Top Ten Tips for Attending Virtual Professional Learning for Educators

So much learning is happening virtually now and it is amazing.  I recently attended a virtual EdTech Conference in Nebraska!  This is an opportunity I never would have been able to take advantage of before the pandemic.  I have attended a number of virtual conferences during COVID and I’ve also organized and facilitated virtual learning over the last year and it is a different way to get your learn on!

In order to really get the most out of Virtual Professional Learning here are my go-to suggestions:

  1.  Organize your time and your conference selections in advance.  If there are many choices, take the time to do the research on the session and on the presenter. If there are digital links for presentations on the conference site to add into a digital tote-do it before your sessions so that you aren’t tempted to leave the session in order to do so.  Thank you ISTE LIVE 21  for the digital tote feature!
  2. Be PRESENT.  Be mindful and intentional about your learning.  If it isn’t the kind of learning that you were expecting, hop over to another session otherwise you’ll be resentful of wasted time and learning.
  3. Put your “out of office” email message on and don’t check your email.  If you were in an in-person setting, checking your email would be rude. This is time for your learning so treasure and protect that time.
  4. When possible attend LIVE sessions not asynchronous or previously recorded sessions.  LIVE sessions have opportunities to engage and ask questions which makes the learning is deeper.
  5. Have a PLP (Professional Learning Partner) or two! No one really wants to go to a conference by themselves. Some of the best learning takes place when you share what you learned in a session that your PLP wasn’t able to attend! You double the learning!
  6. Participate in the learning.  If there is a chat feature then put who you are and where you are from in the chat.  Ask questions, engage and connect.  This is where you grow your Professional Learning Network.  In a face to face conference you would sit down and meet new people.  Think of how you would engage with others in a real conference setting.
  7. TWEET! TWEET!  Get the conference hashtag, follow it, retweet and tweet about your learning and the presenters.  Follow those presenters and give them a shoutout. Take a picture of the slide that they are sharing and post it (without people’s faces and names in it.)  It is awesome as a facilitator to see the tweets afterwards.  It is timely feedback and motivational for the presenter.
  8. Take notes.  My PLPs and I recently collaborated on note taking using a Google Slide deck while attending a conference.  We pasted links, took screenshots and put notes of important information into the slide deck so we have the learning for later.
  9. Participate.  As a presenter, it isn’t nice to present to the empty boxes on Zoom or Webex. Just as in person, it is nice to see the reaction of the audience to pace yourself and to know that they are still with you! That being said, if you are eating or dealing with your dog or family or have decided to multi-task, leaving your camera on can be distracting for the participants and the presenter.  If there is a question asked in the chat, respond! There is nothing like being a presenter left hanging.  If there is a poll, a word cloud, a Jamboard,or a Kahoot, play along! The presenter created these things in order to make the presentation interactive for the adult learner.
  10.  Take Breaks.  Make sure you look carefully at the schedule (and the time zone) in order to plan your screen, water, coffee, bathroom, movement or snack breaks.

The most important thing to remember is that the presenters put time and effort to share their learning and expertise with you.  It is nerve-wracking to present to a group of educators.  Tech savvy people have tech issues too.  Give presenters grace and remember to thank them and provide feedback for their work and expertise.  They will appreciate it!


The Gender Gap in Technology

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According to a recent report* by ICTC (the Information and Technology Information Council) Canadian women represent about 50% of the overall workforce but represent only 25% of the technology industry workforce.  Of the 100 major tech companies in Canada only 5 have female CEOs and 1 Co-CEO.   26% of the tech companies have no women in senior leadership at all.  There is a gender wage gap in the industry of $7,000-$20,00 per year.  When I read these statistics I wondered as educators, what can we do about the gender gap in technology?  This is not an exhaustive list, but it is a place to begin:

1.  Build her confidence in her abilities.

2. Cultivate a community of supportive peers.

3.  Provide a STEM/STEAM club for girls.

4. Ensure that access to technology and computer experiences is encouraged and inclusive.

5. Foster interest in computing careers.

6. Be a role model as a LEARNER.

May 11th is National Girls Learning Code Day.  If you are looking to encourage coders in your school, why not begin on May 11th?  Below you will find links to resources for beginning coding.  Many students code on their own at home and may appreciate the opportunity to mentor fellow students.  The resources attached will get you started.  There is no special equipment or robotics required.  Teachers do not have to be expert coders to encourage their students.  Teachers can be role models of resilience, risk taking and problem solving by learning alongside their students.  Teachers only need to open the door and expose their students to the opportunities.

