Friday, July 25, 2014

Find Relationships in the Wreckage

Venice, 2013
True confessions: My husband is a home wrecker. This is a picture of us in Venice last summer, and we're very happy.  This summer has been a bit different.  He's become completely obsessed.  I hear him tossing and turning at night, and I know he's not up thinking about me.  He's constantly running "errands" and trying to learn all these new tricks.  I'm getting a bit worried.

It's not what you'd think though.  When I say he's a home wrecker, I mean it literally.  Earlier this summer, I told him I'd like to do a photo collage on the back wall of our living room.  He decided we should just redo the entire living room.   And I don't mean just buy some new furniture.  Greg suddenly had visions for an arched doorway, a granite fireplace, wall lighting, crown molding, and more.  The scary part...he wanted to do the work himself.  Did I tell you my husband doesn't have much experience with home renovation?  So here are a few photos of the current status of my living room.

I'm cautiously optimistic that Greg will be able to complete these projects soon and that they are going to turn out well.  Our living room desperately needed an overhaul.  But even if they don't turn out well, I'm really proud of him.  I'm not sure I would have the courage to just start carving up walls and ripping off fireplace tile.  He's teaching himself how to do all this by just digging in, watching a load of YouTube videos, consulting with some local experts, and problem solving along the way.  I wish learning in our classrooms could look more like our home renovation project. The exciting part is that it CAN!

I'd like to share some ideas for using digital tools to break the ice with students.  Using digital tools to build relationships in the first few weeks of school is a great way to help students get comfortable using digital tools in the academic environment.   You'll likely learn things about students in these venues that you wouldn't in more traditional icebreaker activities.  While it's natural to feel some trepidation about using technology in the classroom, don't let the fears stop you from exploring the potential.  I guarantee you'll build relationships from the wreckage!  As you decide on how to begin the year with students, consider your PURPOSE for the icebreaker activities.

To guide students in being proactive about their digital footprint:

  • Create a digital cover letter using  While you're at it, be sure to create one for yourself. Thanks to the suggestion of George Couros I created one for myself.  Check it out here.  
  • Design a digital resume using a tool like Prezi.  This is an especially great activity for older students, but don't dismiss it if you teach younger students.  There are some pretty amazing entrepreneurs that are no more than 10 years old!
  • Challenge students to create or redesign their Twitter profile to showcase more about their passions and pursuits for impacting the world.  This is an especially great idea if you plan to use Twitter in your classroom. 
To get students comfortable sharing online:
  • Consider having students use the YouTube webcam to create a quick broadcast about themselves.  It will get them comfortable talking in video format, which can be a great formative assessment tool throughout the school year.
  • Use a backchannel platform such as Today's Meet, Padlet, or Twitter to answer simple prompts about themselves.  I love Catlin Tucker's ideas for using Padlet as icebreaker.  The prompt is simple: where in the world would you want to travel and why?  Add a sticky note and explain.
  • Use Pinterest to create a board that illustrates "10 Things about ____" with captions that explain the photos.  Students could create the board about themselves, or this could be used as a strategy for exploring content. Check out this quick YouTube tutorial:                                                            
  • Students could create a selfie story showing "A Day in the Life of ___" and capture it via Instagram, PowerPoint, iMovie, etc. 
To support students in acclimating to a new building culture: 
  • Create a scavenger hunt of people and places throughout your school and allow students to use Instagram and a class hashtag to facilitate the journey. 
  • Encourage students to meet each other using FaceTime, Skype, or Google Hangouts to facilitate a game of digital hide and seek.  Spanish teacher Abby Saverino used this game to build relationships and help her students in building their Spanish speaking skills. 
To get students engaging in tools you plan to use throughout the year: 
  • Allow students to create an infographic about themselves.  Creating infographics is a fantastic act of synthesis, research, reading, writing, and multimedia presentation, and they can be used for so many academic purposes throughout the school year. and Piktochart are two of my favorite sites for students. 
  • Create a map of important locations in your life and annotate each location using Google Tour Builder.  This mapping tool can be used to tell all kinds of digital stories throughout the year about academic content. 
  • Create a digital scrapbook using RealTime Board or a timeline of your life using Capzles. Again, great tools to come back to over and over again throughout the year. 
As you consider all the possibilities, remember that offering students CHOICE in how they represent themselves online goes along way.  Additionally, capitalize on the power of doing icebreakers in a digital format by sharing them on your classroom website in an "About our Class" section, including them in parent newsletters, and building community throughout your school by sharing them on classroom hashtags.  What if 5th graders commented on the 3rd graders personal digital scrapbooks, or seniors welcomed freshmen to the building by commenting on their infographics?  When we use digital tools we have the power to share our work beyond our own classroom walls.  Tap into that potential! And if you're feeling a little fear, remember that's a good thing.  My mantra for this year is that if I'm not feeling scared, I'm not trying hard enough!   


  1. Sarah,

    Thank you for taking the time to blog and share all this edugoodness! I started an account. :) Happy weekend.

  2. So awesome Sara!!!! Love that you want classes to look messy but productive:-) I love even more that you emphasize student CHOICE!