Archive of ‘Technology’ category

High Five For Friday! 2-14-14

Happy Valentine’s Day! Enjoy these Week 23 highlights!

iPad Refresh (c) Kristen Dembroski

1. iPad Check – With the year half over, the staff figured this was a great time to do a little housekeeping with the student iPads. The students got a refresher on how to reset their iPads, ‘clear the tray,’ and clean up any unwanted items including photographs and apps. After only 5 months with the iPads, some students had a shocking 5,000 photographs, and over 50 apps! We had them delete all but a few games, all but 50 photos, and then sanitize their iPads. A staff member checked each iPad for visible signs of damage. Finally, my favorite part, our Technology Instructional Coordinator spoke with the students in a large group about the rampant gaming problems we’ve been having. Not only are teachers annoyed with students sneakily playing games in class, but students find each other annoying and distracting as well. Our instructor showed the students a video about another school district that took away all App Store rights and completely restricted student iPad usage – all apps had to be downloaded and managed by the school. I hope the scare tactic worked. Anyway, it was pretty rewarding to delete apps off of the students’ iPads. Flappy Bird? POOF! Cookie Clicker? BYE! I maybe enjoyed that part a little too much.

ASICS Gel-Noosa

2. New Kicks – So I got some new shoes that are as loud and obnoxious as I am! I kid. But seriously, these shoes are cRaZy, and the students love them. I got lots of, “Nice shoes, Mrs. D!” Anyway if you’re dying for a pair, here’s a link!

Inspiration from Seniors (c) Kristen Dembroski

3. A Senior’s Words of Wisdom – On Monday of this week, I visited our district high school, which is luckily just across the street. School was not in session, but I enjoyed wandering around the halls and seeing all of the great artwork from my former students. I came across these quotes, shown above, and they stopped me dead in my tracks. These are quotes from my former 8th graders, now upper classmen, giving advice to younger students. They are things I try and tell my students every day, but I know they mean much more coming from someone who’s recently ‘been there.’ The quotes read:

* Many students shudder at the thought of doing even the slightest amount of thought-intensive work, and yet often view themselves as someone who is an intelligent and hard working person.
* If this educational epiphany would have arisen sooner in my high school career, the time put into my education would have been much more productive.
* You aren’t going to figure out what you want to do or what career you want to go into by sitting around and whining about how much homework you have to do or how horrible your teacher is. Take the responsibility no matter how terrifying it is.

Valentines Book (c) Kristen Dembroski Banana Cream Pie (c) Kristen Dembroski

4. My Valentine – In addition to a custom photo card, I also made my husband this lovely little book entitled “What I Love About ___ by ____” from Uncommon Goods. I surprised him by leaving it on his desk to find this morning. He is such a wonderful, caring, generous thoughtful man. Our marriage works because we believe in each other and we always have each others’ backs. We also each think we are the lucky one, which is pretty great, too. What are we doing for Valentine’s Day? My idea of a perfect Friday night – Ryan will bring home dinner from the Public Market, we’ll watch a movie (I rented “Now You See Me”), we’re going to pop some champagne, and I made a delicious Black Bottom Banana Cream Pie for dessert!

Battleground Stephen King

5. Battleground – We finished watching the movie version of “Battleground” by Stephen King this week. Reading the short story, then watching the movie helps us to reach those Common Core targets about comparing a story told through different media. The students were surprisingly insightful about the differences between the two versions, and why a director may have made the choice to alter the original story. Now, the movie has NO talking at all. At first, the students balked and whined, “Seriously? This is gonna suck.” 5 minutes into the movie, you can barely hear blinking and breathing, they are so riveted. I even had one kid tell me, “I was so excited to watch this movie, it’s the only reason I came to school today.” Um, great!


I hope you had a wonderful week and didn’t get too cold. Just remember, Spring is only 33 days away!


PBIS Videos Part 2

Last week, I shared about our current LA-Technology Project of creating PBIS Behavioral videos in our school. I am reporting back that it was such a fun project and a major success! Every student was ‘in the flow’ and fully engaged. Everyone was able to contribute with their own strengths, from planning to acting and editing and using technology. The final products are in, and they are AWESOME! I thought I’d share with you a few screenshots, with faces obscured, of course. Next week we will pick the winner, and that group will receive a pizza party and gift cards. WOW!

