Tag Archives: SMARTBoard

Mini-Epic Fails with Technology

In the classroom, I feel like I have been having a streak of bad luck.  Things are constantly going wrong.  Recently I think I even muttered the words, “I’m done using these iPads!” and “I hate technology!”

Neither of these statements is true, but for a teacher who relies on and incorporates technology into lessons on a daily basis, I have definitely been frustrated.

I am going to preface this by saying I do test the technology in various ways before each lesson to make sure everything is a go.

However, I have had several issues in the past weeks when it comes to technology.

First of all, my teacher workstation computer crashes constantly due to old age. I’m “due for a new computer NEXT year.” That’s great news and all, but we have over 100 days of school left. I can’t wait that long!! The tech department has already wiped my computer clean and I’ve started from scratch. It helped for about a week.

The two programs I use the most are unreliable. SMART Notebook crashes every single day.  I am constantly trying to recover the lost files. Chrome also has a tendency to crash at least twice a week.

My projector bulb is growing dimmer and dimmer by the day, but hasn’t blown yet. With a price tag of $300…I’m still waiting for it to die so they will replace it. Right now it is pointless to use my AppleTV because you can’t even see what’s projected on the board.

The next issue is a blessing and curse. (Isn’t all technology really?) The iPads are awesome  and I like to use them every single day, but there is always some catch. I have learned to run through my lessons every time I plan something new. However, there is always something I overlook or don’t realize. Especially if it requires the students to use their own accounts. Filters, privacy, logins….all issues I can’t always see coming.

Along those same lines, some of the apps are fussy too.  I was all excited to use Subtext a few weeks ago.  I really wanted to use the text-to-speech feature and have the kids tag their evidence to focus questions.  I set it up at home on my iPad and ran through it with Ian on a school-issued iPad.

Then I went to class….the students logged in with their student account to access the article and assignment.  And then they had to “Ask the teacher to upgrade to the Premium account to access the text-to-speech feature for students.”  Not once during my run-through did that important piece of information come up. Grrrrr……

My class has grown in size.  I had two new students enroll at the start of the nine weeks and now with 10 students and 6 iPads (plus my own), the almost one-to-one thing I had going is not possible.  This is a big adjustment for my original class.    As a class, we were definitely spoiled during the first nine weeks.

As someone who obviously loves technology and wants to incorporate it as much as possible in her teaching, I am not sure how to handle all of this aggravation. Is it worth it to plan lessons with technology? Am I relying on it too much?   Every day I feel like I am wasting my students time or not teaching the lesson effectively.  I sometimes think, “What if I was being observed?  How horrible would this look?” 

Like my dad (who just recently gave up his flip-phone) always says, “Technology is great…when it works.”

I don’t think my expectations are too high. I don’t think I am using “too much” technology. I don’t want to be limited or prevented from teaching like I want to teach.  I am not sure how to work around these issues. It’s almost become a running gag in my classroom, the kids noting my “epic fails.”  I try to laugh it off and act like it’s funny…how the computer is messing with me or how the SMART board is smarter than I am.  Inside, I’m not laughing.

What suggestions do you have?
How do you handle on-the-spot tech disasters?
Would my problems keep you from incorporating the technology?

The SMARTBoard as a Planning and Organizational Tool

With all my anxiety over the Possibility of Ipads in the Fall, I realized that I will still have my SMARTBoard and that it has been the center of my instruction for 6 years. I love my SMARTBoard.

The first time I had my own SMARTBoard was when I walked into a new job at the high school and a giant box sat on the floor. The principal said, “The previous teacher wrote a grant for this before he left. It’s yours now.”

I had NO idea how to use it.

Luckily, I had a dozen students who were more than happy to show me how it worked. In the two years I was in that position (OGT Prep/Intervention), I learned a lot from them and a lot from just playing.

There were two lines that came up during that time, memorable quotes that have stuck with me over all these  years…

The first from a boy with an amazing sense of humor, “You have to be smarter than the SMARTBoard.

And one that I am pretty sure I said in one of those “Man, I love this thing” moments, “Have you hugged your SMARTBoard today?”

While the SMARTBoard can be viewed as a presentation tool, it is really an interactive instructional tool.

And for me, it is a planning and organizational tool.