Girls Who Code Canada

National Girls Learn Code Day

Canada Learning Code


Hour of Code


*Cutean, A., Ivus, M. (2017). The Digital Talent Dividend: Shifting Gears in a Changing Economy. Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC). Ottawa, Canada.

Elaborated and written by Alexandra Cutean (Director, Digital Innovation Research and Policy). and Maryna Ivus (Senior Analyst, Research and Policy) with generous support from the ICTC Research and Policy Team.

Google Forms as Pedagogical Documentation Tools




I really love using Google Forms for anecdotal notes (something like this). I hate having to keep track of sticky notes, photos/samples of student work, class lists with comments, etc. and then try to make sense of it all come report card time. A few years ago, I was introduced to the magic of Google Forms at a tech workshop, and I immediately jumped in. Since then, I’d say that the most common tech question I’m asked as my school’s digital lead is, How do I set up pedagogical documentation with Google Forms?

So… here I am with a tutorial! Fair warning: this post is photo-heavy because I’ve provided screenshots throughout.


Step One: Create a New Form


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Open up Google Forms and hit the “Blank” button under “Start a new form”. You should end up with something like this:

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Step Two: Change the Title & Add Student Names

Set the title (blue arrow) to something you’ll remember. If you have multiple classes, you should include the class name in the title. Then name the first question “Student Name” and select dropdown from the menu to the right (red arrow). Time-saving tip: if you have an electronic class list file, you can highlight a column of student names, copy (ctrl + C), and paste the names into the response field for the question. It’ll populate the list with all of the names from that column.

I recommend setting this question as “Required” (black arrow) so that it won’t allow you to complete the form without selecting a student.

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Step 3: Create the Learning Skills (or Subject) Question

Your next question should be where you select which learning skills and/or subjects you are commenting on. I like to set this question to a checkboxes response style (black arrow) so that I can select multiple learning skills/subject areas when appropriate. I often set this question as “required” as well.

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Step 4: Create the Comments Field

Next, you want to create a place for you to type in your observations. Google Forms is pretty intelligent and automatically selects paragraph as the response style when you name the question “Comments”. Paragraph simply means that when you open up the form, it’ll give you a large field to type into. I recommend paragraph over short answer so that you don’t hit a character limit. I recommend setting this question as required, since it’s… you know… kind of the point of the form. 

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Step 5: Create a File Upload Question (if you want)

I always include a “file upload” option with my anecdotal forms so that I can attach samples of student work (scanned work, photos, files from Drive). It can be really useful if students are doing group work, hands-on activities, or work that is otherwise hard to keep around. Also useful for keeping your piles of student samples to a minimum!

When you first select “File Upload”, you’ll get a notice like this, and you just need to click “Continue” (black arrow):

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Then your question should look like this:

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I don’t play around with the options there, personally. I like to leave it open and flexible.

Step 6: Set Your Form to Collect Responses in a Spreadsheet

This is one of the best parts of Google Forms: if you ask it to, it’ll collect every response you submit in a spreadsheet, where you can access ALL of your anecdotal notes in one place. You can sort by student name, learning skill, whatever. Responses will be date/time stamped, so you know when you made the observations. You definitely want to do this.

To set your form to collect responses in a spreadsheet, first select “Responses”…

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Then click this little green button (the Sheets icon)…

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It’ll pop up with a window that looks like this…

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And when you hit “Create”, it’ll take you to your new spreadsheet, where responses will automatically be added as you submit them! It’ll look something like this:

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That’s it! You’re done! Your form is now ready to use. 

Final suggestions:

  • Bookmark it and add the bookmark to your bookmarks bar for easy access.
  • Share it with teaching partners so that all of your observations are in one place.
  • If you use Google Classroom and have multiple classes, make the header for your form the same as the header for Google Classroom so that you know you’re in the right one.