PBIS Videos (c) Kristen Dembroski

PBIS Videos (c) Kristen Dembroski PBIS Videos (c) Kristen Dembroski PBIS Videos (c) Kristen Dembroski

PBIS Videos (c) Kristen Dembroski


PBIS Video Project



This whole week, my 8th grade students are working on a PBIS (Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports) Video project. In small groups of 4, they are making short videos about the behavioral expectations at each of the locations within our school. This is the project description they received:

PBIS Video Project (c) Kristen Dembroski

Here is our schedule:

Monday: Introduce project, select groups and stations
Tuesday: Watch model videos on Youtube (Discuss and analyze), learn about iMovie, begin writing scripts
Wednesday: Complete scripts, practice, rehearse for teacher
Thursday: Videotape, begin editing
Friday: Complete editing, submit
Monday: Watch videos as a class

While viewing the videos, we were sure to analyze them for content and cinematic technique. We discussed how they conveyed their message(s), the use of audio, text, and other modes of expression. We discussed DOs (have music in the background, use transition screens with text, insert still photographs, etc.) and DONTs (use too much text, tiny text, long clips, repeat ideas).

It’s probably an overly ambitious schedule, and I actually think we will still be working on this next week. At any rate, they are very motivated and excited, and many students have been emailing staff around the building asking them to stop by and make a cameo in their video. It’s been a great opportunity for connections and relationships. I love how excited everyone is!

The students are taking all of the video and photographs on their iPads, then editing it together in iMovie. iMovie actually has some really easy-to-use options for creating videos, such as the Trailer feature. The transition screens and music are already formatted – the students just have to drag-and-drop their own video and photographs and change the text. Easy Peasy, right?! Who knew!

iMovie Logo


All I can say is thank goodness for our Technology Coordinator, because she has been just fantastic. She came into the classrooms to give short presentations on how to use iMovie, and she has been helping support our students through the process. She found out that we can use up to 30 seconds of music without violating copyright, and that there is a lot of great, free music (organized by genre) for students to use at

There are 6 classes each creating 9 videos, so the first step will be that the teachers will vote on the best video for each station. These 9 semi-finalist groups will be invited to a pizza party. Then, the whole school (students grades 6 – 8) will vote on the ONE BEST video, and that group will also receive iTunes Gift Cards and have their video featured on the school website. Plus, you know, bragging rights!

This project actually meets many of our Common Core State Standards in addition to being a strong part of our PBIS initiative at our school.

Finally, this is the rubric we created to give students feedback on their final products:

PBIS Video Project Rubric (c) Kristen DembroskiI’ll be sure to add updates and photographs of our progress throughout the week. I can’t wait to get to school today and continue working on this!



High Five For Friday! 12/20/13

Hellooooooo, Winter Break! Oh how much I’ve looked forward to seeing you! Here are the highlights from week 16:

Bungee Tension Bands (c) Kristen Dembroski

1. Chair Bungees for Restless Students: I discovered a really great, inexpensive, QUIET, unobtrusive fidget tool for the classroom – chair bungees. There’s not much to it, you just wrap a bungee cord or some kind of sturdy, elastic material around 2 chair legs. This gives students something to lightly bounce their legs against during class. Hopefully, this won’t disturb their neighbors or make any noise, but will provide sensory feedback for the student and a mindless outlet for fidgety behavior. I like that it occupies their legs instead of their hands, which we need for work!

Week 17 (c) Kristen Dembroski

2. Ready for January! I am all set to come back for break, which is a great feeling. I don’t have any correcting or lesson planning to do over my winter break, which means I can focus my energy on my family and on my dissertation. My calendar and assignment board are all set!


