Who’s In Control?

Note: This year I am blogging weekly reflections at my school site (weskids.com) in order to provide more transparency in my teaching for parents, students, and the community (local and global). I will be cross-posting most of the entries here at Bit By Bit as well. You can see the original posts at the “Reflections by Mr. S” blog.


“Social media attention training requires understanding your goals and priorities (intentions), and involves asking yourself, at regular intervals, whether your current activity at any moment moves you closer to your goal or serves your higher priorities (attention)… [M]indful use of social media begins with noticing when your attention has wandered, and then gently bringing it back to focus on your highest priority.”

Rheingold, Howard; Weeks, Anthony (2012-02-24). Net Smart (p. 247). MIT Press. Kindle Edition.

You might have heard from your scholar that I’ve started introducing a “mindfulness bell” in classes. If your child has not been taught about the bell yet, don’t worry… they will get it soon.

The idea for the mindfulness bell came to me after reading Howard Rheingold’s outstanding book, Net Smart: How to Thrive Online (http://amzn.to/1bIOIGE). Rheingold is seen as a “Cyber Pioneer” and has studied, written about, and influenced life “online” since “life online” became a reality (the term “virtual community” is attributed to Rheingold and his book by the same title). In short, Rheingold’s been around for a long time and is undoubtedly, an expert on technology’s influences and impacts.

A major part of Net Smart examines an essential question: with all the distractions that computers and the Internet offer, who’s in control? In other words, are we running the computer, or is it running us?

Technology is ubiquitous and demands a lot of our attention. It is difficult to escape its distracting grasp to the degree that many adults I know have difficulty getting their work done because they’re always checking their Facebook stream, or their email, of their Twitter feed, etc. I myself am not immune to this dilemma, but after reading Rheingold’s book, I’ve taken an inventory in how much I use technology and have implemented routines to help keep its use in a healthy balance with the rest of my life.

In using the mindfulness bell, this is what I am trying to do for our students. The children in our school have never known a world without computers. Many of them come from parents who had childhoods without a computer or similar technology in their lives at such a young age. It wasn’t until later in life, for many of us, when the Tech Boom exploded and became a larger presence in our lives. No one taught us as children how to manage the inherent distractions that accompany technology.

Motivated by Rheingold’s book, I am attempting to help our students be in control of their technology use. When I ring the bell, all students stand and have many options to take a 2 minute break: stretching, breathing, closing their eyes, jogging in place, etc. Students must get out of their chair because one thing that they might not have been “mindful” of is their posture (when we use computers, we’re in our “head” and tend to forget about body posture unless we train ourselves to do so).

No matter what break choice the students end up picking, we ask for silence and I remind the students to be asking a question in their heads: “Am I in control or is the computer in control?” This question leads to more questions. For instance, “Have I been on the computer too long?” “Am I focused on the work that I’m supposed to be doing?” “Am I breathing?” (in Rheingold’s book he reports on a phenomenon where people actually stop breathing while they are reading an email! I’m hoping students are making sure they’re breathing when playing a difficult game!) “Am I sitting properly?” “Do my eyes need a break?” etc.

I hope in doing this at school at a young age, students will start to incorporate these strategies at home and throughout their lives. Technology is awesome, but balancing it with the rest of our world is essential.

Here are a few more interesting quotes from Rheingold’s book:

“[S]tart paying attention to the way you pay attention.”

Rheingold, Howard; Weeks, Anthony (2012-02-24). Net Smart (p. 36). MIT Press. Kindle Edition.


“When you are online, how often do you control your own focus— and how frequently do you allow it to be captured by peripheral stimuli?”

Rheingold, Howard; Weeks, Anthony (2012-02-24). Net Smart (p. 42). MIT Press. Kindle Edition.

And one that is especially worrisome in these days of technological distraction:

“University of Utah researchers found that drivers who talked on a cell phone— just talked, not texted— were as impaired in driving simulation tests as subjects with blood-alcohol levels close to the legal limit.”