Hope some of you out there found this useful! If you’re looking for a more visual/simple way to track student work and learning skills, especially those in Kinder and Primary, consider using Google Keep instead of forms.


Technology and Social Media for Communication

For years I have maintained a class website. I found as parents became more tech-savvy, they enjoyed seeing the photos of student learning and reading about what was happening in the classroom. This seemed more timely, environmental and cost-effective than a monthly newsletter (as I was in a community that all parents had access to a personal computer). It also allowed parents the option to log on to the site at any our to find information or revisit an earlier post. Websites allow for documentation of the learning and growth of students.

This year I wanted to try Twitter. It was a new learning curve for me, but I could see the benefits of its immediacy. So last fall I started a Twitter account for our grade 6/7 classroom and invited parents and students to follow. Students created a logo contest in the class and selected a piece of student art to represent our account. I have found many benefits to Twitter instead of a classroom website. They include:

  • Timeliness – I usually take a photo and send a message once a day from my classroom. It is so quick and simple from my smartphone that my posts are more frequent than logging into a website and writing a post for a class website.
  • Focused – I find that my tweets are focused and meaningful. For example, I select a specific moment during math or science and take a photo that makes the learning visible. When I would write posts for my website, I often felt overwhelmed in covering all the subjects and providing enough detail.
  • Connections/Information/Networking – Sending tweets and using hashtags from our classroom has created dialogue with other educators, students, and interest groups, that would not be possible through a website. For example, my class was excited to be retweeted by Bird Studies Canada when we shared a photo of one of our students feeding a chickadee from his hand. This introduced us to information about the Great Backyard Bird Count, an accessible activity that interested students could learn more about. It also initiated an environmental leaders project to make and maintain bird feeders at our school.
  •  Reflection/Assessment – As a daily activity, tweeting from the classroom provides me with a purpose to capture learning and document it. I am then able to review my tweets weekly and reflect on the highlights or areas of need as assessment for learning.
  • Social Media Etiquette – Tweeting with my students allows for authentic discussions about how to conduct ourselves with appropriate image use. We also review our messages and discuss what they can convey.
  • Accessibility – Although my school is recognized as higher needs due to lower family incomes, some students have access to smartphones that they can use in the classroom with our Bring Your Own Device program. Others can share the iPads and netbooks that are available to our class.
  • Engagement – Each month, more students get their own account or encourage their parents and become excited about our classroom tweets that are retweeted by the Principal or the board to an even wider audience. We have participated in tweet chats with other classes, using a visual display of the tweets so the whole class can be involved in the discussion.

I have found Twitter to be an effective tool for increasing engagement and communication. I can use it to feature student voice and reach a community larger than our classroom or school. It also informs my own practice as I follow educational posts to inspire me!

Blogging in the classroom

As a way to help students represent themselves in a positive way online, at the beginning of my LTO I introduced a program on my blog. It is called the weekly five and it encourages students to choose three of five weekly activities.

On Monday they can answer the question or complete the task under the heading on my blog entitled “My Blog Mondays”. This question will relate to a subject or task that is the focus that week.

On Tuesday, students have the chance to post a video under the heading “Tube Tuesdays” as they are encouraged to find meaningful and inspiring youtube videos to match a topic. For parts of a  story, the students were encouraged to choose a video that captures one of the parts of a story. This encourages them to look for videos that suit a specific purpose and will also inspire them to be better identifiers and writers for different parts of the story.

On Wednesday, students are asked to come in to class and be prepared to discuss a topic or a project that they need help with. Starting this Wednesday, I will select the students and help them get on track and stay organized for a topic or subject I see them struggling with.

On Thursday, students are asked to come prepared with research for a topic on my blog. The topic is posted in the form of a picture and they are asked to discuss the progression from that older item to the item that we have today. An example that the students really loved was the old version of a phone. They came prepared with discussion related to the progression of phones worldwide.

On Fridays, which is the most popular post of all, is when students are asked to post on the “Feeling Instagood Friday” section of my blog of a photo taken or chosen by another student. They are to post a suitable caption for the photo and the best caption will be chosen as the following week’s photographer. This encourages students to use our blog as a practice tool for when or if they have instagram. They should be posting meaningful comments and appropriate comments to other’s photos.

