Best Classroom Management Tool

Classroom Management

As a new teacher I was lucky enough to have 30-35 students (constant roster fluctuations) in what was then called a C-level class.  Oh yeah, it was 9th period which means that they brought a lot of energy to the classroom environment.  Needless to say, I remember looking up at one point while teaching and seeing multiple groups of students socializing, reading the newspaper, spinning around in their chair, throwing paper and other activities that would put me at a one on the Danielson scale for classroom management.

Classroom management was one of the most difficult aspects of teaching for me as a new teacher.  It was difficult for me to imagine the pitfalls of teaching and earning students respect, which is some right of passage at Hamilton High School West.  At that time I was introduced to the “point system”.  This was a method of calculating class participation based on classroom behaviors.  The students began with a class participation grade and lost points for various infractions during class.  It greatly improved my class and encouraged my student to behave, but did not increase their engagement dramatically.

In this article, I talk about the reasons why using ClassDojo, an online behavioral management tool can be effective for new teachers who are tryng to get their feet wet or for old teachers who are finding it difficult to implement new teaching styles into their lessons.  I recommend ClassDojo because it seems to be the most used and therefore the most supported and will likely be around for awhile.  If you are interested there are more links and tutorials at the bottom of the page.

Student Engagement

A buzz in education relates to ensuring that students are engaged in the learning process.  In the past this meant that students should be in their seats taking notes, raising their hand or working on classwork, but this has changed dramatically as the focus has shifted away from the teacher as the center of the classroom and towards the students in a more self-directed form of learning.

One of my most difficult challenges as a teacher was ensuring that students stayed on task in groupwork or during in class projects.  As a student I remember using this time to socialize while little learning was done.  A classroom management tool can help ensure that students are on task.  Not only can the teacher take off points as they walk around and students are off task, but students or groups can randomly be asked to present at the start, in the middle or end of class.  These can be opportunities for students to get instant feedback from the teacher as a model or from the class.  Here mistakes can be discussed as other groups or individuals most likely are making the same mistakes and mini lessons can serve as positive interventions.  Exemplars can be given extra points to promote positive behavior and postivite feedback.

Positive Feedback

One of the responses to classroom management tools is that they promote negative feedback to students.  I agree that this may be a trap and if the teacher uses these tools only to punish bad behavior than they are not using the tools correctly.  Does this mean that we cannot give negative feedback?  I believe that it is part of the learning process.  We need to learn from all of our mistakes as long as there are opportunities to remedy them.

Furthermore, at Hamilton West there is not a history of student-centered instruction.  The model of teaching is set around a classic model where the teacher is the center.  Often teachers get frustrated when they try new projects because it is difficult to keeps students on task during a long project.  By allowing students to have more deliverables (more feedback) and tracking thier behavior using ClassDojo will make it easier AND more productive.

For More Information

21 ClassDojo Tutorial Videos – Free Technology for Teachers – Richard Byrne

Includes links to a YouTube Channel for tutorials, but honestly it is not that difficult to understand or learn.

Class Dojo Website

ClassDojo Launches a Messaging Service to Help Teachers Keep Parents Informed – Free Technology for Teachers – Richard Byrne

A new service that ClassDojo provides that helps links all the student information to interested parents.

Class Dojo – Cybrary Man’s Educational Website – This website has links to all that you would need to know; probably more than you would need to know.

Another Tool To Check Out

ClassCharts Offers Collaboration and Artificial Intelligence in Classroom Management – Free Technology for Teachers – Richard Byrne

A new tool that I have heard a bit about and offers some different features including pictures of students instead of avatars.  If you are interested be sure to check it out and give me some feedback.

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Internet Security Risks

Internet Security

A new virus called Heartbleed has left a great deal of the internet exposed to attack.  So what does this mean for you?  It means that you may need to update your passwords for many sites.  I realize that this is a time consuming and often confusing process, but if someone access your credit card or other information it will be even more troublesome than dealing with the issue ahead of time.  If you wait for the individual sites to adjust you may leave yourself exposed, so act now.

What do you need to do?

  • Go to Last Past website and run a security check to see what passwords need to be changed or updated to protect your accounts. (Yahoo and Netflix are two of the most common sites that need changes)
  • Change passwords in those accounts and continue to monitor the situation.
  • Update:  If you are too lazy to keep track of all this password nonsense and don’t mind spending a couple of “bucks” than go to One Password, which for a discounted price of $25 will create a secure password for you, change the password periodically and automatically log you in with one click.  Check it out.