Rheingold, Howard; Weeks, Anthony (2012-02-24). Net Smart (p. 45). MIT Press. Kindle Edition.

Mindfulness Bell
Mindfulness Bell

Things you can do at home with your students:

  • Ask them if they’ve had a class where I’ve introduced the mindfulness bell yet. What do they think of it?
  • Ask them to reflect on the amount of time they spend with technology. Do they think they have a good balance with other things in their lives?
  • If they (or you) think it’s not in balance, ask them what they think could be done to get it more in balance. Here’s a great article about “Screen Time” from commonsensemedia.org: http://bit.ly/lEibWJ
  • I believe that just as we talk to students about not smoking when they’re younger (so they don’t when they’re older), we should also be talking to students about the risks of texting (and cell phone distraction) while driving while they are still young (and listen to us!).

Rheingold, Howard. Net smart: how to thrive online. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2012. Print.

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1st Grade and Multi 1/2 “Fall Festival Integrated Leaf Project”

Note: This year I am blogging weekly reflections at my school site (weskids.com) in order to provide more transparency in my teaching for parents, students, and the community (local and global). I will be cross-posting most of the entries here at Bit By Bit as well. You can see the original posts at the “Reflections by Mr. S” blog.


You might remember that 1st and Multi 1/2 grade students took a lovely “Leaf Walk” back in October with the CORE team to collect leaves. Their collection of leaves is part of the “Fall Festival Integrated Unit,” shared between CORE classes and their own classrooms. You can see our Standards for the unit HERE: (http://bit.ly/1gNs7fS). For the past few Units, students have been working on Tallying and Bar Graphs with their classroom teachers as well as with me in Computer.

Tally Chart

We started the study in Computer by using a great lesson (free!) from Brain Pop Jr on “Tally Charts and Bar Graphs,” which can be found HERE (http://bit.ly/9Lk3XG). Then students brought in the tally charts they created in their classrooms and used the program, KidPix to represent their data in bar graph form.

Brain Pop Jr.

I made the template that you see below, but students had to type their own names in and use the “bucket” tool to create their key and graphs. When finished, students drew a picture to accompany the theme of the data collected.

As you can see by the examples below, there were two different templates students had to choose from. In one template, the numbers range from 1 to 12, and in the other template, the numbers count by 5′s in order to reach 60. Students had to decide which template would best fit their data. Those that had a large collection of leaves, for example, and had to choose the “60″ template, needed to not only count by “fives” but also decide whether to “round up” or “round down” their numbers.

bar   bar 2

Things you can do at home with your students:

  • Over the next few weeks, you should see your student’s tally charts and bar graphs come home. Ask him/her the differences in how their data was represented with both forms. Which did they like better? Which one is easier for them to read?
  • What did their class find: were there more Maple, Birch, or Oak leaves collected on the walk?
  • Ask them to tell you what they did in the other CORE classes as well as their home room that connected with the Leaf Project.
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Note: This year I am blogging weekly reflections at my school site (weskids.com) in order to provide more transparency in my teaching for parents, students, and the community (local and global). I will be cross-posting most of the entries here at Bit By Bit as well. You can see the original posts at the “Reflections by Mr. S” blog.


Well, I’m happy to report that I’ve managed to acquire 5 iPads in the Computer Lab. These are, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, a big hit. Students learned how to take care of and treat the machines with respect a few weeks ago, and everyone has the routines down. The iPads are perfect for a Center station and offer a myriad of learning opportunities, able to engage students at different learning styles.

Students with iPads

Presently, the Grades 1 and 2 have been using them for reading non-fiction books (primarily the app, “Lulu in the Amazon“(https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/lulu-in-the-amazon/id571916239?mt=8). Grades 3 and 4 started off with a challenging Math game called, “SubtractionTop-It” (https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/everyday-mathematics-subtraction/id425203268?mt=8) which makes use of solving for the difference between two numbers mentally instead of on paper (with “regrouping” or “borrowing” as we used to call it).