There are so many ways to organize lesson plans, materials, and resources. I’ve tried them all over the past 17 years.

Organizing Lessons and Materials

By the week

+ Good if you use the same lessons year after year

– Makes  finding bits and pieces of a lesson more difficult if you need them at another time

–  If the schedule gets disrupted by  a snow day, sick day, underestimation of time, there goes the “week”…

In folders by the reading selection or unit

+ Keep all the resources for one story in one place

+ Ready-to-go options when you read the story the following year

– Requires you to pull together and reorganize the unit each year

– Easy to hoard things that you don’t really use or need

– Need to weed through often

In SMART Notebook files by story or unit (obviously my favorite and a major point of this post)

+ Like the folder option, lets you keep all you resources in one place file

+ Automatically feeds into currently technology (Don’t know what I’ll do when the SMART Board is replaced by something else)

+ Allows you to easily pull in templates and frequently used pages

This is my go-to page for conflict.  Consistency and visuals they can't forget.

This is my go-to page for conflict. Consistency and visuals they can’t forget.

+Provides the option to create interactive activities

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+ Allows you to include links to media, websites, and other files

No Guitar Blues_4

These links will be used for writing prompts, intro music for the lesson, or background music while they work. I also have a page linking to a jeopardy review game.

+ Easy to rearrange and reorganize (Try grouping the pages)

+ Labeling each page with a keyword and/or standard keeps you focused

No Guitar groups

I break the file down into concept, “Day 1, Day 2, etc”, or chapter and label it with a standard number (I use the extended standards in my RR)

+ The capture tool allows you to “steal” from anywhere (This is how I incorporate pieces and parts of  other resources in find online,worksheets such as the ones I linked to here, and in the accompanying workbook.)

+ Easy to clone pages for quick editing or differentiation for different class periods (No examples in this lesson)

+ Export and print as a PDF and attach it to your lesson plans (Looks like this: No Guitar Blues lesson)

How do you use your SMARTBoard? 

More Ways to Get to Know Your Students

Worried that I don’t have enough to fill the first day of class, I did another search for ways to get to know my students.

Here are few more activities that may be useful that first day or first week of school.

Below are four interest inventories of various levels.

Other fun finds:

Student Information Sheet

  • This is business on the front and more personal on the back. You could easily just use the back for a good snapshot of a student’s personality. I like the kinds of questions they ask….”What wish do you have for someone else?” and “The title of a book about my life would be…” I am considering using this as a 1-on-1 interview with my Resource Room kids.

Photo Interest Inventory

  • This is more of a vocational interest inventory but I love the format and concept. It is designed for non-readers and includes a scoring system for teachers to complete. This inventory would be good for parts of the special education process. It has also inspired me to come up with a photo interest inventory for my students for the first week. I will share it here if I get it done in time!

Your Learner Sketch

  • This is a completely interactive activity where students decide if a characteristic fits into the “This is so me” or “Not me” category.
  • When you are done, it sorts your responses into strengths and weakness and includes additional links to learn more about each skill.
  • The PDF summary (I attached mine so you could see) isn’t as fun graphically, but it contains valuable information and explanations for students including strategies to help with weak areas. The report can also be emailed.


Koosh Ball Introduce Yourself

  • This is a SMART Notebook file that I plan to use sometime during the first week with my Resource Room. I plan on also using this as a template for other Koosh Ball games.

Teaching Vocabulary in Real-World Context

We read The Outsiders at the start of the year and one important piece of reading the novel is acquiring new vocabulary.

The other day I wrote about using visuals to reach all learners. When I am working with students with disabilities, ESL/ELL, or at-risk students I find that getting on their level and in their world helps them make connections, especially in vocabulary.

Here is the vocabulary list for The Outsiders (one word per chapter). Each day a new word is presented and students are asked to copy the word and definition. They also need to locate the sentence in the novel and write it in their journal. This list is used with most of the 8th grade classes.


Here are some sample pages from the SMARTNotebook file I created for our inclusion class. The definitions are not only pared down a bit, but each page includes a graphic and the sentence from the novel.



As we review the vocabulary and later test over it, students can picture Judge Judy and Wile E. Coyote and apply this knowledge.