Facebook continues to surreptitiously expose you to security risks

As a teacher I prefer to keep my Facebook settings private so that students are unable to access my personal life from their home computers.  Unfortunately, the creators of Facebook have little value for your personal information and constantly change their user settings, which will change how people can view your information.  Please take a look at your privacy settings to make sure that your photos, posts and other information is only being viewed by those that you would like to view them.  Read the following article, “Your Facebook Privacy Setting Are About to Change. Again” for more information and take some time to review your settings.

For More Information

LastPass Now Tells You Which Heartbleed-Affected Passwords to Change – Whitson Gordon – LifeHacker

Heartbleed – Schneier on Security

Your Facebook Privacy Setting Are About to Change.  Again. – Brian Fung – The Washington Post

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Poetry Resources, Musings and Other Tidbits

It’s National Poetry Month

So it’s National Poetry Month, which means…probably very little about your planning as the curriculum is fairly set in stone, but it does mean that I have run into a great deal of poetry resources that may help in the classroom this year or next.

Personally, I am not sure how comfortable I would be at teaching (and grading) poetry I never felt very comfortable writing in the genre, but it does seem to lend itself to certain skills and many students love to write poetry.

Visual Tools to Present Poems

My Haiku Deck (untitled)


I attached an old poem of mine, which I recreated using Haiku Deck.   Haiku Deck is a digital platform similar to PowerPoint that allows students to attach images to slides that come out looking professionally done.  This is an example of an activity that students may like to analyze or create poetry.

At first I was going to use a poem from high school, but that poem was more playful in a Shel Silverstein mold.  What makes Haiku deck so easy-to-use is that it contains it’s own searchable database of copyright-free images that can be searched and imported into the presentation.  The high school poem displayed a simplistic style of writing, leading me to using a poem from college in a more Sylvia Plath-esque vein.

The poem itself was unearthed in an old folder of college works.  It has no title, I am not even sure what the assignment was or the meaning, but the angst is easily discernable.  The process of making it a visual poems had many effects that forced me to make choices and look closer at my writing.  Finding images that matched the meaning of my lines forced me to make decisions.  Additional choices of color and mood did not always reflect the mood of my poems even though the physical image matched ideas.  I also began to play with the position of my words on the page and wanted to (but didn’t) change the punctuation because it seemed to read differently in this setting.

As you can tell by reading my poem, I am no poet.  I did enjoy writing poetry because it offered me some freedom and creativity even though I was limited by rhyme schemes, syllables and other forms that were conducive to specific types of poetry.  I feel that students at West would like tools like HaikuDeck depending, but like me may find other tools more appropriate. Storyboarding tools may help in epic poems or ones that are more linear and tell stories.  If you are interested I will take my high school poems and find a platform for that as well in another post.

For more on Haiku Deck read Poetry Projects with Haiku Deck by Richard Byrne

Additional Resources:

National Poetry Month: Useful Resources for Teachers and Students -by Matt Davis -Edutopia: Contains a wide range of resources, too many to summarize, some in duplication.

Poet-to-Poet Project Awesome idea for a project, although it may only work for A-Level and Honors classes.  This website has videos of poets reading their poetry and talking about their poems.  It would be great to have the class read and analyze the poems before hearing the author talk about their own writing.  Additionally, students can submit work based on poems that they have heard and get published.

Poetry Contest 2014 Deanna Glick – Learning Liftoff – For National Poetry Month this site offers a contest (entries due on April 30th) for students where they can submit a video or photo of them reading their poetry.  There are some type of prizes, but I couldn’t find exactly what the prizes are for this competition.

Putting the “Tech” in Poetic Lori June – Livebinder- The name is a bit misleading as this site has a comprehensive list of poetry resources.  Make sure you browse the tabs and sub tabs as well.  For example, the tab “Poetry Lessons from Read/Write/Think contains sub tabs that help teach poetry in a cross-curricular manner.  Please take a look at the resources under “Interactive Poetry Writing”.  There really looks like some fun activities for students in this section.

Diamante Poems – By ReadWriteThink, which has many more resources for teaching poetry.  Contains video and lesson plans.

5 Resources for Teaching Poetry Brett Vogelsinger – Edutopia- Most of these resources offer ways to integrate poetry in the classroom, it is written with the focus on reading one poem a day.