3. Phonics Spelling App – I found a great new app for our students struggling with phoneme-grapheme mapping, sight words, and basic foundational skills. Of course this is only one component of our multi-faceted reading intervention program for students who are reading 2 or more levels below grade level. The Simplex Phonics Spelling App costs $5, so I am working on locating the funds to purchase this app for our small-but-growing list of identified students. My hope is that I can introduce them to the app at school, but they will practice the app at home and with their parents. I installed and interacted with the app for a while, and I liked that it offered lots of support and that it didn’t seem too ‘babyish’ for our 6th through 8th graders. Here’s hoping this is a winner for our students!

Spirit Week (c) Kristen Dembroski

4. Spirit Week! Leading up to winter break, we have had a ‘Spirit’ or ‘Dress-up’ day each day this week. Monday = Pajama Day / Tuesday = Twin Day / Wednesday = Blue Day to honor our custodian with cancer / Thursday = Nerd Day / Friday = Red Day. I love dressing up with a theme, so of course I was on Cloud 9 all week!

Front Page TpT (c) Kristen Dembroski

5. Like a Rock Star: I made the front page of TpT! I was so excited to see this!


So how was your week? I hope you are already (or thinking about) enjoying your Winter Break!!! See you in January 😉


Bluetooth Keyboards

Time for an “Ipads in the Classroom” Update!

iPad + Bluetooth Keyboard (c) Kristen Dembroski

Things have been going so very well with the iPads. In my classroom, we use them every – single – day. We do so much typing, it’s ridiculous. And frankly, if you’ve ever had to type for a significant amount of time on an iPad, you know what a pain in the rear this can be. Those tiny buttons, the tiny screen – iPads are great for consuming information, but no so great for production.

To help alleviate this strain on our students, my district did some hands-on research and picked out a quality bluetooth keyboard to offer to our students. They purchased them in bulk, then offer them for individual purchase in the office. They would up being only $13, what a steal for such an invaluable piece of equipment! The students quickly snatched them up, and I see many of them in use in my classroom already. They require 2 AAA batteries, and I am sure we will need to purchase those and have them on hand as well.

I purchased a keyboard for myself, too, since I know this will be a great tool for traveling, staff meetings, etc. And I’ll have one on hand to lend to a student when needed. I even thought – wow, for $13, these would make great Christmas gifts!

Bottom line: If you plan to use an iPad in the classroom, I feel that a bluetooth keyboard is ESSENTIAL, a non-negotiable. I just wish we had figured this out earlier in the school year and had these available sooner, but as they say – live and learn!

There are many great bluetooth keyboards on the market, but this is the one my district chose when considering quality and cost. EC Technology Bluetooth 3.0 Multimedia Keyboard. 


High Five For Friday! 12/6/13

Wow, quarter 2 is flying by! It’s already time for progress reports. With only 2 weeks left until winter break, this week seemed to go by in a blink. Here are the highlights:

Choir Practice (c) Kristen Dembroski

1. Choir Practice – Our 6th, 7th, and 8th grade choirs are rehearsing for their upcoming winter concert. Since my room is right across the hall from the gymnasium, I’ve been enjoying the beautiful music for the past couple of days. We have some very talented students! Post-Thanksgiving, I can’t get enough Christmas music 🙂

Hunger Games Movie (c) Kristen Dembroski

2. Catching Fire – I finally got to go see Hunger Games: Catching Fire! It was a very captivating, engaging movie. I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but I found it (gulp)… better than the book. The second book had a very slow progression, and it become stale and boring at times; it was not my favorite of the 3 books. But the silver screen affords many opportunities for editing and pacing to help refocus and inject some action and excitement into the story. I felt it was still true to the book, while emphasizing important plot points and glossing over less essential information to engage viewers and keep the plot moving. It didn’t feel as gruesome or shocking as the onscreen action in the first Hunger Games movie. If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend it (but watch Hunger Games first, of course!).

Generating a Thesis (c) Kristen Dembroski

3. The Paper Chain – I am really enjoying using my first self-published ebook with my students: The Paper Chain. I have sent them the book, chapter by chapter, on ebackpack (our school’s electronic file-sharing app). Having the ebook in digital form allows students to keep track of the file without misplacing it. They can manipulate the book themselves, adding annotation such as highlighting, images, text, and notes. The digital format has also allowed me to share color files with students, which has proven essential for engaging students and keeping them organized (I can simply say, “Look at the blue box.” or “Read the text in green.”). These iPads have really been a huge benefit for our Language Arts classroom, and I don’t think I could ever go back to pencil and paper!