This is just one way I use technology in the classroom. By making my blog an active daily tool, students will also use it to remind them of updates and events going on in the classroom. If you would like to view my blog the link is



Why I Love Teaching “Unusual” Things

I have a bit of a reputation for being a quirky teacher. My students can often be found in the hallways at school, engaged in some strange new whim that I have managed to tie into the curriculum in some way. There just isn’t enough room in a traditional classroom for my students to really get into their work without feeling cramped or overwhelmed by the proximity of other sutdents.

Up until this year, my classroom was located on the second floor of the school, surrounded by other hard-working classes with students who were much quieter and more studious than my boisterous, exuberant class. I think I know why I was moved to the bottom floor this year, and I can sum it up in one word: ukulele. I’ve talked about teaching ukulele before – about how it benefited me tremendously, because I never have to teach dance any more.

What I didn’t really talk about was how the ukuleles – and other unusual undertakings like them – benefit my students.

First, let me tell you a little bit about some of the more unusual or exciting projects my students have worked on over the last few years:

– Melted crayon art: Using hair dryers, hot glue guns, bristol board, and a lot of patience, my Grade 5s explored physical changes of matter by using wax crayons to create works of art for our annual art show.

– Original musical compositions: Using online musical notation software, my Grade 5s composed original pieces of music to accompany short stories they wrote for French Writing. The following year, I had my Grade 5s use the same software to create pieces of music that represented different fractions. One activity, multiple curriculum connections!

– Board games: In Mathematics, my Grade 4s and 5s created their own versions of the popular board game “Carcassonne” to explore fractions and probability.

– Quilts: For our art show last year, my Grade 4s and 5s designed and created small quilts using sewing machines and donated fabric. The quilts were auctioned off and the proceeds were donated to charity. This project was a part of both our Mathematics and Visual Arts programs.

– Dream homes: I have had Grade 4s and 5s design their “dream home” using a set of parameters (specific area and perimeter, specific rooms they must include, etc.).

– Weblogs: As part of my Language Arts curriculum, I have had my Grade 4s and 5s create personal weblogs (password protected) where they responded to writing prompts, wrote about their lives, and read and responded to peers’ posts.

It has been a phenomenal experience teaching my students to do these things. Some of them are REALLY fun, some of them are REALLY hard, but they have all been beneficial. These projects have allowed my students to explore the curriculum in ways that they wouldn’t have imagined on their own.

You’ll notice that a lot of them have to do with Mathematics – and that’s been a conscious focus on my part. When I ask my students at the beginning of the year what their favourite and least favourite subjects are, the majority of my students list Math as one of their least favourite subject. I try to change that by having them look at Math in a different way. A lot of my students don’t realize, at the beginning of the year, that Math is an integral part of music and graphic design. It’s exciting to watch them discover fractions and patterns in a musical composition, or figure out ratios to make different colours in visual art, or carefully and painstakingly measure out quilt squares to ensure that they will fit within the design they have envisioned. These activities help my students see that Mathematics has more to do with everyday life than just adding up numbers or memorizing multiplication facts. They see why Math is important to learn and how they might actually use it in the future. It is made less abstract by being placed in a real world context.

The blogs, on the other hand, give my students a purpose for their writing that goes beyond “writing in a notebook that only my teacher will see.” Their voices as writers change when they are writing for their peers instead of their teacher. It’s exciting to watch them interact in their second (or third, or fourth…) language through the comments on their weblogs. It’s also a way for them to make connections with other students that they might never have spoken to or sought out before. I have watched new friendships form in our protected online sphere, then watched as those students brought that friendship into the real life classroom. By having them write for one another instead of me, I find that my students are more willing to take risks with their writing and worry less about getting it “perfect.” They have fun. They talk about things they wouldn’t have talked about before. They enjoy writing.

These projects take a lot of forethought and preparation. They are not small undertakings by any means, nor are they particularly easy. There is a learning curve with these kinds of things, and not all students will enjoy all of these activities. It’s worth doing things a little outside the traditional realm of teaching, though. I’ve never seen some of my students laugh as much as they do when they’re making up a ridiculous song on the ukulele about smelly feet. I also never imagined that a group of very athletic, very boyish boys would take quilt design and sewing quite as seriously as some of my students did last year.