Youth Voices – An interactive site where students can read poems by other students and enter their own works if they would like to participate.

Stenhouse Releases Free Poetry E-Resource by Catherine A. Cardno Education Week-This site has links to many of the classic American poems that are used in our curriculum, it has a link to an e-book with poems and lesson plans.

Three Good Resources to Help Students Learn About and Write Poetry – Richard Byrne – Free Technology for Teachers – My favorite education technology blogger gives three fun digital resources that would be easy to use in class for students who may struggle to create their own ideas.

Poetry Roundup:  Eight Tools to Celebrate April’s National Poetry Month – Helen Yoshida – National Poetry Month – Another fairly comprehensive list with links and teaching ideas.

Join!  Let’s Rejuventate with a Poetry Workshop by Christopher Lehman-If you are not already overwhelmed with the amount of work that you have on your plate and can make some extra time to write (some poetry) on your own, this online Twitter workshop is led by “Close Reading” guru, Chris Lehman.

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Google It!

When the word Googled was placed in the Oxford Dictionary it became a reminder how Google has completely infiltrated our lives.  Many people are worried that Google will become the next “big brother” as they continue to collect information about us and sell that information to advertisers and the like.  While this may be something that needs to be monitored it does seem like it is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore Google as both individuals and educators.

Google has recently stepped into the world of education with a host of resources to help teachers with classroom instruction.  This seems like a direct attack on Apple’s control of the education market.  Why should be care?  Because as teachers it makes a huge difference what platform we choose to incorporate in our classroom setting.  We know that we don’t have the choice and Hamilton has chosen gmail for our own e-mail accounts and have turned down iOS as an option.  It looks like Google is here to stay.  So how do we start?

Well we, as educators each have our own Google Account.  These Google Account give us access to a host of Google Applications that you should be familiar with and can really help us organize our teaching materials.  An application is a program that runs much like a webpage.   Google has online “cloud” versions of Microsoft Word and Excel.  That work very similar but have the advantage of accessibility.  There are some limitations but you can access them from any device as long as you have an internet connection.  You can also share them with others and allow others to edit and work on the same document, which is great for any collaborative work.  There are TONS of other applications and the list continues to grow.

Additionally, there is an advantage to using Google Chrome as your browser.  Most people use Internet Explorer or Safari as alternatives.  Google Applications work better and are easier to integrate in Chrome.  Additionally, Chrome offers a host of extensions that increase the tools that you can use for personal or professional use.  These tools include calculators, times, translators, e-readers, spell checkers and many more that make the experience of “surfing” the internet easier.

It is important that we begin to familiarize ourselves with these tools.  It is certain that they will become more and more part of the classroom experience.  Those who are early adopters will make the transition much easier on themselves.  It would be great to have all of our students create account for classroom use only as well.  There are numerous benefits for them to use these tools in order for them to organize their school work and to prepare them to be digitally literate citizens.

I have attached a host of resources, it may be too many for the novice, but you have to start somewhere.  Again, I am a resource if you would like some help.

Google Chrome Apps and Extensions

40 Ways to Use Google Apps in Education

20 Collaborative Google Apps Activities for Schools



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Current Events

Current Event Day may have been my favorite part of history class in middle school.  As a young Alex P. Keaton, it was important to keep up with what was going on in the world in order to develop my portfolio.  In High School reviewing current events became an nice break in the routine when we would play a current events game on Fridays.

It seems like today that teachers are too burdened with standards, tests and curriculum to assimilate current events into their routine.  As teachers we know it is important that students are aware of local, national and global issues throughout the world.  Isn’t it important to teach about the Ukraine?

The fact of the matter remains that current events are a great way to teach history in a way that is relevant to our students.  The Common Core is pulling teachers away from the front of the class and encouraging students to read and interpret information to support their own ideas.  There are great lessons to be learned from Teaching News Writing to Teach History Writing.

The following are a list of some resources that may help students of different abilities learn from the News:

DOGO News – Create and Share Lessons About the News – Richard Byrne – Free Technology for Teachers

Has links to Common Core Standards and articles can be embedded in blogs (if you need help just ask), but blogs are a great way to get students to write for an audience.  They can review and comment on each others work as well, which would take some of the grading pressure away from the teacher, while providing immediate feedback.

