My Students are going to be Published Authors!

I can’t believe it has been 22 days since my last blog post. I am an awful blogger. But I have a really good excuse…



Nearly 75 first graders are getting their non-fiction books published!! Each student did a research project on a mammal and wrote a 14 page book – complete with nonfiction text features such as a Table of Contents, Glossary, Index, and a diagram. I had no choice but to type them because their handwriting wasn’t quite as good as I had expected. Needless to say, I have been a little busy.

So are you interested in doing a project like this? Here’s how I did it (with a few tips of how I’ll do it next time).

DID I MENTION IT WAS FREE?
Interested? Check out Student Treasures. While we haven’t seen the final product yet, their customer service thus far has surpassed my expectations. They provided me EVERYTHING I needed. Storyboards, ideas, the paper, the kits, the letters to parents, they paid for shipping BOTH WAYS, they even sent me reminders and sample e-mails. 


Not only did all of my 1st graders get a book published, but many of our other classed did a “classbook”. This is where the entire class works together to make 1 big book (each student has 1 page of text and 1 illustration). We had 9 classes do this. They were equally as awesome.

I began this project with my first graders long before I discovered the opportunity to have our books published. This actually hurt me in the end. The company did have some guidelines, and had I known this ahead of time, I would have done things a lot differently.

In a nutshell, here is the process we did. I have a 30 minute class, once a cycle (6 days). About 7 minutes is reserved for book checkout. The teachers worked with me and if I needed extra time, they were incredibly flexible.

Lesson #1: Introduce non-fiction text features (Scholastic has this really great oversized book)

Lesson #2: Students were assigned animals and students did a modified KWL chart (we just did the K and L since I was picking what they needed to find). This was very funny – I had a lot of kids put “shark” as the enemy.

Lesson #3: Students used Pebble Go to identify the habitat. The students could just take notes on this sheet, but they were required to give credit (we’ve discussed this previously).

Lesson #4: Students used the Animal Kindom series by Julie Murray to find some interesting facts. We also made sure to give credit

Lesson #5: Students used Pebble Go to determine the diet of their animal. 

Lesson #6: I modified the “Print and Label” worksheets from Pebble Go and the students labeled a diagram of their animal.

Lesson #7: As a class, we created an index and a table of contents (since I typed the kids work, I made sure that all of their information was organized in the same way). This allowed us all to have the same Table of Contents and the same Index.

Lesson #8: The pictures. This was sort of a disaster. The company suggests using washable, water-based markers (aka. the crayola ones). Well, boy did the lefties have some trouble. Since the illustrations go directly on the pages of the book, we had a lot of smears and streaks. They’ll love it just the same. Hopefully it doesn’t show up on the reprints.

The students did their covers in art class and OMG they are AMAZING!! They actually did these for the art show and then the art teacher did me a huge favor and scanned them and emailed them to me so I could print them.

(p.s. red on top of elephants is sunburn, not blood…I asked)

Lesson #9: The final thing we did was go back to our K-L chart and fill in the right hand column. Since this project was a Super 3 research project, we also did the “Review” step using this worksheet.


I can’t wait to post again in a few weeks with pictures of the final product. I absolutely can’t wait to see the reaction on the kids faces. They are so pumped. 

Taking a Dive

The greatest inventions solutions to common problems.


I had a problem (and many of my colleagues did as well). I wanted to create a solution. I started looking into starting my own software. I was overwhelmed. 

Then I stumbled upon Startup Weekend

And I saw one was coming to a town near me. I really didn’t know what to expect, so I expected nothing. If anything, I thought it would be an opportunity to meet people that actually know something about running a business.

So I arrived Friday night, poured my heart into a 60-second pitch.


Fast forward 54 hours…

And you have TrackMyLessons. A company. A legit product. Operational, albeit barely, but enough to be considered an MVP. 

And now a new journey begins. I can call myself a teacherpreneur. I’m so excited to see where this will go.