For the above example, we will connect it to a student athlete in the class and always refer to him when we discuss this vocabulary word. “Andy cannot believe that the Tigers beat them last Friday night.”

Because these vocabulary words are made on SMARTNotebook, students can download them from our Edmodo page, view them online, or print them and cut them out to make flashcards. (You have to print to the “large” or “medium” setting for usable flashcards.) I typically provide a copy of these to each of the students who require such an accommodation on their IEP. I also make a class set to use for review games during our intervention study hall.

I think this method of teaching vocabulary works because it helps students:
Who are visual/picture smart (obviously)
Who are book/word/linguistic smart (as the word becomes part of a very short “story”)
Who are people smart (as they get involved with the “characters” in the examples)
Who are tactile/kinesthetic/body smart (as they manipulate the flashcards)

And it should be no surprise, It is also way more fun to teach vocabulary like this.

Today You Will Need…..

Each day when my Resource Room students come to class, this is what they see on the SMART Board.


By using the “order” tool in the draw menu I can layer the icons and hide them behind the large purple box.


As you can see from the screen shot below, I have customized all sorts of icons that I can drag to the main page.


This is a very quick and easy way to prepare students for class that I just came up with this past year. (Prior to that, it was a list on the board.) If there was ever a day when I did not have the screen up and ready when my first student came in, he would be all over me. “Are we not doing anything today???!” He always took it upon himself to pass out the materials and supplies for all the students. Talk about a useful tool.

How do you let your students know what they need each day?
What other icons would be useful?
Would you be interested in this SMARTBoard file?
Leave a comment and I’ll send it your way!

Using Visuals: Grabbing Their Attention

The first few moments of giving directions for a project or any creative assignment are critical. Getting students attention and building their interest is an art. I asked Tweedle Dee to describe how some of her teachers introduce projects.

“Well, first (she) stands up in the front of the room and says, ‘We are going to start a project‘ and then she passes out a paper about it…”

::::::::insert sigh here:::::::

“Then….she reads the entire paper to us….”

:::::::::insert double sigh::::::::

It’s funny, because I knew this is exactly what Tweedle Dee would say. And Tweedle Dee likes school and loves projects. Some days she even wants to be a teacher when she grows up. We talked about some variations of this with her other teachers, but none of them really razzle-dazzle her with their project kick-offs.

This is probably all too common.

Here are the beginning directions for an 8th grade fairy tale writing project. This handout is passed out while the teacher reads the directions. (And picture this familiar scene: one student is playing keep-away, another is getting irritated, one student is picking up a dropped stack of papers, one student is trying to figure out which side of the handout is the front, and the last two rows came up short but no one says anything for at least 15 minutes.)20120723-160342.jpg

I am not saying that a handout or check sheet is bad. It is, in fact, usually necessary. Students need to have a hard copy of the expectations for future reference. (This check sheet is how this particular teacher grades the papers vs. a rubric.)

While these directions are enough for some students, the modified version I created for our inclusion class provides a more concrete explanation of their options.

If students can picture what they are being asked to do they may be more excited about doing it.

This is the first page of our SMART Notebook file:


In the above example, we’ve got visuals that are modern, real world, “their world” ….with just the slightest prompt to stir their imagination.

And now, sit back and relax and laugh at a “fractured fairy tale” I think you will enjoy. Our kick-off to the assignment – a quick video clip to really grab their attention.

Multiple Means of Engagement: Creating Packets

Loose papers. Lost handouts. Missing homework. Unorganized binders.

All of these things happened daily in my Resource Room until I decided to make packets for each instructional unit.

Some people might think handing out packets encourages dependency and doesn’t teach organizational skills. I will argue this point by saying that packets create structure and improve the flow of class. Students are still expected to have their packets each day, complete their assignments on time, and are able to see the relationship between what we did yesterday and today and tomorrow.

I have already explained that I like to teach in themes, that I usually see “the big picture”, and I process things whole-to-part.

For each grammar unit, novel, and major writing assignment, I make packets of all the handouts, worksheets, graphic organizers, etc. that I plan on using with the students.

The packet is full of a variety of activities, including group work and homework. The only things not in the packet are assessments or other great ideas I stumbled upon during the course of the unit. (But they will be added to the packet next year.)

