eBooks for Others

This year Mrs. Demas and I have enjoyed bringing various writing activities into the classroom that promote writing for a variety of audiences.  Recently, the students finished up another authentic writing project that gave a new audience a chance to view and enjoy their published work.

The 4th grade students created eBooks using Book Creator for the GES and BES preschool students. To begin this activity the fourth graders had to spend some time investigating other children’s books. As a class we discussed different aspects of illustrations, text patterns, and the amount of text on a page. We also took a closer look at how children’s authors use vivid language and sensory words in their writing. Students had the opportunity to work together in groups to study children’s books.

The fourth graders had a choice to write a fiction or nonfiction book. They could pick any topic to write about, and were provided with a list of preschool interests – which were supplied by the preschool teachers.

Each week Mrs. Demas and myself were more and more amazed by the progress students made on their books. The quality of their writing was phenomenal, and their illustrations blew us away. Students could create their illustrations by using software on the iPad, or they could use paper and drawing tools. Some students chose to combine both art forms. There were even some students that used 3D models as the characters in their books. One student, for example, created her main character out of clay (it was a dinosaur!).


Book Creator (the app we used) allowed students to add text, independently create illustrations, and add audio files to their stories. Students were required to capture all text in an audio clip, thus turning all stories into audiobooks. Book Creator also allowed the students to easily share their work with Google Drive for easy transfer to our lesson website and to the preschool iPads.

Perhaps the most fun element of this project was the day the fourth graders walked over to the GES preschool to share their stories. The students shared stories that warmed our hearts, taught social lessons, and that taught facts to the preschool students. Our fourth graders at GES were admirably caring and patient as they taught the preschool students how to open the books, activate the audio clips, and turn the pages. Now the preschool students have over thirty new eBooks on their iPads to enjoy for the rest of the school year!

We commend the fourth grade students for their focus and enthusiasm throughout this project!

Check out our books on this link!  You will need to download the files on a device with eReader software (iPad and iPhone will work).  We have also posted the materials we used to implement and assess this project.

Watch as a fourth grader teaches a preschool student to use the audio buttons and to turn the pages.

Collaborative Writing Project – the eBook is Finished!

Over the last few weeks, students in Goochland County have been working on an exciting collaborative writing project.  Students in Mrs. Demas’s 4th grade class at GES and students in Ms. Gill’s 5th grade class at RES worked together in a virtual environment to research and write biographies about historical figures, found in our Virginia SOL’s.


The planning process began over one of our many snow days earlier this winter (literally, we met at Panera to plan out the details)!  Mrs. Demas and Ms. Gill wanted students to work on a nonfiction-writing piece that involved a bit of research.  They also wanted students to focus on the editing and revision aspects of writing.  With the writing SOL test right around the corner, we couldn’t think of a more authentic way to get the students writing for a real audience and critically analyzing their own work as well as others.


The teachers assigned partners and provided students with guidelines and a rubric, but the students used Google Docs to communicate with their partners and complete the work involved with this project.  To start with, students wrote autobiographies to introduce themselves to their partners.  Next, students wrote persuasive letters to each other to convince one another to write about a specific historical figure.  Finally, the collaborative research began.  Partner pairs had to decide who would collect specific pieces of information.  Students began writing, and shared their work with one another.  During the writing process, students often left each other “glows” and “grows” to improve their shared writing piece.  The comment feature of Google Docs make it easy to share thoughts.  Students realized that it is a challenge to combine writing styles to make one cohesive paper.  They had to reorder each other’s work so that the essay could flow from one topic to another in an appropriate sequence.  Teachers enjoyed watching the students engage in an extremely active revision and editing process.


The teachers and I were impressed with the end result!  You can check out the students’ book on Google Docs here (if you do not have an e-reader), or the eBook here (if you are using a mobile device).

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly Regarding Social Media

A Goochland Schools Hosted Roundtable for Awareness

  •  How aware are you about the impact social media has on your child? 
  • How aware are you about how to use these tools safely? 
  • Are you interested in knowing more about how your son or daughter is using their cell phone?
When:  April 10, 2014 at 6:30 p.m
Where: Community Room, Reynolds Community College, Goochland Campus. We’ll cover this and more in a roundtable event with guests that includes GCPS teachers, principals, the Goochland Sheriff’s Office, and GCPS students. This event is free with light refreshments served.  