If you have an idea, but don’t know what to do with it – tell someone. Go to a Startup Weekend. Following founders on Twitter – they’re an amazing resource.

iPad Tips: Lock Screen to Stay within an App!

My school district recently blessed me with an iPad. I’ve been super excited about it and have been trying to use it in many was as possible. As an elementary teacher, I was finding some issues where students would navigate away from the page or app I put them on – both intentionally and accidentally. This was especially an issue for some of the video sites I use.

This was also an issue in my personal life. I have an 8 month old son, and when showing him a video on YouTube that I watched as a child (on VHS of course), he would get excited and touch the screen and stop the video.

P.S. Here is the video – “Baby Songs

I stumbled upon this tip and thought I’d share.

It’s something called “Guided Access” and it has been a lifesaver.


Click on your Settings icon. 


Click on the “General” tab if not already there (1)
Scroll down and click on “Accessibility” (2)


Click on “Guided Access”. By default, this option is set to “off”. 

Turn it on and you will be prompted to set a passcode.


To turn Guided Access on, visit the website or app you wish to lock. 


Once you are there, click the home button quickly 3 times.



The Guided Access menu pops up and gives you some options. You can either lock certain areas of the screen (ads or something) OR lock the entire screen (when viewing a video). 



Click START


To stop, click home button 3 times and enter the passcode and click DONE.

Thank you to Voice4U for the images.

Copyright Confusion



One of the 5th grade teachers in my building does a great project every year where her students make book trailers. This year, I stumbled upon an opportunity for her students to enter a “Digital Book Report” contest, hosted by the PAIU. It sounded like a perfect opportunity for her students!

I was surprised to see the Copyright Information on the page said “Fair Use does not apply.”

I have attended numerous Copyright workshops and have read a lot on the subject, and my first reaction was that the website must be incorrect. So I did some investigating.

The first thing I did was send an email on the Pennsylvania School Librarians Association and the PA School Librarians Listservs. I received about ten responses and unfortunately, they were all different. See some responses below:


“Fair use applies in the case of “face to face instruction” which would not be the case in creating a video book report.”


“Hi Heather, While not an actual part of the fair use doctrine, interpretation of fair use has been determined to mean classroom use of copyrighted materials. When students use copyrighted materials under the fair use doctrine, those project cannot then be removed from the classroom and used in contests or posted on a web site while claiming fair use. That exemption really does stop at the classroom (or any area used as a classroom) door when it comes to sharing the student work with any area outside the classroom. I believe you will find that most contests cannot and do not include projects that contain copyrighted works. In our area that includes regional computer fairs, art contests (highway public awareness billboards for example), and graphic design contests. And there have been court cases on this as well. 

Understanding copyright is very complicated, and the best publication I’ve found for educators is Copyright Condensed, which is a product of Heartland Area Education Agency. The URL is http://www.heartlandaea.org/media/cms/CopyrightCondensed2010_F45F4638D4762.pdf We were given permission to remove the section detailing permissions for the online databases their member schools license, and we’ve just started using it with our high school teachers. 

Some professional references that discuss this include Complete Copyright by Carrie Russell ©2004 on page 47, books by Kenneth Crews and Carol Simpson. I have new editions for Simpson and Russell on order and haven’t received them yet. I hope this helps!”


“I agree with you, Heather. It’s up to the user to interpret Fair Use. Being in or out of the classroom doesn’t necessarily make use “fair” or not, as you say. The students should evaluate their use of copyrighted material based on transformativeness, effect on the market for the owner’s product, benefit to society, etc.”


“I think it would have been better worded that Educational Fair Use does not apply. Although this term isn’t official – it has become known to mean Fair Use under the umbrella of teaching, education. I think they are CYA to make sure that even though it is an educational contest, that you can’t apply the same conditions as you would in the classroom. When our students enter the Comm Tech contests at MU I think it’s the same deal. “


Wow – now I was really confused. And I could tell so were my colleagues. Thankfully, we had a bit of a snow/ice squall which trapped me inside. I used this precious time to read every copyright/fair use article, report, and study I could find.


