Jan Abernethy’s Blog

Janice Abernethy is a STAR member of the Discovery Educator Network


Google Doc Forms

Posted by Janice Abernethy

Recently, I started exploring Google Docs in the classroom. My experience so far has been mostly with forms. I have found a variety of uses for them. Below are some examples and links to the actual forms.

Diagnostic Survey – I used this survey at the beginning of the year to determine students’ access to a computer and the internet at home. In addition, I asked the students to check off the states they have visited. This is important information in that I know who I need to provide extra time using in-school technology and who I can count on to extend their exploration of technology at home. Since we are beginning a unit on the United States, asking the states question gives me a better understanding of students’ background knowledge.

Learning Styles Inventory: I used this survey to record students’ responses to an online survey called Abiator’s Online Learning Styles Inventory. Students recorded their responses to questions on a worksheet as they took the survey. Although I could have collected the paper copies and had all the same information, collecting their answers on a Google Doc was easier and much more meaningful. I could view their individual results in a spreadsheet, but also important, I could view the results as a whole class, too. This gave me a better understanding of the overall learning style preferences of the class and their multiple intelligence results, too.

Pick a State to Research: In this survey students are asked to rank their top five choices for states to research. The goal is for each student to research two states, with no states being repeated. This is a simultaneous project that goes with our class election. After I teach the students about the Electoral College, I explain to them that their class vote for our classroom president is worth the number of electoral votes of the two states they have researched. In the past, I had students write their choices on a piece of paper. I then tediously entered all of their choices in a spreadsheet and analyzed which state should go to each student based on their choices. With the survey, most of that work is done for me.

Just today in class, I introduced our final project for the animal classification webquest we have been doing. Students will work in groups of five. Each member will research one of the five animal kingdoms and together the five of them will create a project that includes all five kingdoms. On the spur of the moment, I decided to use a Google Doc Form to determine the animal kingdom each student would prefer researching. By the time students had retrieved laptops, turned them on, and logged in, I had created the form and placed a link to it on our wikispace. Five minutes later, all twenty-two students had logged their preference. My job now is to form groups based on their choices so that each group contains a member from each of the animal kingdoms.

The more I use the Google Doc Form, the more ideas and uses I come up with for it. I already know they are useful for gathering and analyzing a body of information in a short amount of time. How else might I use them? Have you used Google Docs in your classroom? How have you used them? Please share your ideas with me. I would love to hear them!


Tracking a Feed

Posted by Janice Abernethy

For the past couple of years, I have been using two devices on all of my websites, wikis, and blogs to track traffic. One of the trackers is called ClustrMaps. This nifty little device places a red dot on a small map (which is embedded on your website) each time a new and unique visitor views your site. As more people from the same area visit, the red dot enlarges on the map in that area. A list of all of the countries that visitors originate from can be found in the bottom right hand corner.

The second device is called Feedjit and it works much like ClustrMaps, but it has a few more bells and whistles. Feedjits gives you four different options for possible widgets on your website. One widget is a traffic feed that shows you the last ten visitors to your site. A flag representing the country and the name of the city are given along with what website they were visiting before arriving on yours. The second widget option is a live traffic map which is similar to ClustrMaps map. The third option, called recommended reading, recommends pages on your site that the viewer may be interested in based on what it has seen other visitors view. The fourth widget tells the most popular pages of the day.

Generally on my sites, I stick to the ClustrMaps map and the Live Traffic Feed from Feedjit. So what is the educational value of such tools? First, the students are interested in seeing all the different cities and countries that may be visiting our site. I introduce the widgets to students by projecting them on to the Smart Board. I’m always excited to view a country that the students don’t recognize (and maybe I don’t recognize either.) Take for example the feed below, copied from my Authentic Learning Blog site.

