How to use BookCreator in Writer’s Workshop

Molly and I are Writer’s Workshop teachers. We have both taken the Writer’s Workshop training at Teacher’s College (TC) and both of us feel passionately about our students seeing themselves as writers. When we began our 1:1 journey, the possibilities did and still do feel endless with our devices, however, sometimes this endlessness can be daunting. I’ve written about how we use both Educreations and Book Creator in our classrooms (Book Creator and Educreations in the classroom), in this post I want to focus specifically how we use Book Creator in conjunction with our Writer’s Workshop.

We do three-four writing units a year based on the TC first grade Writer’s Workshop curriculum. During our daily Writer’s Workshop, students spend around 30-40 minutes writing and editing. This past year I focused on using BookCreator during the informational writing unit and realistic fiction(2nd and 3rd units). I plan to integrate Book Creator into the small moments (1st unit) curriculum this coming year because it was incredibly engaging to students and allowed them to easily publish their work digitally.

There are a many ways to use Book Creator during the workshop. Sometimes students would publish books they had already written using Book Creator. This was exciting to them because not only did they have a paper copy but they also had a copy they could read and access through iBooks on their iPad. This also made it easy to share their writing through their kidblog as you can save books on Book Creator as a video on the camera roll and upload to a variety of platforms. They also were able to Airdrop their stories to each other’s iPads and create a class library filled with their peers stories.  

What struck me about using Book Creator as a writing tool was how engaged and excited students were to use it even during free choice time. In this first sample, the student wrote about how to care for the classroom fish using skills the student learned during the workshop however, the student wrote the story during free choice. The skills the student was learning in writing naturally transfer to using the Book Creator app.

In this second example, we had been writing realistic fiction series for several weeks when we decided to use Book Creator to write and publish one of the stories in the series. I created a anchor chart to guide students through the process.  


Using Book Creator in our Writer’s Workshop allowed our students to create and publish their stories digitally, share their work easily on their blog and apply writing skills they had learned in the workshop to a digital medium. I cannot recommend using Book Creator in conjunction with your Writer’s Workshop enough!


Why We Don’t Have Chairs





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It’s usually the first thing anyone who hasn’t been in our classrooms before asks, “Why don’t you have any chairs?”   It’s a good question and there are many reasons Alicia and I have given up chairs to support student learning.   First things first, our youngest students like to move and they don’t sit anywhere for long.  Our classrooms are small and if there were 26 desks and 26 chairs we wouldn’t have room to do anything but sit.  Learning would look extremely different.



Without the more traditional classroom set up we can  easily move tables around so that we have a wide open working space. Sometimes we push all the tables to the sides of the classroom to create a larger working space. These photo’s show how students have plenty of room to work as they explore how balls move and begin to build ramp systems in science.   Sometimes our tables become stages for group presentations. Without chairs and desks, we have a great deal of opportunity to change our classroom layout in a moment’s notice to best fit our students learning needs.

You’ll notice that we have tables and not desks.   We believe this is the best way to get our students used to working together.  Both of us have no assigned seating in our classrooms and on the first day of school we begin teaching kids how to make choices that work for them. First graders like to fidget and sometime being a self directed learner means you sit at a table or lie down on the carpet with a clipboard.



It’s rare that you would see all of our students sitting at tables.  First graders love to mix it up.  We firmly believe that students learn better when they are not glued to their seats.   It’s important that they are able to engage physically and creatively while they are learning.   Even so we still take many brain and body breaks to get out kids up and moving around during the day.  And if you need anymore convincing, you probably already know that with our youngest learners, chairs can present their own unique issues. They can squeak, tip over frequently and cause a great deal of noise. Not to mention, how hard it is to get first graders to push chairs in when they’re not sitting in them.  In fact, it was tripping over a chair that caused me to take the last chairs out of my room for good.  For a long while, I had a mixture of low tables and traditional desks and chairs.  So, after tripping  and while  planning a writers celebration, I decided I would move the chairs into the halls so we would have more room to move around.  The celebration was super successful. But when I told my students that  I would be putting our room back together in the morning, they replied, “Why would you do that – we love the  low tables and  it’s so much better this way.”  As usual, my students understood what worked best for them before I did.  And they make it clear that our classroom was too crowded.