My conclusion: The website is wrong.




I have included the links to various websites and included various excerpts that support my decision:


1. Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Online Video

In reviewing the history of fair use litigation, we find that judges return again and again to two key questions:
• Did the unlicensed use “transform” the material taken from the copyrighted work by using it for a different purpose than that of the original, or did it just repeat the work for the same intent and value as the original?
• Was the material taken appropriate in kind and amount, considering the nature of the copyrighted work and of the use?
Both questions touch on, among other things, the question of whether the use will cause excessive economic harm to the copyright owner.
If the answers to these two questions are “yes,” a court is likely to find a use fair. Because that is true, such a use is unlikely to be challenged in the first place.

2. Documentary Filmmakers Statement of Best Practices in Fair Use

Fair Use need not be exclusively high-minded or “educational” in nature. Although nonprofit or academic uses often have good claims to be considered “fair”, they are not the only ones. A new work can be “commercial” – even highly commercial – in intent and effect and still invoke fair use. Most of the cases in which courts have found unlicensed uses of copyrighted works to be fair have involved projects designed to make money, including some that actually have.

3. Model School Copyright Policy for Using Copyright Materials in Digital Media Production

Can I use clips from popular music in my academic or creative work? 

This depends on how you use it. The purpose of pop music is to entertain by creating a particular mood, feeling or emotion. If you’re using the clip to accomplish this same goal, that’s not very transformative. But if you’re commenting or critiquing the music, that’s a clear example of fair use. If you’re using a short sample of a song as an illustration of a larger idea, you may claim fair use. But if you’re merely exploiting the familiarity of the song to attract people’s attention, then you should ask permission and seek a license.

When my academic or creative work uses copyrighted materials, can I post it to YouTube or somewhere else online? 

When your work is transformative under the fair use standard, your new work is protected by copyright, and you can choose to distribute it in any way you want. If your academic or creative work is removed from YouTube or another Internet Service Provider by a mechanized takedown process, you can claim fair use and have it reinstated.

4. Recut, Reframe, Recycle Overview and the Full Report

(Be sure to check out both). This website includes the researchers Top 5 examples in various categories that represent Fair Use. I bet you’ve seen a lot of them. I love the Evolution of Dance!

5. The actual LAW

Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 106 and 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include—

(1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
(2) the nature of the copyrighted work;
(3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
(4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

6. Renee Hobbs. I’m not going to provide a link. Google her. She’s amazing.

@LibrarianLister yes, this contest is inaccurately interpreting #copyright law – fair use applies widely beyond educ use
— Renee Hobbs (@reneehobbs) December 8, 2013

While I’m glad I took the time to do this research, I’m also very sad. I’m sad because due to this widespread confusion of copyright and fair use, our students are losing out. In a world of remixes, mashups, and a Day of Coding, how can our students not use copyrighted material? And I don’t mean just while they’re students, but as citizens. I find it sad that educators have sought so desperately for some clarity on copyright and fair use terms, only to be taken further and further away from the actual law. Remember those “Educational Use Guidelines” that had those cursed “10%” or “30 seconds” stuff? Well while the aims were noble at making Fair Use a bit more clear for educators, it actually was detrimental. Fair Use was never meant to be black and white. It is a flexible document that was meant to encourage responsible creativity. And by us librarians not having a grasp on that, our students and teachers are losing out. We need to change that.

 Now before you start jumping at me I feel the need to point out that I always encourage the use of “Copyright-Friendly” materials as well as those licensed with Creative Commons licensing. I show my students a plethora of resources  and no matter what, we give credit.