Packet Pros:

  • Helps disorganized students have necessary materials. Students know to have their packets ready at the start of class. There’s none of that “What do we need today??” business.
  • Helps substitute teachers (no locating and passing out of worksheets)
  • Helps me with lesson planning (I look at the packet and the SMARTBoard file and blend the two to develop my plans for the day/week/month.)
  • Establishes a theme.
  • Makes connections.
  • Creates cohesiveness.

Let me describe how I create a packet for a novel, like Stargirl.

  1. To create my packet, I usually start with my SMARTNotebook file for the unit. I do a full-page print of the pages I want students to have individual copies of. I next add other materials that are not from the SMARTBoard.
  2. I put these pages in chronological order, number the pages, create the table of contents, and then make a calendar for the length of the unit with an overall plan of how much we will cover each day. I include this calendar in the student packet as it helps them see the pacing and our goals for each day. (There is obviously room for flexibility….thank to snow days, assemblies, absences, and days when we spend a little longer than planned.)
  3. I usually staple bright-colored copy paper on the front and back. Students create a cover for the packet a few days into the novel. We make a list of characters and settings on the inside front cover. The back cover can be used for random, spur of the moment ideas when a clean sheet of paper is needed.
  4. As we work through a novel, students can easily turn to a page when I ask them to. They can tell me where we left off. Someone usually takes it upon themselves to be the “recorder” of such info and writes both the book page number and the packet page number on the board at the end of class.

Packet Contents:

  • individual and group work
  • a variety of written work to prevent boredom (no chapter is the same)
  • outlines
  • webs
  • summaries
  • cloze paragraphs
  • symbols
  • quotes
  • extended response
  • short answer
  • charts
  • vocabulary
  • other graphic organizers
  • homework

The packet is supplemented with the SMART Notebook file I have been building on each year. The file includes:

  • lots of visuals and images for discussion and writing prompts
  • audio and video clips (see my Novel Playlists post)
  • review games and activities

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Things to Note:

  • My class is not all worksheet based. For a given novel, I may have 25 pages stapled together. I takes me about 7-8 weeks to complete a novel in the resource room.That’s a worksheet almost every other day.
  • We use our dry erase boards almost daily in conjunction with the packet. They may have to summarize a chapter, draw a picture, make a prediction on their dry erase boards. This breaks up the paper-pencil activities.
  • We don’t always do all the pages in the packet. Sometimes I have overestimated or underestimated where my students are. If it doesn’t feel right, we only do part of it or we skip it all together.
  • Because my class is small, (less than a dozen students), I can easily collect the packets if I want to grade an activity. Most grades come from assessments.
  • At the end of the unit, I try to hang onto the students’ packets for work samples and documentation. If they really want to keep their packet (few do), I can easily make copies.

Teaching with a packet requires you:

  • To have a “vision” for the unit
  • To work way ahead.
  • To have previous experience with the topic. I don’t think I could pull off a packet on a novel the first time I read it with the class.

Students need and crave structure, but they also need variety. Packets create natural “chunks” for instruction. Students do well with short 10-12 minute activities. By switching between reading out loud, group discussion, completing packet activities independently, working on the SMARTBoard, and using dry erase boards, the pace of class is fast and engaging. My students know they won’t be doing any one thing longer than 15 minutes.

While I focused on the idea of a novel packet, this can be done with any topic. I have created packets on parts of speech, capitalization rules, vocabulary, test-taking strategies, persuasive writing, business letters, and poetry – to name a few.

Are you a whole-to-part or part-to-whole learner/teacher?
How do you handle worksheets and handouts with your class?
Have you created a packet for an entire unit? What worked for you? What didn’t?

I am a Squiggle Stuck Inside a Square

I have been writing about multiple intelligences and learning styles the last few days. Now, how about a personality test? This is a personal favorite of mine, and great ice breaker for the first day of class. Preparation is simple.

  1. Display four shapes on the board/SMARTBoard: a square, circle, triangle, and a squiggle.
  2. Instruct students to choose one shape and draw it on the corner of a pink index card.*
  3. Students then get into groups based on their choices.
  4. Give handouts to each group. I have included the PDF versions of the Symbol Test Handouts I give to the groups.** Feel free to use them in your classroom. These descriptions could be reworded for a variety of age levels. The files I have attached have been used with students at the middle school level.
  5. The group then has about 10-15 minutes to design a poster with their shape, everyone’s names and the characteristics of their shape.
  6. The groups then share their poster briefly with the class.
  7. For homework, students respond on the pink index card about the activity and their shape.

