to talk about science when they went home!  At the end of the year, we had a reflection for almost every day of their 6th grade year in science.  That was powerful!

Q & A’s I have gotten about using these tools in the classroom:

  1. How did you present this idea to students?  I presented the idea by telling them that science is all about sharing. What would happen if all of the great scientists in the world never shared their understanding? What would we know and what would the world be like today? I told them that the iPod would rotate around lab group members each week (1 person each day). It was their job to document our learning and to share it. We agreed on the expectations for images captured and shared.
  2. What specifics did you address with parents?  I didn’t do anything specifically related to Instagram since I created a private feed and Instagram. I created a photo/video permission slip (with administrative approval) and told parents a student’s name would never be associated with their face. We had our list posted on the wall of the classroom that said who couldn’t be photographed/filmed. It was the responsibility of the documentarian to not include their face in photos/videos. It was the job of the editor to double check this for all class periods as a step in the editing process.
  3. Were you concerned about using social media with your students?  I taught science.  There were concerns every day about everything!  Hot plates + sixth graders…need I say more?  I discussed my idea with administrators and I got it approved beforehand since I was utilizing social media in the classroom.  Having a private feed and never picturing names and faces together made our classroom a safe place for documenting our learning.  Through the proper structure and roll out of the idea with students, the “scariness” of using social media lessened.  So much of the success of utilizing social media was really about our classroom culture and strengthening it through clear expectations and trust.
  4. Seriously, how much work did this take for you to accomplish this?  Seriously, it was all student created and managed.  Literally, all I did was push the share button on my iPod after reviewing the photos and then uploaded the weekly videos to Google Drive for sharing.  Just like lessening the fear of using social media, with proper structure, we were able to create a flow of roles in our classroom that allowed me to be a facilitator of the documentation and not have it be dependent on me solely.  And…it’s a classroom!  If it took extra time for editing on the following Monday, we were flexible and gave it the time it needed.  Some weeks, we didn’t watch the review videos until Tuesday or in rare cases Wednesday if there were a lot of student interviews that week.

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Anchor Activities

As we first began our jump into 1:1 with our 6th graders in our building this year, we wanted to encourage play and exploration of the iPad as a resource.  Of course, without setting up some structure for our middle schoolers, we found that some students were finding themselves off task when they had “free time”.   We all have students who naturally move through the content at a faster pace and then we hear, “I’m done with my work.”   How can we utilize the time that students spend playing and exploring during this time, in a way that continues to support and extend their learning?  Our answer:  anchor activities.  Each of our teachers has these anchor activities posted in their classroom so that when students are done with their work, they know the expectations for how the remainder of their time in class should be spent.

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Anchor Activities by Candace Marcotte is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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First Round Completed!

As the weeks have passed, we have completed the rotation of the three tech enrichment groups in school.  So…here’s how it went!

Engagement:  Every lesson revolved around student engagement.  We had serious dialogue around what engagement means to the students and what truly engages them.  I was surprised by how straight forward the students were.  Right away, they called out subjects that they felt didn’t inspire them due to the way they were constructed.  Less talk, more sharing and activity were the main themes they presented.  We then went on to students rating their own engagement at the end of each technology lesson.  We use a scale of 1-3 to rate engagement (1= totally off task and disengaged, 2= completing task but getting sidetracked, 3= totally “in the zone”).  Out of the 12 lessons that I taught to the three groups, I only had one lesson that was an epic disaster…maybe I’m exaggerating, but as teachers, we all know the feeling!  Seeing as I had taught the same exact lesson to two other groups (and, honestly, this was the best version because I refined it as I went), something was just off this day.  As I talked to the students after the lesson, the reflection was that they wanted more creation on their part during the lesson.  Noted!

TPACK:  Relevance.  This was the main idea that the students pulled out of the discussion of TPACK.  They started to note their own classroom experiences that didn’t align to this:  watching videos that didn’t align to the content and using resources that didn’t make sense were discussion points.  They discussed their frustrations when this happens and how it “impacts learning”.  I was very impressed at how seriously they took the challenge to think about their educational experiences and how it could be improved.

Creating:  During our rotations, I modeled “Everyday Remixes” for the students during the first two lessons.  Everyday Remixes take everyday classroom activities and remix them to increase student engagement through the use of technology.  Our first remix was introductions.  Students used to create a photo mash-up that represented them.  The second remix was using .  Students had to create a “talking head” that was told in first person from the point of view of a historical figure.  After these two challenges, students used a template to create their own Everyday Remixes.  We looked at it as a way to “spice up” their classroom experience.  For the next two class periods, students used this Google Doc to write their directions and ideas.  They then shared it with me and I inserted comments for revision, positive feedback, and ideas for pushing them a bit further.  They revised their Doc and then shared it so that it could be posted to our website.  And of course, the class that was most disengaged in the section above created some of the most dynamic remixes.

Teen Talk: So, what did the students think?  The biggest discussions we were having were around what makes technology “fun”?  When students were reflecting on their remixes, they weren’t allowed to simply say, “using this resource is fun”.  They had to give an explanation of why this was fun and why fun is motivating to students.  The number one answer to this was creating.  The students commented on how they got to create their own work and develop their own ideas.  The more creating we did, the more the engagement ratings went up at the end of class.

Now, we’re ready for phase 2!  Students will be completing more remix examples that I provide and will then take their lowest NWEA strands and create Content Remixes that other students can use to improve their understanding of the concept.  I can’t wait to see what emerges from this challenge and how the teens put their twist on this!

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Putting the Teen in TPACK

What helps us truly understand student engagement and motivation?  Hitting the streets and catching the beats…opening our ears without fears…listening to the ones who are getting it done.  Whatever the clever phrasing may be, it’s all about having open and honest dialogue with our students.  After all, especially at the middle school, they sure have an opinion and love to be heard!  As I was dialoging with a colleague about TPACK ( and the critical evaluation and thought that should go into technology integration, I was left as I usually am after discussing TPACK, like a Glowworm.  That’s right, you remember the toy!  My cheeks were that rosy red and aglow.  My hands were resting with precision on my temples, trying to pull some genius statement out that could possibly encompass my enthusiasm for the fabulousness of TPACK.  As usual, I just couldn’t find the words.  However, I did find an idea in that moment.  An idea that made my Ed Techie heart beat an insane rhythm and compelled me to email Punya Mishra and of course call my mom (of course I waited until the school bell rang, but it was a close call).

I thought, let’s put TPACK in the hands of the teens!  Why not?!  One of the teams at school had just asked me to teach a technology enrichment class.  I would have a group of 7th graders that met every other day.  We would meet for four sessions, then I would receive another group of 7th graders.  I would go through this rotation three times and then have my first group back.  This was the perfect opportunity to roll out my teen TPACK idea.

Curiosity consumed me…how would they handle it and what would they do with it?  This blog will serve as a reflection portal for our journey!