One more thing you should read: The Cost of Copyright Confusion

Smackdown: Edshelf vs. Graphite

Disclaimer: The following post is merely my opinion. Neither EdShelf or Common Sense Media provided any input into the writing of these reviews. Perhaps you will have a different opinion than mine? If so, I’d love to hear about it. Post comments!


I love tech tools. I especially love tech tool directories. I’ve been using EdShelf and Common Sense Media’s Graphite more than any other. Today I’m going to take a side by side comparison of the two tools and see how they stack up against each other. 

We’ll be examining the following aspects of each tool:

1. The presentation of the site – Is it easy to navigate?
2. Searching for tools – Do I have to know what I’m looking for or can I browse by subject/age/etc.?
3. Curating tools  Is there a way to save these tools for later? 
4. Quality and layout of individual reviews – Who does the reviews? Do they actually help me when making a decision to use/purchase the tool? 
5. Variety in directory – Is the directory thorough? Are there tools missing?



~VERSUS~




Round 1: Presentation of site

EdShelf: EdShelf shows the “Trending Tools” followed by some “Featured Collections” (we’ll discuss the Collections later…), followed by a stream of recently submitted reviews, and at the very bottom of the page, a subject category list of tool is listed. By clicking on one of these categories, you are directed to a page with various tools that are tagged with that category name.

  • Pro: I love the ability to click on a subject – especially if I’m just browsing.
  • Con: It’s at the very bottom so I feel some people would miss it. And some of the category names are repetitive, so there aren’t actually as many as it seems. Ex: “Lesson Plan”, “Lesson Plan Creator” and “Lesson Plans” are 3 different categories and they have different results. Bummer.

Graphite: By default, you are on the “Reviews and Ratings” page, but you can choose other areas of the site to explore, including “Top Picks”, “Meet Our Teachers”, “Get Inspired”, “Boards” (we’ll discuss these later), and “Blog”. Right off the bat you are prompted with search filters to narrow by type of tool, age range, and subject area. The rest of the page is filled with boxes of reviews, each featuring a screen shot of the tool. (I love pictures)
  • Pros: All of the reviews note the type of tool (Website, App, etc.) and it notes whether the product is Free, Paid (and sometimes list the price), or Free to Try. It also lists the appropriate grade range and devices that the tool will run on. 
  • Cons: I wish the apps and websites were on separate pages or at least more distinguishable (different color or something). 
Winner: Graphite

Round 2: Finding tools

EdShelf: You are able to filter results by Price, Age, Subject, Platform, and Category. There are 30 subjects to choose from and more-or-less align to content areas (e.g., Geometry, Geography, Physics). The category option includes things such as “Bookmarking” and “Image Editing”. However, as stated above, while there are lots of categories listed, many of them are repetitive.

  • Pros: The amount of filters make it easy to browse without having something specific in mind.
  • Cons: No matter how hard I try, I can only choose one option from each filter. For example, if I wanted to narrow down to just the tools that are FREE or FREE TO TRY, I would have to perform two separate searches since I can’t choose both. The biggest issues relates to choosing the Age. The ages listed are actual single value ages. I would much rather search by age range rather than a specific age. Another bummer – you can’t organize the results (ex: by highest rating, etc.)
Graphite: You don’t have to go to a special page to begin searching for tools on Graphite. You simply click the filters (Type, Subject, Grades, and Price) located right on the main page! 
  • Pros: Instead of merely showing a list, Graphite’s reviews feature a screenshot, Learner Rating, Teacher Rating (if it has one), and a short description of the tool. I also love that it shows the price.
  • Cons: Again, I wish the reviews for Apps v. Websites were distinguished a little better. 
Winner: Graphite

Round 3: Curating Tools

EdShelf: You can create a “Collection” to save tools for later. You can choose to make these collections Public or Private. A simple drag and drop feature creates a collection similar to a Pinterest board. You can also add your own annotations.