Live Traffic Feed

Boyers, Pennsylvania arrived from jabernethy.com on “Authentic Learning
Richmond, Michigan arrived from jabernethy.com on “Authentic Learning
Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal arrived from google.co.za on “Authentic Learning: A 21st Century Classroom
Willowbrook, Illinois left “Authentic Learning” via globalgorillapssa .blogspot.com
Willowbrook, Illinois arrived from google.com on “Authentic Learning
Singapore arrived from google.com.sg on “Authentic Learning
Jacksonville, Florida arrived on “Authentic Learning
Surrey, British Columbia arrived from jabernethy.com on “Authentic Learning
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania arrived from google.com on “Authentic Learning: Creation of a Schoolyard Habitat
Boyers, Pennsylvania arrived from jabernethy.com on “Authentic Learning

If I were to project this on the Smart Board for the students to see, the post that would probably stand out the most would be this one:

Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal arrived from google.co.za on “Authentic Learning: A 21st Century Classroom

The students would wonder where in the world Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal was and I would honestly answer, “I have no idea, but let’s find out!” We would then proceed to click on the “Options” button and select “Live Traffic Map.” We would search the map for the flag and discover that the visitor arrived from South Africa!  This would not only amaze the students but they would have learned a bit of geography, too.

I think there is so much potential for using these widgets to teach students about a variety of topics. Just some that come to mind include geography, world cultures, and the internet footsteps we all leave behind from a brief time on the web. Can you think of any specific lessons that could derive from these widgets? Do you see value in using them on class websites, wikispaces or blogs? How would you incorporate them into a lesson? I would love to hear your input!


Differentiation by Thursday

Posted by Janice Abernethy

As teachers, we all know that students work at different rates and at different levels. Knowing this makes it difficult to emulate the schools of the past with teachers in the front of the classroom dictating the same curriculum to all the students with their slates in hand. So, how do we go about creating a curriculum that meets the needs of all students? How do we find the time to work with students who need just a little more time with a concept than the rest of the class? Also important, how do we challenge the students who knew the concept before we started the lesson?

There are no fast and easy answers to those questions. We all must do our best and find our way to do justice to the students we teach. One strategy that I found helps me to work toward that goal is the “weekly goal sheet.”

The weekly goal sheet is given to each student on Monday morning. A list of common goals is given, but the goals themselves may be leveled. For example, students may have specific goals related to Spelling, but they may be working on different spelling words. Students all have a literature circle response due on Friday, but students are reading different books at different levels. Below is an example of this week’s goal sheet.


o Read assigned chapters in selected novel NOVEL: __________________________


o Spelling Bookwork (Due Thursday)

o Spelling Activity of your choice (Due Friday)

o Spelling Practice Test for Bonus (Due Friday)

o Literature Circle Novel Response – Due Friday


o Study Island – Reading Character – Earn a blue ribbon – Due Friday

o Abiator’s Online Learning Style Inventory – Due Friday

o Discovery Education – Science Quiz on Reptiles –Due Friday

o Friendly Letter (Final Draft Typed and saved in Student Resource folder) – Due Friday

o Characteristics of 5 Types of Vertebrates (Animal Classification Webquest) – Due Friday

o September Literature Circle – Book Adventure and AR Test – Due Wednesday, September 30

Time is given in class for goals – Goals not completed in class are homework.


Today was Thursday. Students worked hard on goals this week, and this afternoon they were putting the finishing touches on their work. As I looked around the room, I marveled at the various stages students were in. I knew all students were done with their friendly letters, because I had a chance to edit with each of them while the others worked. All students had taken the science quiz, and most were done with their monthly accelerated reader test. I had already worked with students struggling to earn a “Character” ribbon, so that goal was done. All paper goals were done with the exception of studying for their spelling test. All that was left were some computer goals.

This is what I saw as I looked around the room. Some students were taking an online Learning Style Inventory, while others were working on the Animal Classification Webquest. A few students were taking their Accelerated Reader tests, while others were taking Book Adventure tests. Some students were studying their state locations, while others who had already mastered this concept were working on learning the capitals. One student was making a Power Point for her literature circle response, while another typed up a quiz in Microsoft Word. What couldn’t be denied is that all students were working diligently.