The best part, though, is seeing every student in my class find something to be proud of. Sometimes it’s the fact that they got up and performed a song in front of the class, other times it’s the new skill they learned, other times it’s that they actually knew HTML before I taught students how to make weblogs and they were able to jump in and help other students learn. It is really exciting and rewarding to see my students engaged in these activities and taking charge of their learning.

Even if I’m a giant disruption to my colleagues when I take over the foyer of the school with six sewing machines (and 50 students) every Monday morning for two months straight… or when my 25+ students are scattered through the halls of the schools plucking away at the strings of their (mostly out of tune) ukuleles… or when we blow a breaker on one side of the school with all our hair dryers so none of the hallway outlets work.

I am that teacher. My students are those students.

We have a LOT of fun learning.

Using Twitter in the Classroom

Sure, Twitter can be used to find out what Kim Kardashian had for lunch today, but it can also be used to connect classrooms, teachers, and school communities.

Today I am going to talk about connecting with your families and students through Twitter.

Twitter is a powerful tool if used properly. The first step is choosing a “handle” (or name) that isn’t already taken. Remember there is a limit of 140 characters in a tweet, so don’t make your name too long! You might also want to make your name somewhat generic and not directly related to the specific class/school you are at, as that may change next year! Go with something that is specific to you – @TaylorsClass @LearningRules @ClassroomFun @EduFun. Choose something that you can take with you to your next class, your next school, your next experience. It takes a lot of work to build followers and to develop a good collection of people to follow, you don’t want to have to start from scratch each year.

If your goal for this twitter account is just to post stuff to the parents and students in the class, it might be wise to make it a “disposable” account and make it specific to that class and year so you can change it up each year. You might wand a more specific handle: @TaylorGr2_2014 @learning2015 @gr2FI14 – again, be creative!

Once you have settled on a handle, you need to get followers. You don’t necessarily need lots of big name followers for this account – your goal is more to connect your classroom community, possibly connect to other classrooms, share what your class is doing with your school, board, and PLCs. You can do all of this by sharing our handle with those who you think would benefit from seeing the information you are sharing.

Before you tweet, double check the guidelines in your school board around posting student work, names, pictures, etc. Don’t post pics or names of students or their signed work without parent consent.

Even without pics of students, you can still share lots of valuable stuff on your twitter feed. You can tweet text explaining what you are doing, questions that parents might want to ask their kids about what they learned today, agenda messages, reminders, etc…..the list goes on!

Twitter can also be used to connect to famous people. We used to write letters to authors, but now we can tweet them! I have had students write stories in the style of Mo Willems and then we tweeted them to Mo (@MoWillems) and Pigeon (@The_Pigeon) for them to see what we had been working on! We sent Canadian Astronaut Chris Hadfield (@Cmdr_Hadfield) tweets from each of our grade 2 students the day he left space, thanking him for everything he did to educate and inform us while he was up there! Twitter really does make the world a lot smaller!

As a teacher, I have tweeted what my class is doing and it always feels great when parents, other teachers, admin, or anyone really, comments on what we are doing! We often share questions we have, the “I wonder” questions that come out of inquiry – Twitter is an excellent resource for expert knowledge.

If you decide to use Twitter in your classroom, make a point of tweeting at least once a day. Even it if is just to say that everyone is having fun today! I like to print pages that have 140 boxes and teach my kids to write “tweets” about their day and then I will type them in at the end of the period, day, etc. We also post those 140 box sheets on the wall on our “twitter feed” so other classes can see what we are up to!

Twitter seems to be sticking around. We might as well embrace it!

Amazing classroom tool

After having been in my LTO placement at Ancaster Meadow for more than a month now, I have finally found a perfect way to connect with parents and my students at the exact same time. A few colleagues of mine have been using the app “Class Dojo.” This app connects to parents and students devices and tracks their progress throughout the day. You can award students points for certain behaviours and the parents will see this as well as the students. At the end of the week, I have been announcing the champion of the week for most points! The kids love it and have been very focused everyday in order to earn points.