4th Grade Presentation to School Board

Last night, GES fourth grade teachers Nicole Carter, Krystle Demas, and Joe Beasley presented their recent classroom activities with iPads as part of Goochland Elementary’s Reflections presentation to the school board. Included in their presentation was video clips created both by Mr. Beasley and Ms. Zoe Parrish, our elementary instructional technology resource teacher. Mr. Beasley’s has been embedded below.

GES 4th Grade Rap

I was impressed with how each of the teachers so clearly shared the benefits they have seen so far this year with using iPads in the classroom. Goochland Elementary was our pilot location this year to explore 1:1 computing in grades 3-5. The students also did an excellent job at sharing their experiences. They got to share some posters they made embedded with Aurasma videos, QR codes, and then they performed a recent rap with the help of a beat from GarageBand off one of the student’s iPads.

The board meeting is available as YouTube video if you’re interested in seeing their presentation from last night! Kudos to Mrs. McCay, her students, and her awesome teachers!

Holiday Spirit

Beyond our holiday video that I produced with the help of Drs. Lane, Geyer, and Gretz, there was some real holiday spirit alive today at Goochland Elementary School through a reading campaign. Students learned about a lot of different holiday traditions through engaging books, read by teachers, volunteers, and even a few special guests! It was a great event, and what made it all the more fun was that students and teachers alike got to dress in their PJs.

Happy Holidays!

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GES Hosts a World Faire

I received an invitation some time ago to attend a World Faire at Goochland Elementary School. This was one of several outstanding G21 projects I looked forward to seeing come to life this year.

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Students organized country stations around the cafeteria with interactive components designed for the iPad, for learning about each country. The most popular interaction, of course, was the food students made that came from around the world.

While the technology inclusion was cool, the most outstanding take-away for me from this well-organized event was the ownership students had of the content associated with each country. Students were enthusiastic about knowing the culture and customs of each country and were eager to share it with their peers and visitors. I had the fortune today to tour the fair with my colleagues Bruce Watson, Pete Gretz, Steve Geyer, and James Lane.

GES students and teachers: awesome job!

iPad Learning Exhibition at GES on November 21st

We will be organizing a learning exhibition in collaboration with Ms. Parrish and Ms. McCay for parents and students at Goochland Elementary later this month. Organized like a forward-thinking museum, participants will be able to meander around the school and scan QR codes to see artifacts representing different learning activities across our 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade classrooms in the form of videos and more.

We hope you’ll join us beginning at 6 PM. The event will be followed by the school’s PTA meeting and a first grade performance!

Regular Student Features: Take a Look

Take a look at this new student feature, published by Zoe Parrish. The elementary iPad initiative continues to amaze the educational community and gather media attention.

Zoe Parrish is allowing students to tell the story through Student EduSLAM!. By hosting a brief educational video on her blog, students will give us regular snapshots of how learning is bring transformed at GES.

A New Learning Adventure Begins

Last night I had the pleasure to address 5th grade parents at Goochland Elementary School to kick off our pilot using iPad Minis in a 1:1 configuration for the first time. I demoed with my colleague Zoe Parrish three “apps” on the iPad – Garage Band, Edmodo, and iMovie. Students returned to school today with their iPads and I visited all three 5th grade classrooms at the start of the day.

A Friday tradition upstairs, led by Mr. Beasley, is to sing the “It’s Friday” Song using his guitar. All the kids in the 4th and 5th grade pour into the hallway and sing along. In the classroom we were talking about how to use an app, but as soon as the strumming started, the whole class rose up and many iPads came along. I was taken back how students automatically thought to capture the event using their new iPads with photos and video.