This is only September. As the school year progresses, the differences will grow. Believe it or not, some students finish their goals by Tuesday or Wednesday. Keeping these students busy can become a challenge. In the past I have had these students work on our class blog, write scripts for academic-related videos, or work on a class cause project. The challenge is to keep them motivated.

If you have some ideas for motivating students or for differentiating in a fifth grade classroom, please share them with me. I am always looking for new and creative ways to reach my students.


First Blog as a Techno Tiger

Posted by Janice Abernethy

Each year my class comes up with a unique name. Last year my class was the Global Gorillas. The Gorillas were a tech savvy group. They created wikis and blogs. They started their own digital sports program that was published on iTunes. Their knowledge and use of Web 2.0 tools was outstanding, and they used this knowledge to create weekly literature circle responses. The Gorillas dabbled in podcasting and video production including the use of green screening.

The year before the Global Gorillas my class named themselves the Cyber Chickens. They were also no stranger to technology. They hosted a blog and a podcast about “The Series of Unfortunate Events” books. They created a blog to teach others about cyber bullying and another to help others prepare for the Pennsylvania State Assessment. The most impressive feat of all for the Cyber Chickens was the work they did to force a local company to clean up their hazardous waste mess near our school. They published their work on a wiki and a blog. The Cyber Chickens had a pretty impressive resume.

The Historic Hippos were there the previous year, and they were no slouches in the technology department, either. In their day, they were cutting edge! They were the first class to produce and publish their own podcasts on iTunes. They had their own email accounts on Gaggle and they were the first class to have a wikispace.

A new year has begun, with a new crop of students. They have named themselves the Techno Tigers. The Tigers have big job ahead of them. Will they be up to the challenge? What new ground in technology will this class break? I’m not sure, but I can’t wait to find out!



Posted by Janice Abernethy

Web 2.0 has changed the way we as educators look at technology integration in our classroom. I used to think I was so tech savvy, because I had a website and my students made Power Point presentations. Web 2.0 tools opened my eyes to a whole new way to use the world wide web to make my students not only more tech savvy, but global collaborators. Below I will tell about two tools that are ever present in my arsenal and one more tool that I haven’t opened up to my students yet, but plan to now that I know the possibilities.

I discovered wikispaces about two years ago at a conference, and since then I can’t believe I ever lived without them. Wikispaces can be used as an easy website interface, as a place to provide links for students, a place to provide information for parents and a place to showcase student work. There is no html code and ftp uploading or any of the other things that make web design so awkward. An example of a wiki acting as a website would be Mrs. Abernethy’s Global Gorilla Wikispace.

Wikis are much more than glorified websites, however. They can be used to collaborate. Students can work together to create a website even if they’re not on the same computer, in the same room, in the same city or in the same country. My first experience with interactive wikispace work was on Project Lemonade, an international collaborative project my students participated in last year. As a part of the project, my students worked together collaboratively to create their own interactive wikispace called Project S.C.A.T. The collaborative nature of wikispaces is what makes them a true web 2.0 tool.

Here is a great video on how and why to use wikis in a classroom.
Wikispaces provides their own interactive tour on how to get started. Included is an introduction and how-tos on personalizing your wiki, adding files and pictures, and personal settings. Wikis can be as open or as protected as you choose. For use with young students, it’s best to set up the privacy settings for them to be sure they are safe.


The Proof is in the Project

Posted by Janice Abernethy

Project based learning is deeply seated in research as an effective way to engage students and produce better test scores. As the body of research builds, I decided to do a little research on my own. What is Project-Based Learning (PBL)? If you’d like to see PBL in action, spend some time with Mrs. Abernethy’s Global Gorillas. Whether students are reading, performing science experiments, or preparing for the state standardized test, students are deeply engrossed in a collaborative, project-based environment. How do they feel about this type of learning? View the results of a recent survey below.