4th graders are now starting to use the iPads to create! They are learning how to make Movie Trailers in “iMovie“(https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/imovie/id377298193?mt=8) and Audio/Video/Written books in “BookCreator” (https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/book-creator-for-ipad/id442378070?mt=8) and will soon learn how to take digital photos and digitally manipulate them to create mood. All three projects connect with our CORE integrated unit, “Many Ways to Tell a Story.”

Things you can do at home with your students:

  • Ask them what rules we have for taking care of the iPads at school. Are they the same or different for rules you have for iPads at home, if you have them?
  • Ask them what they like/don’t about using an iPad instead of a Desktop Computer?
  • Ask them what they think future computers will be: more tablet based, or more desktop machines.


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Seedlings @ Bit By Bit Podcast: Show #133

Seedlings @ Bit by Bit Podcast: Show #133
November 3, 2013

We’re going to Honduras and “One Laptop Per Child” with our very own Alice Barr!

You can watch our Talking Heads on YouTube below, listen to the podcast, or subscribe to our Podcast Channel.

Links from the show:


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Week in Review 11/1/13

Note: This year I am blogging weekly reflections at my school site (weskids.com) in order to provide more transparency in my teaching for parents, students, and the community (local and global). I will be cross-posting most of the entries here at Bit By Bit as well. You can see the original posts at the “Reflections by Mr. S” blog.


For Grades 1 to 4, students have mostly been working on their “I Can…” statements to prepare for showing off their accomplishments to you during conference nights. It has been amazing to watch how hard students have worked on these self-assessments and reflect on where they are at with skills that have been taught so far.

When you come in on Conference Night, please remember to leave your scholar’s reflections here at school. In last week’s reflection I said I would be sending them home during Report Card time, but after seeing how much students have written, I’ve rethought this. I’d like to keep the reflections here so that students can compare their growth throughout the year(s) with follow-up reflections. I will instead have students complete a separate checklist of mastered skills to bring home during the Report Card periods.

Again, this is your student’s Conference. They will be running it. Think of me as a “fly on the wall,” hopping around the room from family to family, listening in. As mentioned last week, I will try to collect a positive story or an interest of your student so that I can meet individual needs better.

Kindergarten students have not done any reflecting on skills in writing as it isn’t developmentally appropriate. However, please do bring your K student to the lab and ask him/her to show you the lessons we’ve done, ask what their favorite lessons are, or even have them show you our Mo Willems’ book collection! I will try to record a story or interest from Kindergarten parents as well so that I can better meet individual student needs.

When not self-assessing, Grade 1 and Multi 1/2 have been working on the Computer component of our integrated unit, the “Leaf Project.” In computer, they have learned how to use tally marks and create bar graphs and will graph their leaves next week in a drawing program.

Below is a quick “trailer” of their Leaf Walk:

Leaf Walk 2013 from wells elementary on Vimeo.

Things you can do at home with your students:

  • Ask them what they are most excited to share during conference time.
  • Ask them what skills they feel they have mastered since the beginning of the year.
  • Ask them what they know this year that they didn’t know last year.
  • Ask them what goals they have for this next quarter.
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Upcoming Conferences

Note: This year I am blogging weekly reflections at my school site (weskids.com) in order to provide more transparency in my teaching for parents, students, and the community (local and global). I will be cross-posting most of the entries here at Bit By Bit as well. You can see the original posts at the “Reflections by Mr. S” blog.


Parents, this week I would like to remind you about coming in for Computer Lab Student-led Conferences that I wrote to you about in an earlier “Friday Folder” post this year.