Fast Food Restaurant Solutions (c) Kristen Dembroski

4. Solutions – As part of our Argumentation Unit, students just completed a collaborative discussion on our class topic of Fast Food Restaurants. Half of the students represented stakeholders that oppose fast food, and half represented stakeholders that support fast food. Having wrapped up our verbal debate, students moved on to generating possible solutions / compromises – a topic which will be included in the conclusion of their Final Argument Paper. I was very proud of the great solutions they generated as a class! See the list above, and be proud of our future 🙂

3 Pups (c) Kristen Dembroski

5. Dembro Doggy Daycare – Yes, my sister is out of town on her penultimate dental school interview (8 of 9 interviews). The madness is almost over! We are watching her dog, Tyger, while she is away. Add that to the madness that is our house – incorporating a new dog, Ruffy, into the mix – and we have a bit of chaos. It’s a lot of barking, a lot of walks, pets, treats, belly rubs – a lot of everything! The dogs are very happy though, and isn’t that what it’s all about? Right now, they are all sleeping on the couch, very peacefully, so I’ll have to enjoy this brief moment of quiet before my husband comes home or a dog comes on the TV or some other catalyst for crazy.

So, how was your week?


Internet Research: Searching, Selecting and Citing Credible Sources

I have a new product in my TpT Store just in time for the Cyber Monday & Tuesday Sale:

Internet Research: How to Search, Select, and Cite Credible Sources

Internet Research (c) Kristen Dembroski

We often take for granted that our students, ‘Digital Citizens’, know everything there is to know about technology. We tell them to “go do Internet research.” But do they really know how to do that? I look over my students’ shoulders and see them typing in the exact question I asked them, verbatim. This gives them links to blogs and forums, but not the articles and credible sources we want them to find. They really are clueless, and why wouldn’t they be? Likely, no one has taken the time to model and demonstrate how to search appropriately online.

I am very impressed at how my students transformed throughout this mini-unit. At the beginning of the unit, I did a quick Google search on my SMARTBoard and asked students for their feedback – “Which should we click, and why?” Their only ‘go-to’ responses were “Blogs are bad. Avoid Wikipedia.” By the end of this mini-unit, I was getting very intelligent, thoughtful responses such as, “Well that might be a little out of date for what we are looking for.” and “Is that really on topic?” and “This news cite seems to be trying to convince me that this is a bad idea. I can tell by the language they are using, even though I trust the facts.” I was very impressed with my students, and I know they will be more educated consumers of digital text.

Since this is the area of my dissertation research, I knew exactly where to begin with creating this product for student use. First, there are several pages that teach students how to use search terms appropriately – lots of tips and tricks for getting exactly what they need.

Next, there are several pages teaching them how to select from the long list of search results they receive. I imagine that it’s very tempting to just start clicking on the first link, but do we ever stop to think about what we are clicking on? There is a poster, which is also available for free in my store, that presents 10 questions to consider when deciding if a source is credible or worthwhile.

Is it Credible (c) Kristen Dembroski

There is a practice page where students can look at a list of search results and discuss what they would click, and a sample article for them to read to decide if it met the criteria. I recommend doing several searches together with your students as they practice these skills.

Finally, there are several pages on how to correctly quote an article and how to cite an article, in both MLA and APA format. An answer key is included.

I hope you will consider adding this mini-unit to your Expository Writing or Research Unit, especially for Technology Education, 21st Century Skills, or Information Technology classes.


Also, don’t forget that Monday and Tuesday are the Cyber Sale days at TpT! TpT is offering 10% off everything on the site using the code “CYBER” at checkout. I am also offering a 20% off sale for everything in my store. You math wizards will notice that this comes to a total of 28% off EVERYTHING in my store! Fill your wishlist, fill your cart, and get ready for Monday! Click here to get started 🙂


Website Credibility

This week, as we work on our Argumentative Writing Unit, we are currently preparing to locate evidence on the Internet. Before we can find appropriate evidence, we need to learn how to determine which websites are credible and reliable.

