Kathy Cassidy does amazing things with technology in her first-grade classroom. She chats with Franki Sibberson about her favorite tech tools in this podcast. You can learn more about Kathy's work at her website:http://kathycassidy.yolasite.com/
A full transcript is available below the player.
Franki Sibberson: Kathy, can you talk a little bit about a few tools that you use with your first graders that support story telling?
Kathy Cassidy: Sure. This changes over time, but I'll tell you my current favorite. We use Storybird, Audioboo, and we use video quite a bit. Now Storybird, for people who don't know what it is, an online site that you can go to and create books. They provide a tool, and they provide illustrations. And they have a wide variety of illustrations you can choose from. Kids just have to drag in pictures, and then they make up a story to go along with whatever pictures they choose. So we've use it for things like – well, for writing stories. We've also used it in math when we were making up story problems and showing that we knew how to make up story problems. And we've used it for a lot of different kinds of stories too.
Audioboo is another favorite. I've used that – it's just simply a recording tool that provides you with an embed code, and I've had it for the students to use for reading fluency, to practice speaking skills. The other day we made pancakes, and then they had to tell the steps to making pancakes, or we recorded that and put it on with a picture on their blog.
And the other thing that we've been doing a lot more of this year is using video to show our learning. In fact, this year I have the students using my little flip video camera and recording each other explaining their learning, and then I just pop it up — my school division has a video server. And so I can put it up there, but if I didn't have that I'd just put it on to our YouTube account. And then once it's up there the kids are able to go to the site, and we've saved them by being tagged with their name.
So they go search for their name under the tags and up pops their video. And then they can, again, get the embed code and put it on to their blog. You have to be pretty careful with video, because I promised the parents of the kids — I promised that I will not put the kid's picture on their blog so that nobody will know what they look like. They know their first name, and they know there are kids looking like that in my class, but they don't know who is who. And so we've been doing all sorts of creative things to show our learning without showing our faces, like puppet battles and stuff like that.
Franki Sibberson: Oh, okay. So you can get around that, not showing faces and still get really good video clips.
Kathy Cassidy: Right. I think we've got some great ones.
Franki Sibberson: That's so smart. So you're one of the, kind of the pioneers in using the technology with early learners. How has your use of technology supported your students as literacy learners, do you think?
Kathy Cassidy: Really everything you do is about literacy. I have games on my web page that support literacy themes, such as rhyming games and alphabet games. Their blog is an online portfolio of their whole year's work, but writing is the cornerstone of their blog. So the blog supports that. Even some of the Skype calls we do, we will phone somebody and say they will read us a story or talk about something else like that. This year I'm doing the Daily Five, or sort of a version of it, and blogging and commenting is one of the options that my kids have during the Daily Five. They do listen to reading directly from my web page or from an iPad we have in our classroom. Making words – one of the options is to write them in the picture chat feature, so lots of different ways.
Franki Sibberson: To do that, that's so smart. So what are the biggest changes you've seen in your students since you began integrating so much technology over the years?
Kathy Cassidy: I can't really say that there's been a change in the students because of the technology. I think my students are different than they were, and I think that's not because the technology I use. I think that's because of the technology in their homes, because students have changed. And I think every teacher would say that, that we're not getting the same kind of students that we were ten years ago. I do know that technology engages them. They have technology at home, it's part of their life, and I don't want them to have to power down when they get to school.
I think that one thing that they do have that my kids didn't have before, and I think this is because I'm so much more aware of it, because I blog as well, is that they're more reflective learners than I had, say ten years ago. But as I say, that's maybe just because I am, and because I blog. I tell you too that they have a different world view than kids did ten years ago, in that the world is smaller to them. They talk about the kids in Australia or in New Hampshire just the same way as they talk about the kids in the classroom next door to us. They think of them as part of their world, and they're learning that way too.
Franki Sibberson: It's so exciting. So you have a list — you have so many resources for teachers. You're so good at sharing. You have a list of top ten free tools for teachers. How did you come up with that list, and can you talk a little bit about one or two tools other than the ones that you already talked about that your kids are using this year?
Kathy Cassidy: I was just thinking about that the other day and thinking, "You know, I think that my list has changed." I made it several years ago.
Franki Sibberson: [Laughter] Changes all the time, huh?
Kathy Cassidy: Things don't stay the same, do they?
Franki Sibberson: No.
Kathy Cassidy: So I do think that some things have changed. I would take Bookaroo off and put Audioboo on instead, because it does better what bookaroo did a few years ago. But Bookaroo was the best tool for a couple of years ago. But I do use the blogging and the Skype, which I see I've got as listed as one and two. I think that those are the most used ones in my classroom. The blogs are used for the portfolio, and then Skype, we've used that for a variety of things. Just recently we were talking about how people eat different foods and so we Skyped some classes to find out what they had for breakfast. We've listened to someone read us a story recently. We actually were able to Skype with a girl's class. The girl had moved from our classroom, and that was a wonderful thing, because it provided closure for my kids. And we could see, "Yes. She's still okay. She's happy," and it was good for her too, I think because –
Franki Sibberson: What a great transition. Nice.