I will say that in the beginning, Alicia and I felt some resistance.  Parents worried that their children would be uncomfortable or they would get dirty sitting on the floor.  We bought many carpet squares and pillows but found that while children will reach for them occasionally, they really prefer sitting or kneeling on the floor.  There have been times when children’s physical limitations or other reasons have warranted bringing a desk and chair into the classroom.  And of course, we do what is right for every student.  In a perfect world, we would love to have a mixture of all kinds of seating, but for us, at this time, in the space that we occupy, our furniture helps support the  learning community that we believe is most important for our kids.  A classroom where everyone is making a choice that allows them to be successful.  And at the same time creating a classroom environment where collaboration and conversation is always part of the learning process.



Creating a Professional Learning Network

I love going to conferences–meeting other teachers and education professionals, connecting about a profession we are all passionate about is invigorating. Before I discovered Twitter and grew my own Personal Learning Network (PLN), these conference experiences were isolated to a once or twice a year experiences. And while I love conferences, there are times I find them frustrating as well–we all  know too well the experience of learning so many great things at a conference and the reality of the struggle to apply more than one or two things we learned to our own classrooms.


I began my own Twitter journey three years ago ( Twitter in the First Grade Classroom) when I created an account for my classroom. I did not however, create a twitter handle for myself until this past year. At first I didn’t understand why I needed two twitter handles-frankly it seemed excessive and time consuming. What I quickly learned was that both served very different purposes. My twitter handle ( @AliciaMISmith) that I use for my PLN allows me to connect with educators all over the world  as well as keep up to date on online resources such as Edutopia and MindShift. Another way that my PLN has dramatically impacted my teaching is through weekly chats specific to first grade. Many Sunday nights at 8pm EST (5pm PST), I log on and participate in #1stchat, a chat dedicated to teaching and learning in the first grade classroom.  During these weekly chats, there is a moderator and a topic that has been selected beforehand. The moderator posts questions and then teachers from all over the country respond hashtagging #1stchat on all of their responses. I use Tweetdeck to help organize and streamline the chats I participate in. Sometimes during these chats, I sit back and watch the conversations without taking an active role, other times I am actively engaged chatting back and forth with other teachers. The thing I love the most about these chats is the energy: each teacher that is participating is choosing to be there and has valuable knowledge to contribute.  I’ve been able to connect with inspiring teachers in a weekly manner from around the country, teachers I most likely wouldn’t have been connected to otherwise.

If you are not yet on Twitter or only have a classroom page, I urge you to create a separate handle for your own PLN. Search hashtags with your grade level and try participating in a chat, feel free to just observe at first. There are many different types of chats happening all the time, find one that fits your own interests and learning goals. Follow other teachers from the chats to help grow your PLN. Creating my own PLN allowed me to take my professional development into my own hands and allowed me to grow and connect with other educators.


Twitter In the First Grade Classroom

Three years ago as I began my journey at a new tech focused school,  I set up a classroom twitter account. Through that whole year I gained 12 followers about half of which were spam twitter accounts. The next year I didn’t touch my classroom twitter account once. A great deal of this was due to my discomfort and misunderstanding of the technology. I wasn’t sure how to use twitter to share anything other than reminders directed towards families.  Last summer I traveled to NYC to be part of the Teachers College Writing conference. TC heavily uses twitter to tweet out quotes, information, articles, the list goes on and on. Bravely, one day I tweeted out a quote that struck a chord with me and hashtagged it #tcrwp and was thrilled when my tweet was retweeted. I began to follow teachers and presenters I met at the conference. From this small twitter interaction, I began to see the value in tweeting out my learning and began to wonder how twitter could be use to share our classroom learning authentically and not just to be used as a way to remind families about early release.

At the beginning of this year, Molly and I made the decision to create two twitter accounts for each of us-one for our class and one for ourselves, our Personal Learning Community (PLN) (we will discuss in a later blog post). Our plan was to have our classes tweet daily with our class twitter handle and hashtag a school tag as well as any other relevant hashtags. We implored others at our school to use the school hashtag so we could tweet back and forth between our classrooms as well as a larger twitter community.