Examples of questions I might ask:

  • Which shape were you and do you think it best described you?
  • What made you think it was a good match?
  • If it wasn’t a good match, which shape would be a better fit?
  • What else do you think I should know about you as a learner?
  • Please include anything that will help me be a better teacher for you.

This activity is a great way to see how students work together, see who the natural leaders are, and let students get to know their classmates. You will be surprised how honest students will be on their index cards. This gives kids a chance to ask for help right away and give you a heads up about their concerns.

Now, out of curiosity, which shape did you choose?


I am a squiggle stuck inside a square.

*The reason for the pink index card? It’s easy for them to find in their binders because of the color. It’s non-threatening because it’s small. And it’s easy to store.

**This activity is based on information from the following sites.



Multiple Methods of Presentation: Focus on the Visual

It is important to present information to your class in a variety of ways. Auditory presentation can be effective for some learners. However, I have found that visual representations help almost all learners understand concepts more thoroughly.

In the age of SMARTBoards, digital cameras, and personal electronic devices in the classroom, the options for visual cues is infinite.

With every novel, short story, history lesson, journal prompt, science concept, etc., I spend a great deal of time searching for images that will help students understand, relate to, and remember the information presented.

If you struggle with finding the perfect image/photo/picture/diagram/cartoon, you could check out the website: CAST: Teaching Every Student.This page contains two tutorials and an image collector tool.

While this takes some time at the beginning, if you save images, create files, or build the images into your SMART Notebook lesson, eventually you will simply be in the refining stage. As with any new skill, the process of finding and saving images becomes automatic with practice.

Adding images to your presentation adds another dimension to your teaching. Think of a student who has difficulties with reading, memory, processing speed, auditory learning, language barriers, or paying attention. A picture may be the key to making a connection.

Below I have posted some screen shots so you can see what I have been rambling about for the last 250+ words…


The Image Collector Tool menu


This search found some great photographs to promote discussion on the Industrial Revolution.


By adding “political cartoon” to your search, you have another option for writing and discussion.


One of the best parts of searching for images is finding great websites related to your content. I can totally see using this website for a RAFT writing assignment or a group project.


Are You Smarter Than Your SMARTBoard?

When I first started teaching I used chalkboards.

Ancient artifact? True story… I had sticks of this chalk out on student desks one day and one boy picked it up, rolled it between his fingers, and asked, “WHAT IS THIS??”

In 2005, I spent my PTG money on a 3 x 5 dry erase board that the custodian installed overtop of a portion of my chalk board. It was a small space but I loved using colored markers to teach 6th grade math.

In 2007, I was transferred to a new position at the high school and when I walked into my classroom that August there was a giant box. Inside, was something I’d seen in a few classrooms, but never touched….something that would change the way I taught, the way my students learned, and the way I learned from my students. I was the proud new owner of SMART Board! The man who I was replacing had written a grant in the spring, received the SMART Board, and then took a new job in another district. Talk about luck!

As a tutor for the state graduation test and at-risk students, I had a lot of flexibility with my teaching which meant I had a lot of time to experiment. Working with only a few students each period they were more happy to show me how to use it.

In addition to my helpful 10th and 11th graders, I spent a lot of time teaching myself how to use my SMART Board. There are dozens of activities in the Lesson Activity Toolkit in the Gallery. It was a little overwhelming at first and then I decided to go through the sample activities one at a time, try them out as a “student”, and figure out how they were made. I then created a similar page with my content. If you are a hands-on learner like me this is probably a good route to go.

If you are a visual or auditory learner and like tutorials, I have since found that there are now video links to tutorials on most of the examples as well as a huge help menu in the Lesson Activity Toolkit. (My how times have changed!)

I think the easiest way to explain how to find your way around the Lesson Activity Toolkit is to provide these screenshots:

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There are 74 examples for you to go through. Start today and you could and have a whole arsenal of ideas for fall.

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