As a pretest, I gave all of my students a handout of Google search results screenshot. I asked them which links they would click on, given our specific topic and purpose. A large percentage of the students chose the first link simply because it was the first link – not considering that the 2nd or 3rd link were actually a better fit. Then, I sent my students to a website and asked them if it was a credible website. The majority of them wrote something like, “yes, because it has good information and facts.” It was then that I knew we needed a conversation on determining the credibility of websites.

Through our class discussion, I heard the same ideas over and over again – blogs and wikipedia are bad news. I fundamentally disagree with these statements, and I have been working on deconstructing this illogic and convincing my students otherwise. Wikipedia used to be considered a highly unreliable source. However, each page now has a list of references and self-appointed curators who monitor the page. While I would not use Wikipedia as a direct source in a paper, I would use it as a starting point to familiarize myself with a topic, then follow the source/links at the bottom for more direct information. Blogs can also be reliable, if written by an expert in the field and/or if it includes credible citations and resources. UN-teaching these Internet myths has been a real challenge with my students.

Below is a list of ideas we generated as a class to decide if a website is credible. There is never a clear black/white answer. It is best to consider all of these ideas together, then make an educated guess as to whether a site is trustworthy enough to include references in your writing.

If you’d like your own copy, you can download the FREE poster here. If you have any comments on this poster – ideas for improvement, or ideas we forgot – please add your thoughts in the comments! Thanks!

Is it Credible (c) Kristen Dembroski


Bring on the Debate!

We have begun working on our Argumentation Unit – a Common Core aligned unit in which students investigate all sides of a topic, choose a side (or in my classroom, I assign stakeholders to make sure that all perspectives are represented), debate and discuss the topic as the stakeholder, come to a compromise or solution as a class, then write a final paper in which they use reasoning and evidence. This all follows the TELCon writing structure – Thesis/Topic, Evidence, Link, Concluding Sentence.

Controversial Topics (c) Kristen Dembroski

So far, we have begun by selecting 8 Controversial Topics to discuss as a class. (First, we had to even define ‘Controversial.’) For the past two days, we have been deciding which questions we might be interested in investigating as a class based on interest and researchability. We start by considering each question, one at a time. I have the students generate a ‘pro’ and ‘con’ list in their notebooks. Then, they took some time to dig around on the internet and see what kind of evidence they could locate to support either side.

The steroid question is definitely of high-interest amongst my students. However, there is an abundance of research and evidence for the ‘No’ side of the argument with very little supporting evidence on the ‘Yes’ side. For this reason, we decided to eliminate #4. My students are VERY interested in #8 (Fast-food restaurants) and #5 (Cloning). If they decided to go with the cloning topic, we will first have to define cloning and learn more about it before we can develop reasons and locate evidence.

Tomorrow, we are going to pick the one question we will pursue as a class. Then, we will generate a list of stakeholders in the argument – each student will be assigned a stakeholder role. Next, we will generate a list of questions we have about this topic as well as a list of information each stakeholder may need to locate.

I am taking them through this whole process of the Argumentation Unit using both my Argument Unit materials and The Paper Chain, an Argumentative Writing Instructional Workbook. It is very helpful to go step-by-step through this process with them. I will be sure to continue posting about our progress as a class. This is a very high-interest unit – I can’t wait for 2nd quarter to teach it every year!


Online Reading Comprehension

‘Kids these days are so good with computers – certainly better than I will ever be! They’re whatchya call ‘Digital Natives’. They spend so much time with technology, they know exactly what to do. What could we possibly teach them in school?’

Have you heard something like this before? It’s a popular school of thought. Unfortunately, it’s fundamentally flawed, and research indicates that schools need to start addressing the issues of Digital Literacy: the ability to communicate (read, write, speak, listen) effectively via technology. It’s not enough to simply take students to the computer lab and give them time to do research or type up their papers. Putting technology in their hands does not automatically mean you are using technology effectively in the classroom. We need to actually show them – model – digital literacy skills of locating, evaluating, synthesizing, and communicating effectively online.