Survey in a Google Document

Survey Analysis

1. When asked whether technology has helped them learn better, students responded unanimously, “yes.”
2. Given the choice between a paper-pencil test and a project for a grade, 83% chose project.
3. Students were asked which they would prefer to do the most to help them learn. Their choices and responses are as follows: read a book (15%), have the teacher tell you (12%), or work in a group (73%).
4. Students were given a list of projects they participated in this school year, and they were asked to choose the project they liked the most. A description of the projects and the results are below:
a. Class Election: Students participated in a simulated election. Click to see how the election worked. Students participated in a primary, held convention parties, gave speeches, planned campaigns, and participated in debates. In addition, the electoral vote process was employed in the actual class election. Before the election took place, students went to the polls to see firsthand how it was done. Later in the week after watching Barack Obama get sworn into office, our new class president and vice president were sworn into office, too. To learn more about this project go to our Election Blog.
b. Literature Circle Projects: Students are required to read one novel per month. Each week students create projects to demonstrate comprehension of the novel they are currently reading. Students are given latitude to exercise their creativity and they really do. From web 2.0 tools to paper-pencil, regardless the medium, students show what they read. To learn more, please visit our Literature Circle Blog.
c. Dinosaur Collaboration: Our class does quite a few collaborative projects with Mrs. Blazosky’s first grade class in Clarion. This is one of those projects. Students have been collaborating to build a Dinosaur Blog. My fifth graders created projects to teach her students about dinosaurs. Her students responded with projects of their own. From movies to Toon-Doos, the multimedia is rich. In addition, the fifth graders edited posts done by their younger collaborators.
d. Morpheus Fortuna: A traveling bog turtle, Morpheus makes his rounds to various classrooms around the state of Pennsylvania. Students enjoyed their visit with Morpheus and created movies and more for his blog and wikispace. It was meaningful to them that other students in their state would be reading and viewing their projects.
e. PSSA Projects: Students created their own projects to give tips for PSSA test taking. They created movies, interactive Power Point presentations, and other media rich projects. They shared their knowledge with other test takers across the state on a PSSA Blog.

Student results were as follows:
a. Class Election: 34%. Although this project was done at the beginning of the year, students chose it as memorable. Some reasons given were personal in nature. For example: “We got to choose our class president.” “…I got to run for Class President and we got to do awesome commercials.” “I remember doing signs and voting for Cassie.” ”I was a candidate till the primaries.” In reality, the students probably remember this project so vividly because it was so real and correlated with real life happenings (the Obama election.)
b. Literature Circle Projects: 23%. Some comments include: “What made this project memorable was that you had to do one every week. And I would always try to make the best one I could.” “Because we did them so often and their were so many different things to do.” “I’ve done tons of stuff for it, easy and hard. I’ve done things I’m very proud of during Lit Circles.” In my opinion, the variety, the hard work, and the use of web 2.0 tools will be very valuable skills for these students in the future.
c. Dinosaur Collaboration: 19%. Student comments: “Dino project because I made a video.”
d. Morpheus Fortuna: 11%. Student comments: “He was awesome and so much fun to do projects on.” “…I liked taking him to music and gym..”
e. PSSA Projects: 11%. Student comments: “Because I had a lot of fun, I learned a lot, and I got to work with a friend.”

(To view more complete answers and answers to other questions, please take time to view the Google Document.)

What all of the student comments have in common is an enthusiasm for learning. Students enjoy working collaboratively with other students in their classroom and with others via the world wide web and video conferencing. In this day of state standardized testing, how do you justify project-based learning? Let’s turn that around. In this time of testing, how do we justify not using it? If you need further proof that project-based learning is effective, meaningful and worthwhile, please visit our website, and take a look around.


Creation of a Schoolyard Habitat

Posted by Janice Abernethy

About nine years ago, my students and I embarked on a PBL (Project-Based Learning) experience. While learning about animals and their habitats, the class decided to create our own habitat for native species in our schoolyard. We began with a persuasive writing exercise to convince the schoolboard and administration to allow us to transform a part of school property. This was only the first of many letters the students wrote during the project. Letters to local business owners afforded us the opportunity to buy tools and plants for our project. Students even convinced businesses and individuals to donate plants, mulch and tools. A newsletter created by the students went home with with everyone in the school explaining the project and making the plea for help.