Kathy Cassidy: Yeah, that was really great that we got to do that.
Franki Sibberson: So you're really good at sharing with teachers and you've created several spaces online for teachers to kind of share resources with each other, a primary web wiki, and a log in for literacy. Can you talk a little bit about learning with other teachers? Like I know I learn a lot from just kind of following these collaborative resources that you get started for us all. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Kathy Cassidy: Sure. Well, I share because people share with me. For instance, I read other people's blogs. Twitter has become a really big learning tool for me to just follow along. I've got a lot of other primary teachers that I follow, and just to see what kinds of things they're doing. And I see it go around that something somebody else does, then other people copy, and you see it going around. Here's an example.
Last summer I saw a video that a teacher had made with her kindergarten kids in New Hampshire, and she had done it explaining how to make maple syrup, and the kids were dragging in pictures and explaining what was happening in the style of common craft. And I thought, "Wow, that's a really cool thing to do." So a couple months ago I decided to pull that out when we were doing needs and wants in Social Studies, and we made videos for the kids who chose "This is something I need," and "This is something I want." And I posted that online and tweeted to say, "This is what we're doing," and I saw other teachers said, "Wow, that's great. I'm going to do that too." And so I've just seen a domino effect that I've seen several teachers that are now making those, just because I saw somebody do it, and then I shared what I was doing, and just following after that.
Franki Sibberson: So your website — I think a lot of teachers are trying to create a good website. And yours – I'm going to ask a whole bunch of questions about your website, if you can kind of think about you have so many tools available to your kids. It seems more like a site for them in terms of tools. Can you talk about has it evolved over time? Have you kind of built it over years? Where do you start as a classroom teacher working with young kids to build a site that really kids will use to get the good tools?
Kathy Cassidy: Well I wish it was all set up at the beginning of this year [laughter]. That would make it a whole lot easier. But it's not because things change, sites sometimes change, and I learn new things. So it doesn't stay the same. When I first started making a website was more than ten years ago, and I was using a tool called Dreamweaver, and then I was uploading it. This URL that I'm currently using as my website is actually the third URL that I've used, and the other two are still out there, perhaps still get hits. But this is the one that I like the best, of course, because the first ones are very glitzy, and I like shiny, bright things. Now I'm trying to be not so much like that, but the thing I like now is that there are pictures. Instead of clicking on words, the kids can look at the picture, "Oh yeah, that's the site I want to go to." So even for my pre-readers, it works.
When I first started I was doing leveled reading sites, and I was doing math. I did sites linking for all levels of the curriculum, and I had so many games on the ones before this. Now the interesting thing to me is that I went through those games when I was making my new page, and very few of those games made it to my present website, because games are evolving, and what kids can do is so much more complex now than those games.
Franki Sibberson: That's interesting.
Kathy Cassidy: – compared to what's available now. So now what often happens, obviously I have a web page now, and in the summer I do do some work on it. But what generally happens now is I'm teaching a new concept in math, and I usually think, "Okay, I'll just go look around and see what's available for that." So I go to my Delicious or my Diigo book marks and search through that to see, "Oh, is there anything that I can find that would be good for that, because I'd like to do a game on the smart board for that subject." And so I search for there, and if there is then I just quickly take a screen shot and pop it up on the blog, because it's so much easier now to do that.
I'm using as my web page a WordPress theme. It's actually hosted through my school division, but it wouldn't have to be. It could be – there's no reason to have to do WordPress either. I think you could probably use Logger or one of the other tools that's available out there. And then I just leave it that instead of creating new articles on the main page, I'd have tabs for different subject areas, and I just update the main page on the front.
Franki Sibberson: So then do you teach your kids how to use that or do you just kind of start it almost from scratch at the beginning again, and add things as you introduce them to kids?
Kathy Cassidy: I have all of that stuff on the first page available to them at the beginning of the year, but they don't really know how to use them. And then as the year progresses, we use those tools. If I see we haven't used something, then it goes off and . . .
Franki Sibberson: Do you find your kids use it a lot over the summer too?
Kathy Cassidy: I do, yeah.
Franki Sibberson: Just such a great resource for them. Well one last question. Any tips for teachers who are just starting a website and just starting to use technology – how to kind of start. It seems like there's just so much and so many tools, especially with young kids – how to get started, because there's as much junky stuff out there as really good stuff. Do you have any advice for teachers just getting started with creating a classroom website and using technology with their young learners?
Kathy Cassidy: I think you're right. There's so much I think it can be overwhelming, and you don't know where to start. If I was just starting, I would do what I did when I started, which was choose one thing. I decided I was going to have a web page first. And that didn't start with great things on it. It started very, very simply, and then I might add a page with some other things, and then another page. So I would say to start small, and if I was starting it again now I probably would start with a blog instead of a web page.
Franki Sibberson: Well thank you so much for sharing this is so…
Kathy Cassidy: Oh, it's so much information in such a short time. Thank you, thank you.