Competition in the classroom is sometimes frowned upon, but my kids have been flourishing from this app and I think that they really enjoy knowing exactly why they have earned a point. You can message parents form this app and many of them have used the app to get into contact with me. It is easier than an email because it is exactly like an iMessage but over a safe and secure app where no contact information is actually given out.

I recommend this app for all grades and it works so well in my grade six class. I know that the grade three classes in our school are really enjoying it as well! Connecting with parents and ensuring student success and motivation at the same time is the best resource I have come across in my time on my placement so far!

Communication with Parents – Part 1

Communication with parents/guardians is not just a courtesy, it is a legal requirement as part of being a teacher. How you communicate with parents/guardians depends a lot on the content of the message.

Sometimes information is for all parents. This can go out in a newsletter format. Be careful about setting up unreasonable expectations of yourself around how often your newsletters come out. If you start the year sending them every Monday, parents will start to depend on seeing them on Mondays and you will preset that expectation that they will continue to come weekly, even on weeks when there isn’t a lot to share. Don’t make work for yourself, try to make your newsletters (should you choose to send them home) more sporadic so you don’t set yourself up with these expectations that you are sometimes unable to maintain.

If you choose to go digital, make sure you provide a non-digital option for families who do not have access. If you have families who do not speak English at home, you may want to speak with your admin about resources available to you in your board for translating some of the essential information to ensure all families are getting information equitably.

Deciding on a digital format can be challenging. Many teachers choose to set up a classroom website or blog, which allows them to post information. Be careful about allowing 2-way communication happen on the page without moderation. The last thing you want is your page to become a place for parents to start complaining or chatting about unrelated items. In my experience, using the Blog format (Blogger through Google was the format I used) is a great way to share resources and activities. There is a moderate option in setting so students and parents can comment but they come to you first and you can decide if they get posted. Sometimes a comment might not need to be posted (i.e., “can you please call me tomorrow to discuss the report card?”), whereas, others add to the value of the resources and information shared.

This link ( is to my classroom blog that I used last year. I shared the link on every paper newsletter I sent home, tweeted it, wrote it in agendas, had the students start there at the beginning of each session on the computers in the class – we used it all the time! My class was used to the site and they would go home and share it with their family. I could then use it share information with the families. (I went on leave at the end of the year and was even able to invite my LTO onto the site as a guest blogger to post while I was away!).

If you choose to email your newsletter, send it as a PDF and CC your principal. This adds an extra level of transparency. Be advised however, that when it is sent as an email, it is easy for a parent to hit reply and ask a question, make a comment, etc (i.e., should we send extra mittens that day just in case? – something that they can figure out on their own, or put in the agenda if it is really a burning question). Make sure you send it during normal school hours (8-5 is a good general rule of thumb) and be careful not to engage in casual conversation over email. You need to maintain professional boundaries when dealing with parents at all times. With email, it is easy to get casual.

Communication is an essential part of teaching. When you are communicating with all of the parents in your class, you can be more general in your approach. Next week, I will look at more specific communication tools for when you want to contact individual parents.

My LTO and technology in the classroom

After supplying a week at Ancaster Meadow a very exciting elementary school in Ancaster, I applied for the LTO in the classroom I had been in. I was accepted into the position and am now starting a new journey as a teacher of grade 6/7. This has been the most exciting experience as I am trying everyday new things to inspire and focus the students. I am using the smart board daily as a way to keep them connected to my new blog and to show them examples of how to do certain assignments. As I teach them literacy the most, it is very important that I model most of their assignments for them. The smart board has given me a large amount of access to this.

I have also used the computer to set them up for their lessons with instructions on the board and showed them various videos during History about food in New France. I am about to show my students life during the settlement in New France.

I am very fortunate to have my amazing Macbook Pro which has a mark book in it where I can continually be recording records and notes about all the students. I am also really using my other programs such as pages and encouraging my students to use this to type up their new assignment; writing news articles about their partners.

I am so fortunate to have these many opportunities to use technology in the classroom. I also had a period with grade fives where they were to use their devices to research specific topics. Technology has helped me get started with my new role and aids me everyday. I am so fortunate to be in my new classroom and to have the help of my friend, technology.

For those of you who are interested, my classroom blog is