I_Can.odt_-_OpenOffice_WriterStudents in Grades 1 to 4 have been working on “I Can…” statements where they are accessing their own progress in skill development and reaching mastery objectives. At conference time (November 6 or 7th), the lab will be completely open for you and your student to come in and go over these reflection sheets—either before or after your scholar’s classroom conference. The students will be asked to show you (and me) evidence of skills that they have accomplished (aided by the “I Can…” reflections). During open conference time, you won’t have to sign up for a specific time slot; just show up and your student will look for an open computer to show you his/her work. If the regular school conference times don’t fit your schedule, I am able to meet with you and your student at an alternative time (just contact me at rsprankle@wocsd.org). During the conference time, your student will be in charge of leading the conference and showing his/her work as well as what we are working on in the lab. I will be listening in on conferences and will meet with you quickly in order to gain more understanding of your student’s interests and learning styles.

It is important that the “I Can…” sheets STAY IN YOUR STUDENT’S FOLDER so please don’t take them home after the conference! You and your scholar will receive these at Report Card time, after I’ve had time to meet individually with them and sign off on their skills.

Student working on an "I Can..." Statement
Student working on an “I Can…” Statement

I know Conference night can be a pretty busy event (especially if you have more than one student in the school!), so I anticipate that your time in the Computer Lab will be 10-15 minutes. The most important thing is that your scholar shows you his/her “I Can…” reflections and evidence of work, as well as the weskids.com website. As I stated above, I will be “flying” around the lab and listening in on the conversations that your student will be leading.

But there’s one more thing that I am going to ask from you: a positive story about your child or a quick anecdote about your child’s main passion/interest in life.

Here’s my reasoning:

I have almost 500 students. I work very hard to get to know every student as an individual through routines such as having students take on roles like “Teacher’s Assistant” (whereby they get to help teach the lesson) or by working with students in small groups. I’ve started a book group on Friday Lunch time for fourth graders and will switch over to third grade once we finish the current book. I believe, the more I can connect with students, the better I can serve them as learners.

A few years ago, I had a very shy student in my class. In the busyness of class, and only seeing her every six days, I admit that it took me weeks to realize how very advanced her computer skills were (not only was she shy, she was also very humble). At conference time, she and her parents came to the lab and I shared with them my observations of her skills and compliments I had recently given her (which, by the way, she hadn’t shared with her parents! I told you, she is humble).

Her parents were overjoyed to hear the feedback, but more importantly, they started IMG_3932telling me things about the student that I never knew. For instance, she loves horses and is a rider. She also wants to be a veterinarian when she grows up and is interested in learning more about how to help animals in need.

This conversation took no more than 5 minutes, but it completely changed my instruction with her. I was able to constantly incorporate her interests in her work and relied on this new information to ask her to make connections between her interests and the work we were doing in Computer to the whole class. Rather than remain a shy student who rarely offered information, she evolved into a strong leader, so much so that she took a leadership role in a Tech Club I was offering after school at that time. She threw herself deeper into researching ways to help animals and established a small group of other students who joined her efforts.

I share this anecdote because I believe that the story her parents told me that night at the conference strengthened my connection with this student and helped me to help her better. I constantly ask students to share their passions and interests in the work they do, but without a doubt, that “inside info” from parents helps me get to know a student so much better and on a deeper level. You, after all, are the main  expert on your child.

So… to restate: Will you please either take time with me during conferences to tell me about your scholar or if you’re short on time, would you jot down a short paragraph/list about their interests or a positive story about them? I will keep notes based on your comments/stories in my (secure) records and reflect upon  them as well as use them when meeting individually with students.

I am confident this will help me get to know your student better, and thus, help me serve their individual needs and interests better.

Thank you,

Bob Sprankle

Things you can do at home with your students:

  • Ask them what skills they have been learning in Computer.
  • Ask them what skills they can do independently.
  • Ask them what they are proud of.
  • Ask them what they want to show most at Conference time.
  • Ask them what their favorite part of the year has been so far.
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Bit by Bit Podcast: Show 135

Bit By Bit Podcast: Show #135
October 19, 2013

We’re going back to the ACTEM 2013 Conference with Dr. Daniel Russell’s Closing Keynote on 10/11/13:

“What Does it Mean to be Literate in the Age of Google?”