In addition to writing skills, students did research on multiple topics. They learned through the National Wildlife Federation that we could become certified as an official Schoolyard Habitat. I learned as an educator that there are national standards that can be met just by doing the project. I now had justification in case anyone questioned the validity of our project. After researching the requirements to become a certified schoolyard habitat, students began researching plants and animals native to our area. They also used mathematical skills to map out an area of the schoolyard to create the habitat.

After a lot of preparation, in the spring of 2000, the students were finally ready to break ground. A year later, the habitat was certified as a Certified Wildlife Habitat. Students were recognized in the local newspapers and we were interviewed on television by a local broadcast station.

The schoolyard habitat still lives today, and is maintained by my fifth grade class each year and students who volunteer to help during recess and after school. In addition, there is a schoolwide cleanup of the habitat in the spring on Earth Day. Go to our website to learn more about our Schoolyard Habitat or click below to watch the powerpoint.

Uploaded on authorSTREAM by jabernethy


Countries that Visited

Posted by Janice Abernethy

Above is a Wordle created at worldle.net. The countries found in the wordle are the countries that visited Mrs. Abernethy’s Global Gorillas Classroom Website in 2008. The size of the country correlates with the number of visits from that country. Therefore, countries that visited more often are larger. A total of 67 countries visited in all!


Meet Global Gorilla

Posted by Janice Abernethy


Recently my fifth grade class adopted a “Build a Bear” gorilla (we know it looks like a monkey) and we named him Global Gorilla. He has a wiki, a blog, and a flickr page. Students write about what we are doing and learning from the gorilla’s viewpoint. We borrowed the concept from Brandon Lutz’s traveling bog turtle, Morpheus Fortuna. The students had so much fun creating projects for Morpheus that we decided to adopt our own pet that could spend every day with us. Please check out Global Gorilla’s Blog and find out what’s happening in our classroom.  Comments are always welcome. In fact, they are cherished!


Meet the Global Gorillas

Posted by Janice Abernethy

Wow! Just finished grades for the first nine weeks and I realized I haven’t blogged on this site yet this year. New school year…new class…new class name. Let me introduce the Global Gorillas. They are something!

Global Gorillas

Probably the reason I haven’t blogged is because those gorillas have been keeping me busy.  Since the beginning of the school year we have not only been following the election closely, but running an election of our own.

We started the first day of school, when I explained the two party system and explained that we had two parties in our class. Our two parties were the boys and the girls. We ran a primary and came up with two candidates (a boy and a girl.) Students not elected were given the option to work on a winner’s campaign or being a part of the election board.

The election board remains neutral (until the election.) They have important responsibilities such as doling out money to the candidates, keeping track of what they spend on advertising, registering voters, making ballots, and preparing the they spend on advertising, registering voters, making ballots, and preparing the voting booth.

Each campaign composed of all the rest of the class consists of vice president, treasurer, TV reporter, speech writer and a variety of other roles.  Each campaign planned and executed a convention party. This consisted of one half hour for each candidate on a Friday afternoon. They could do whatever they wanted (within reason) to convince their classmates to vote for them. There was food, games, decorations, music and more.

Candidates also participated in a debate, had town hall meetings to discuss issues, made commercials and gave speeches.  They also learned about electoral votes and in a surprising twist, I informed them that they each had two states’ electoral votes. With 25 students, this accounted for all but Washington D.C. which one of the candidates won in the flip of a coin.

With days until the big date, students are busy polling, preparing, and bribing.  Thankfully, it has been a much kinder and gentler campaign than the national election.  John McCain and Barack Obama could learn a thing from these two candidates.

If you want to learn more, please click on the link below, or better yet watch their election commercials on the site. You choose the best candidate!

Our Class Election Blog