It was my pleasure to join these classes this morning to witness both some of the ideas we’d covered in this summer’s training, but also the student’s enthusiasm for what lay ahead with learning in a digital, connected way. I look forward to spending much more time at GES this year to aid our students and teachers along the road towards deeper learning. Thanks go to Ms. Ray (library), Mr. Meiller, Ms. Chewning, Ms. Cosby, and Ms. Nixon for their time Thursday evening which was instrumental in getting the iPads out to families. We also appreciate the help of the office staff – Ms. Rigsby, Ms. Trongone, and Ms. Parrish. As I mentioned with parents, we all owe a great debt of gratitude to Mr. Peter Martin for his expertise and hard work in preparing the iPads. We look forward to meeting with more parents on our upcoming nights for fourth grade and third grade in September.

We’ll continue to post information about our iPad Pilot on our dedicated webpage.

A little competition

This appears at the start of a dissertation I am reading by Rae Niles, completed in 2006. She starts her work with a little ditty written by an anonymous high school student from Abilene, Kansas. It appeared online in January, 2004.

I had a great time working with 14 folks from GES this week – training for the future of their school and possibly the future of our school division. While I was involved for “digital” and “technological” reasons, our real purpose was to consider concepts such as deeper learning, project-based approaches, and considering how we can personalize learning for students. While we joked around about some things be “hot” (thanks go to Mrs. Richardson from Apple for the phrase hotness), I was humbled by the group’s eagerness to approach all of this with an open mind.

Bring Your Own Device and 1:1 Pilot in Updated Tech Plan

At its latest board workshop on 23 April 2013, the School Board accepted revisions to the Division’s six-year technology plan. The Division has been using the plan since 2010 to direct major initiatives and to plan budgeting towards infrastructure improvements, such as wireless networking at the schools. This revision has added two new pilots announced at the workshop, as presented by technology team members Tom DeWeerd, John Hendron, Peter Martin, Sean Campbell, Jennifer Bocrie, and Bea Cantor. The first pilot will be a “Bring Your Own Device” scenario where select high school students will be allowed to bring mobile computing devices such as cell phones, e- readers, or tablets to school. Similar BYOD programs are being explored locally and around the country. The technology team’s recommendation was to start with high school seniors as the team monitored network usage during the trial. The team will be working with GHS principal Mike Newman to work out the details before the expected September start of the trial. As part of the pilot, a BYOD committee will be formed which will include teachers and participating students. The second pilot is a 1:1 computing initiative, where students would receive a tablet device from the school to use both in the classroom and to take home. This pilot would replace traditional paper textbooks with digital versions, including media that includes apps and videos. The Division decided to try this pilot at Goochland Elementary School, which currently has the fastest connection to the Internet of all three elementary schools. GES also accommodates the technology department’s repair depot, where Martin and Campbell report each day. “Our teachers are ecstatic about this opportunity, and really cannot wait!” mentioned GES principal Tina McCay about the 1:1 pilot. The pilot could provide up to three grade levels with computing devices. It will be financed through textbook funding. GES media specialist Tiffany Ray will be enlisted to assist with the pilot in both technical and instructional capacities.

Hendron told the board that these initiatives help position a technology plan as a vehicle that provides students rich learning experiences. “That’s always the primary goal,” he said.

Memorable Experiences and Learning

Quick! Tell me about the very best worksheet you ever saw in your life.

Anyone? Anyone? I didn’t think so.

Yesterday John Hendron and I were at Goochland Elementary School interviewing students who produced videos to share at a school-wide assembly. They worked very hard to plan a story, write a script, rehearse, direct, film, and edit the videos. The pride in their work was evident as they spoke about how nervous they felt when the video was on the screen, and how great it felt when they realized the people around them liked the video. The making of the videos and the assembly was an experience they are likely to carry with them for the rest of their lives. The lessons learned in making the video— the planning, the collaboration, the focus on the finished product, and the freedom to be creative — will stay with them.

One of the teams of students we interviewed reviewing our plans for posting video online.

Making a movie or any project like this one takes longer than completing a worksheet, but the learning sticks. The investment in time pays off when teachers don’t have to schedule review days in which they will likely end up re-teaching what students can’t remember because the worksheets they were given to “practice” were so unremarkable and forgettable.

Take the time to plan and execute student-centered, creative projects, whether you use technology or not. It pays off and makes school much more enjoyable for everyone.