  • Pros: Drag and drop is so simple! Once you create a collection, you can automatically print a list of URLs or a list with QR codes! (so stoked about that)
  • Cons: You must have already reviewed the tools prior to entering the “Collection” screen. Although you can use the same filters as the search screen, you cannot click on the tool to read the reviews. 
Graphite: Graphite allows you to create “Boards” to save your favorite tools. You can also view Boards of other educators. In order to create a board you must first find a tool, click on its review, and then click “Add to Board”. After you have created a board, it will be listed on your profile. If you click on the “Boards” tab in the homepage, it merely directs you to a list of recently created Boards (which is not very searchable).

  • Pros: A very clean layout. Easy to read and of course – love the screenshots.
  • Cons: You can’t add your own notes to the tools you bookmark. I am also having a difficult time searching through other Boards. Many of them only have 1 or 2 tools.
Winner: EdShelf

Round 4: Individual Reviews
(to make this round as fair as possible, I will be looking at reviews of Animoto)

Edshelf begins most of its reviews with a video. In this case, it shows a 1-minute Animoto promotional video through a YouTube player. (I am working on this at home, but this might be a problem for some if their schools filter YouTube.) EdShelf uses a star rating (out of 5) in three categories: Learning Curve, Pedagogical Effectiveness, and Student Engagement. It then gives a brief Description, Reviews, Pricing (with lots of details on the various versions)and Collections. There are currently 6 reviews for Animoto, but 4 of the 6 are from the same person? Yet again, they are all unique reviews (and quite helpful). From this screen you can directly “Add to Collection”. It also lists several “Related Tools”
  • Pros: I love the related tools! And the details on the pricing page – awesome!
  • Cons: The “Collection” tab doesn’t do that much for me. It is merely a listing of all of the Collections that include Animoto (there are 217 of them). 
Graphite: *NOTE there are 2 separate product reviews – 1 for Animoto and the other for Animoto Video Maker (the app). For this review, I will be looking at the website review.
Instead of a video, Graphite includes several images from the product in review. Additionally, Graphite provides two ratings – Learning Rating and a Teacher Rating. Learner Ratings are done by experts at Common Sense Media while the Teacher Ratings are from teachers that submit “Field Notes”. The reviews feature the Price, Grade(s), Setup Time and Type (app, website, etc.). The reviews include Pros and Cons and detailed summaries of the product. When looking at “Learning Dimensions” (Engagement, Pedagogy, Support), there are individual ratings for each component as long with supporting evidence/descriptions. The page also displays related tools.
  • Pros: The reviews are incredibly detailed. I love that the reviews are broken down into various components. I also love that a lot of the reviews include “How I use it”. The “Time to Set Up” is also great information to have. 
  • Cons: The reviews are incredibly detailed. (I know…) but sometimes I don’t have time to read that much text.
Winner: TIE
I hate ties! But I absolutely had to. I changed my answer a billion times and kept switching back and forth. I strongly prefer the look and feel of EdShelf; however, the quality and depth of the reviews on Graphite are by far superior. I feel like they both have their place. If I need a quick bit of information, I will probably use EdShelf. But if I need a detailed summary and examples of how a tool can be used, I would use Graphite.

Round 5: Directory of Tools
(to make this round as fair as possible, I searched all “Math” tools with no other filters applied)
EdShelf: 440 results. Results are shown as a long scrolling page with the ability to “Show More Results” if desire. When you click this, more results are added to the original list. (It took me a while for it to display all 440 results). The very last product listed is “Math vs. Undead” (an actual math tool). As a test, I searched for “Pic Collage” and “Math vs. Zombies” as those are 2 apps I have on my iPad. I found both.
  • Pros: Lots of results and they are all actually about math!
  • Cons: Can’t filter results by ratings. I also wish their was an easier way to view all results without hitting “See More Results” a hundred times.
Graphite: 223 results. Results are organized on pages with 10 tools per page. The very last product listed is “Shmoop” (a test prep website for a variety of topics). I also searched for Pic Collage and Math vs. Zombies. No results for either.
  • Pros: You can sort by Last Updated or Price.
  • Cons: A lot of missing tools. 
Winner: EdShelf

In conclusion…


1. The presentation of the main page – Winner: Graphite
2. Searching for tools – Winner: Graphite
3. Curating tools  Winner: EdShelf
4. Quality and layout of individual reviews – Winner: Tie
5. Variety in directory – Winner: EdShelf

So…with both tools winning 2.5 rounds (?), I’m going to take a look at what matters most to me in order to choose a winner. 