Newspaper Map –

Really interesting resource that provides articles in various languages.  It is basically a big map that has links to newspapers throughout the world.  Students can select a country and explore what the news is for that day.  Would be great to have students compare and contrast.(Common Core skill that would encourage students to use information)

CNN Student News is Back for 2013-2014 – Richard Byrne – Free Technology for Teachers

Great resources that has links to videos (about ten minutes) on various subjects.

Interactive Guides to Global Issues (Website) – Richard Byrne – Free Technology for Teachers

By Council of Foreign Relations this is a form of digital media with pictures and interactive content.  May want to research site and analyze bias.

BBC News in Pictures – BBC

Can search regions throughout the world and use pictures to activate learning.  Might be good to introduce topics before inviting students to further discovery.

Teaching Kids News – Short Lessons About the News – Richard Byrne – Free Technology for Teachers

Designed for middle school students, this may be an option for some of the student who have weaker reading abilities.

Ukraine is Crisis – Council on Foreign Relations

Three Short Videos and a Timeline for Understanding Current Events in the Ukraine – Richard Byren – Free Technology for Teachers

Teaching News Writing to Teach History Writing – David Cutler – Edutopia

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The Hamilton West Think Tank recently purchased a 6 month trial subscription of Turnitin is a great aid to teachers who are looking to improve student writing. It is my hope that many of the staff will utilize this resource this school year so that we can gather enough data to support the purchase this program on a full time basis.

What is it?

Turnitin is an online feedback tool that reviews students’ written work. Students can submit their papers to Turnitin and it gives them a “plagiarism score”. The database compares the paper with multiple databases and websites to find matches. This will display where the plagiarism occurred with a direct link to the source so they can see how they plagiarized.

The site also has an online grading component called Grademark. This will allow the instructor to view the students work and add comments as well as grammar usage and

Link: Turnitin Overview

How can it help you?

Turnitin will actually make it easier on students work and give them instant feedback with the direct result to improve writing, decrease plagiarism and increase the originality of their work. These are all tenants of the Common Core Literacy Standards that cross over multiple disciplines.

Do I need to register for an account?

No. Every teacher has had an account created for Turnitin and should have received an e-mail that introduced them to as well as supplied them with a temporary password. All you need to do is create a new password and login as an instructor.

How do my students access Turnitin?

Once you have an account as an instructor and create your own password a teacher, needs to create a class and a project. Once a project is created Turnitin will generate a code for the project and the teacher will generate a password. Teachers will then ask their students to create an account and access that class using the code and password. Once this is done they can submit their work.


I realize that the staff is inundated with new tools, but Turnitin should make it easier for teachers, not harder. While it will mostly be used in the disciplines of Social Studies and Language Arts, it may be useful to all staff. The website offers many videos to help and there will be training session some time soon. Until then just sign up for the library for one day and I will guide your students through the process of submitting their work as long as they bring a digital copy. I’m looking forward to working with those who are interested and welcome input and feedback.


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Opening the Virtual Community

This will be my sixth year as the school library/media specialist here at Hamilton West and I continue to look for new ways to expand the program from the Think Tank in order to create a “learning space” that will provide a truly transformative experience for the students here at West. The creation of this blog is intended as another step in that direction. This first post looks to explain how I envision learning in the Think Tank and how this blog fits into that learning experience.

I can remember sitting in the teacher’s room as I went back to school for my Master’s Degree in Library Science (Yes, you do need a masters to be a librarian – this is often met with surprise), and somewhat joking about creating a Think Tank. A place where you were surrounded by technology and learning tools where I would learn with the students and challenge the world by using resources to create – a place that would make learning fun.

Honestly, I was surprised to find in my classes that this was the same concept of a library that was being pitched. – The same concept that successful libraries employed. As a teacher I always dreamed of creating the same experience in the classroom. In my three years as a History teacher at Hamilton West I struggled with classroom management, curriculum, standards and pink, yellow, green, blue and salmon (to finish the color wheel) slips.

Going to school helped me learn a great deal about teaching and instruction and foster a more well-rounded and innovative teaching philosophy. Moving away from the classroom and becoming a librarian has allowed me to reflect on my teaching practice keep up with current trends, surround myself with the best technology that Hamilton Township provides, and focus my lessons (as best I can) to try new things. As a media specialist at West I am looking to use this blog to connect with staff, to share resources and ideas, and to work with teachers to create lessons that foster higher level thinking and ultimately learning.

After a time of trying to begin my blog, I’m going to pat myself on the back for taking a step forward and doing.

The Top 5 Reasons to Do


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