Another popular yet incorrect assumption is that reading books and reading online require the same set of reading strategies and skills. I mean – they’re both just information, right? Wrong. There are several key differences between reading online and reading traditional print that educators must understand. First, online texts are multimodal – they consist of media presented in multiple forms, from text to graphics, photographs, audio, video and more. Meaning can be conveyed through size, layout, proportion, and color. Students need to be taught how to ‘read’ these new kinds of ‘texts’ and draw connections between information presented in multiple media. This is hard work for our brain! Multimedia has so much potential for reaching our students with different learning styles and needs, but we must first teach them how to utilize it. Not to mention, there are SO many distractions and distractors online – it can be a real sensory overload!

When we read a traditional book, believe it or not, a lot of the work is done for us. The author has already pre-determined your purpose for reading, the order in which you will read everything, and how the text is organized. When reading online, we get to make all of these decisions for ourselves. We start out with a question or a problem, make decisions, click away, and build a ‘choose your own adventure’ kind of reading experience. Because online texts are nonlinear, this means that no two people will have the exact same online reading experience. And since we – the readers – are the ones with the question/problem, only we can determine when we have fulfilled our online reading purpose and we can stop reading. That’s a lot of pressure!

Students require strong metacognitive abilities (awareness of our thinking) when reading online, as they must constantly reflect on everything they read, whether it is pertinent to their reading purpose, and what to do next. Every single navigational choice or click requires self-regulating reading strategies (planning, predicting, monitoring, evaluation), forward inferential thinking (predicting – what do I expect to find when I click this?), prior knowledge (of both the reading topic and prior experiences with technology), and global reading strategies such as questioning and synthesis (how does this fit in with what I already know? just read on the previous screen?). Phew – reading online is tough! We use more reading strategies more often when reading online, and we use them in unique and creative ways that are distinct from traditional print reading strategies.

So you see, we do need to address these issues in the classroom. We need to model for our students and give them lots of guided practice with reading for comprehension online. Being raised around technology does not automatically make our students proficient online readers.

One tool that is helping to bridge this gap in American Schools is the ORCA: Online Reading Comprehension Assessment. It is a 5-year research project funded by the United States Department of Education. The research team, located at the University of Connecticut, includes Dr. Donald Leu, Dr. John Kulokowich, Dr. Nell Sedransk, and Dr. Julie Coiro. The team has been generous enough to let me use this tool to conduct my own research for my dissertation before the assessment will be made available to schools across the nation.

The ORCA measures students’ abilities with 4 critical digital literacy skills: locate, evaluate, synthesize, and communicate. This is NOT your typical standardized assessment! It is designed to look familiar to students – a lot like Facebook. The students login, create an online profile, then interact with a peer named Brianna who asks questions and gives the students tasks to perform. These tasks range from reading email, searching the Internet, locating specific articles, summarizing (1 article) and synthesizing (multiple articles) the information, copying and pasting, evaluate the credentials and credibility of an author and article, and finally constructing a summative email. The ORCA measures everything a student does from the terms they type into ‘Gloogle’ (the ORCA intranet version of Google), to which links they choose from a list of search results. In the end, there are 16 tasks that are measured.

Online Reading Comprehension Assessment (c) Kristen Dembroski

For my research, I am conducting a 2-Phase Mixed Methods study that is investigating possible variables that may affect student success with the ORCA such as use of reading strategies, time spent on task, prior experiences with technology, and level of confidence. Here are my students taking the ORCA last week:

Online Reading Comprehension Assessment (c) Kristen Dembroski

In my first phase, I administered the ORCA to 123 students in 8th grade. As you can see from the average scores below, we need to adjust our 8th grade Language Arts curriculum to address the skills of evaluating online texts (is this a credible source?) and communicating that information appropriately (constructing email, citing sources, etc.)

Average scores out of 4 (n=123)
Locate: 2.54
Synthesize: 2.91
Evaluate: 1.81
Communicate: 1.33

I can’t wait for this tool to be available nationwide – I think this is going to make a huge impact on students and the way we teach reading comprehension. I’ll be sure to keep you updated on the progress of my dissertation as well – I am actually excited about this project, and I know the results will be interesting and of critical importance.




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