Music: “Tech Talk” by Kevin MacLeod Subscribe to the Feed

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Note: This year I am blogging weekly reflections at my school site (weskids.com) in order to provide more transparency in my teaching for parents, students, and the community (local and global). I will be cross-posting most of the entries here at Bit By Bit as well. You can see the original posts at the “Reflections by Mr. S” blog.


“Children learn more readily from other children than from adults.” Students Taking Charge by Nancy Sulla

Last week, I explained how much of our learning has moved to “Centers.” This week, I wanted to tell you about a special job one of the Centers has each week: GENIUS.

Genius LanyardsThe idea for “Geniuses” comes from the Apple Store model where they have the “Genius Bar” with trained technicians who help customers with their problems. I’ve often talked about this job with students and let them know that Apple actually gives their Geniuses shirts that say, “Genius.”

“How awesome would it be to have a job where your shirt says that you’re a Genius?” I’ve asked my students. To date, everyone has agreed that this is “ultimate cool.” So… we made that happen for our Geniuses with lanyards that say, “I’m a Genius.” They wear them whenever it’s their turn to be in the Genius Center.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. First off, what do Geniuses do in the Computer Lab? Well, photo.JPGjust like Geniuses at the Apple Store, they are there to help others. Since everyone will get to be a Genius (when it’s their time for that Center), everyone needs to know what’s happening in the lesson, or what the directions are for working with a website, for instance. Once the Centers start, the Geniuses walk around the room and aid the other students. If no one needs help, the Geniuses may return to their computers and work on their own projects or assignments I’ve given them. If someone needs help, they will hunt down a Genius (remember, they’re identifiable by their lanyards) and ask the Genius to stop what he/she is doing and help out.

IMG_3682.JPGStudents LOVE being Geniuses! They are tending to others’ needs in the kindest ways and with such care. I can’t tell you how many times I hear, “Can I help you?” “Are you all set?” “Do you need me to show you what to do?”

Students are no longer calling my name out or asking me for help; they’re relying on the Geniuses. This has so many benefits:

  1. I am able to work intensely with a small group or provide differentiated instruction for individuals.
  2. As Geniuses, students are gaining more confidence than ever before in being able to problem solve and come up with creative solutions.
  3. Students are able to go deeper into the learning. It used to be that an entire class would get the activity as a large group and usually only once. Now, students are able to get assistance in one-on-one settings (with either a Genius or me) and the Geniuses get to learn the skills of a particular lesson at least twice: once when they do it and once when they teach it as Geniuses. Also, when Geniuses aren’t helping students, they can return to further explore an earlier Center.
  4. Clearly, students feel proud of themselves when they help another student. There are times when I’m looking over their shoulders, but they’re really running the whole show.
  5. Students are following whole class directions much better. They know that sooner or later they’re going to have to teach the lesson as a Genius, so they are working harder than ever before to learn the concepts.
  6. We are no longer feeling rushed. It used to be that I needed to help an entire class publish a finished piece of work, fighting against the clock. Now that we’re in small groups, it’s usually no more than 5 students who need to publish before the class ends, and I am no longer alone! I have Geniuses helping me, if not actually doing the entire process without my aid!

And, there is nothing sweeter to a teacher’s ear than hearing students call out all day, “I’m a Genius!”

Things You and Your Student Can Do at Home:

  • Ask your student to further explain the role of Geniuses.
  • Ask if they’ve been a Genius already and what they did.
  • Ask your student what they like about being a Genius.
  • If you’re able to, stop by an Apple Store and show your scholar the “Genius Bar.” If you’re able to talk to one of the Geniuses, encourage your student to ask the Genius what they do for their job. How did they get to be a Genius? What’s the best part of being a Genius? What do they do if they can’t figure out a customer’s problem? How do they like wearing a shirt that says “Genius” on it?
  • Talk with your scholar about the word “Genius.” What does it mean to be a Genius? Is everyone a Genius in some way? Ask your student what makes him/her a Genius in their life.
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