Thursday, August 30, 2012

LiveBinders Might be the Answer to your Question

In my last post, I wrote about my plans for using social media tools in my education courses this fall. In addition to using Edmodo, Twitter, and Pinterest, my students and I will be using LiveBinders throughout the semester to organize, share, and reflect on resources and their applications. I use LiveBinders as an instructional tool because of the ease with which I can organize resources around topics and concepts. My primary use of Livebinders this semester, however will be as a tool for my students - who are pre-service teachers - to organize and reflect on resources for their future classrooms.

Q & A

I'm teaching Inclusive Language Arts Methods for Elementary Education majors for the first time this semester. Over the summer, I discovered just how much work it is to create a course from scratch. As I began planning for the course, early on I knew that I wanted some way for my students to create a database of strategies and resources for teaching language arts that they can access when they graduate and get teaching positions in a year. I use my university's learning management system (LMS) to organize resources throughout the semester, but my students won't have access to the LMS next year when they'll need those resources. I also run mostly paperless classes, so I won't be giving them hard copies of resources to file away for later.

So, my question was: What tool can my students use to organize strategies and resources they learn about throughout this semester? My criteria: free; simple user interface; easy to share; and capable of organizing various types of media including documents, videos, and web resources. The answer: LiveBinders.

My students will create a LiveBinder to organize resources and strategies as well as reflect on the potential applications of those strategies and resources in their future classrooms. The faculty who teach the other Elementary methods courses (social studies, science, and math) have agreed to use LiveBinders this semester as well. These methods courses take place during the students' Internship semester, when students spend one full day a week in a local classroom. Students complete their Internship in the classrooms in which they will complete their student teaching in the spring. Building this LiveBinder during their Internship will give them a head start on taking on full responsibility for teaching in the spring.

The Nitty Gritty

Each student will create a LiveBinder with 4 tabs - one for each content area methods course. Each tab will contain several subtabs which will vary from course to course, depending on what each professor requires of students. My students will upload their assignments along with documents and web resources they can use in their future classrooms. One major component of the LiveBinder assignment is reflection. I want these future teachers to be explicit about how they might use these resources and strategies in their classrooms. Here are the things I am requiring my students to include in their LiveBinders:

  • Course syllabus (I want them to have access to the list of additional resources in the future)
  • Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and other relevant supporting documents and resources to the CCSS
  • Mini-lesson script, reflection, and other artifacts from the lesson
  • Small group lesson plan, reflection, and other artifacts from the lesson
  • Anecdotal records and audio or video recording from two student conferences
  • Read aloud reflection
  • Four entries from your writer’s notebook that represent different types of entries and demonstrate who you are as a writer
  • Published piece of writing (or a sample of your published piece)
  • A minimum of five reading and writing web resources that you plan to use in your classroom, along with a brief reflection on how you plan to use each resource
  • A minimum of ten documents that you plan to use in your classroom, along with a brief reflection on how you plan to use each document (i.e. handouts from class, resources from the textbook’s CD, resources from your cooperating teacher, etc.)

Potential Benefits

Hopefully by the end of the semester I will be able to proclaim how beautifully this LiveBinders assignment worked as a teaching, learning, and reflecting tool for these pre-service teachers. Until the results are in, here are my hopes:
  • Consistency across the four methods courses will help our students make connections across content areas and begin to think about teaching in a more connected way
  • Students will feel more prepared for student teaching and for their first year as classroom teachers
  • Students will become more reflective as they consider potential applications of strategies and resources 
  • Students will become familiar with a tool they can use to organize resources for their future students and as a learning tool in their future classrooms
Are you searching for a tool that fits a specific purpose in your own classroom? LiveBinders might be the answer. I would love to help you think about the right tool for the job. Feel free to leave a comment below! 

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Social Media as a Learning Tool in Higher Education

This fall, I'm teaching two sections of Technology in the Classroom and one section of English Language Arts Methods for Elementary Education majors. The campus, which has been eerily quiet this summer, will once again come to life as students return this week. I'm looking forward to daily face-to-face interactions with the pre-service teachers I have the privilege of working with, but I'm also excited about online interactions with those students via social media tools. I'm incorporating social media in different ways in my two courses. I'll be continuing some ideas from last semester, and there are a few new ideas that I'm experimenting with as well. I'd love to get your feedback about how you're using social media with your K-12 or higher ed students! Feel free to leave a comment below.


I use Edmodo as the Learning Management System for my Technology in the Classroom course. While the university provides an LMS for instructors and students, I chose Edmodo for this particular course because I want to model a tool that my students (pre-service teachers) can use in their future classrooms. Feedback from students in my course last spring was very positive in regards to using Edmodo as a teaching and learning tool. Many of them taught their cooperating teachers how to use Edmodo and used it as a classroom website during their student teaching. Edmodo helped me implement an entirely paperless classroom during the spring semester. All instructional resources are posted online, and students submit all assignments via Edmodo. Read more about how I use Edmodo as my LMS here.


One ongoing assignment in Technology in the Classroom is building a Personal Learning Network, and Twitter is the main tool we use to do that. I require my students to follow educators and organizations who share similar interests. Students also are expected to tweet reflections on course-related content throughout the semester, mainly by replying to questions I tweet. I created a hashtag for the course, #edu451, which helps me and my students organize our thinking and connect with one another.

One change I've made to how I'm using Twitter in my Technology in the Classroom course is that this fall I'll be requiring my students to participate in one Twitter chat sometime throughout the semester. I scheduled a Twitter chat with my class in place of a face-to-face meeting one week last semester when I was away at a conference, and the chat was a big hit. I'm planning to hold an online class meeting via Twitter chat again this fall. Additionally, my students will choose a Twitter chat that's focused on their interests, participate in the chat, and turn in a reflection on their participation in the chat. I'll be sharing this schedule with them.


I'm trying Pinterest with my students for the first time this fall. This is the primary social media tool I'll be using in my English Language Arts Methods course. I've created a board for my students to follow. Over the summer, I posted web resources, graphics, and ideas that will be useful to them. During the first week of class, I'm going to add my students as editors of the board so they can post resources as well. A benefit of using Pinterest as a way to capture and organize resources is that my students will have access to this board next year, when they are first-year teachers in their own elementary classrooms. They can also share the board with their cooperating teachers and other colleagues. I envision having students share not only great websites with each other but also upload their ideas and products from inside and outside of class. With the Pinterest app, students can easily upload a variety of items that will be helpful learning resources for their classmates. Here are some things I envision being added to our board:

  • a photo of a two-column chart generated during a small group activity in class
  • a photo of elementary students working in a literacy station in an Internship classroom
  • a photo of marked-up text representing a key learning from the week's reading
  • a photo of an anchor chart created during class as a response to readings or discussions

Read my guest posts on Free Technology 4 Teachers in which I detail my experiences last spring: initial post and follow-up post.