And the winner is….

I chose EdShelf for a few reasons. Overall, I like the look and feel (totally a personal preference). I have also found that it has a great deal more tools indexed. That is incredibly important to me because I want to stay ahead of the game (impossible…I know). I also really enjoyed the Collections on EdShelf over the Boards on Graphite (again..just personal preference). The Boards on Graphite really weren’t useful to me. When looking through a lot of the reviews on Graphite I found that I wasn’t reading them in their entirety merely due to the length. But what’s there is good stuff. Details. Examples. Lots of good stuff. I guess I just don’t have the time or attention span to read it all. So for now, until another tool comes out that I like better, I will be using EdShelf.

Best Apps for Digital Storytelling

This is a guest post from Samantha Morra of EdTechTeacher.org

Computers, and the digital tools on those computers, brought video editing to the classroom years ago. As those tools became easier to use, more and more students were given opportunities to share and demonstrate knowledge using video. iPad continues to transform the process by integrating the key elements of digital storytelling – capturing photos, videos, and audio – all in one mobile device. Through apps, iPad provides a variety of options for how to compose or combine those key elements to create an effective demonstration of learning.
Digital storytelling is a powerful tool in the classroom. It is engaging for students and teachers of all grade levels and can be used across the curriculum. Most of all, digital storytelling gives students a voice and a way of communicating information in an authentic manner. One of the great things about digital stories is that there are no “cookie cutter” answers. Each student creates a unique piece that demonstrates their understanding. Digital storytelling on iPad can empower, motivate and engage students, helping them to make deep connections to learning.
So, grab your iPad and check out some of the best free apps for digital storytelling:

  • With Tellagami, students can create quick animations that liberate them from the physical world and remove concerns about appearance and general physics. Tellagami allows them to create an avatar and custom background, as well as to have the avatar speak with the student’s voice or via text-to-speech. Students can place their avatars in all sorts of interesting places like a plant cell or next to George Washington. They can have their avatar sit on a library book shelf or stand on the ocean floor. 
  • Videolicious allows students to shoot, do short quick edits in a matter of minutes, and easily share their videos. The app is being used by reporters from newspapers, like the Washington Post, to have their reporters capture and report news quickly. Students can use this app like the experts, quickly and easily creating videos.
  • ScreenChomp is an awesome way to use screencasting for storytelling with our youngest learners. Just put up a picture and have your student talk about it, draw on top of it, and record. This app allows for authentic communication of learning as students are able to show process and understanding.
  • Animoto has been around a long time on the computer. The app is even more powerful because of how quickly and easily images and sound can be strung together, helping. Additionally, this app helps students understand the power of images, requiring them to think critically about the images they choose and what information, tone and emotions are conveyed by those images. Captioning and choice of music add to the impact of each student’s work.
  • If you hand an iPad to a student with Puppet Pals on it, just be prepared for a little fun. This highly engaging app allows you to move “puppets” and record your voice to create a story. It’s fantastic for all sorts of things such as public service announcement, telling a story from different characters’ points of view, and sharing information. There is a paid version which gives you more characters and more options, but even the free version allows for a great deal of flexibility and an authentic expression of writing.

Digital stories help students to become creators of content for the Internet, not just consumers. They give students a voice and allow them to express themselves at a higher lever. iPad takes digital storytelling to a new level by making the process easier and mobile. When paired with great apps, digital storytelling is the perfect tool to unleash student creativity.