My class quickly got into tweeting and checking our twitter feed for favorites, retweets and tweets back at us from families and other first grade classrooms we were connecting with through various twitter chats. Soon my students began writing the tweets themselves, misspellings and all and using the class twitter handle to share their learning. Almost weekly we participated in a great math chat (#mtgr1). Weekly, a class would tweet out either an open ended answer to a math question or a picture and students would create the math problem with words, pictures and numbers. We tweeted out our work, sharing our learning with all the other first grade classrooms across the county that participated. Each week when we looked at the new math problem, my students immediately began searching for ways to create elaborate math problems to fit the questions. The level of work grew exponentially with each responded tweet we read, first graders love to try to outdo each other and this was a great outlet to do this in. In the coming year, my goal is to find other first grade twitter chats to participate in. How did I search for these chats? With a tweet and a hashtag of course!


A screenshot of our school’s hashtag featuring Molly’s twitter account. School wide hashtags are a great way to hear what’s going on in your school community.

We Wonder Wednesday -My Unexpected Learning

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I’d like to think that if you walked into my classroom on any given day, you would see students engaged in learning.  My classroom is a place where students have lots of choices.  I believe in the workshop model, a quick minilesson, and lots of opportunity for practice. I also believe in teamwork and collaboration. My students learn quickly that a huge part of  first grade is  learning how to work with others.  After all, I tell them again and again that “none of us are as smart as all of us”.  And when they start coming to me with stories of how  “so and so”  is sooooo hard to work with, I remind them that working with others is not  always easy.  And yet I believe that even our youngest students can learn to  work with anyone, no matter how difficult the personality.  I will confess that getting first graders to collaborate is messy.  And sometimes it’s just plain hard.  And yet when I heard that teachers in classrooms around the world were actually setting aside time for students to plan their own learning I was intrigued.

I started We Wonder Wednesday in my classroom two years ago. We Wonder Wednesday is similar to 20% time, or genius hour. The idea, simply put, is that students are given the time and opportunity to pick their own project, to wonder and learn about anything, to have complete voice and choice, even in a first grade classroom. In the beginning, I struggled. There is always so much that we have to make sure we are teaching day to day and I wasn’t quite ready to use that time and just hope that I would get results.  So I dabbled in “we wonder” – I did it a few weeks on, a few weeks off, you get the idea. But even then I saw results.  So last year, I decided I wasn’t going to waffle in wonder anymore. I would commit one 45 minute block of time every Wednesday morning to students and let them direct that time.   And what do you know?  It worked. Soon  my first graders were researching pollution and interviewing our school custodian to find out how much garbage we were creating at school.  That led to an interview with our school secretary who was worried that we were wasting paper in our building. Another group was studying elephant conservation efforts in Africa and ended up creating maps that highlighted elephant habitat.  I had two students who wanted to learn more about Ruby Bridges and so they read books together and watched video’s and then created their own book about her. 

These girls got the opportunity to show this book at a gathering of Seattle educators and parents who wanted to learn more about how students were using these devices in our classrooms. After their presentation, I asked them, what they were going to do next, and without hesitation they told the audience that they had learned so much they wanted to write a new book about other heroes in the civil rights movement.

I will say that having a 1 to1 classroom made our “we wonder” time even more successful.   These devices  gave my class the opportunity to research, to do interviews, to make videos, and to keep all that research and work in one place.   But not everyone wanted to use their iPad.   I had many students who did their work on paper and poster boards. One  group of students spent several months writing their own play. Their idea was to mash-up some of their favorite characters, Dr. Seuss, Koala Lu, The Grouchy Ladybug, and create a new story.  The result a 3- act play that was produced, written, directed and performed by first graders. 

These are just a couple of examples of the learning that I didn’t plan or expect this year.  Every Wednesday my students were choosing their own adventure in learning.  And while they were learning they were also collaborating, sharing, and lifting each other up.  And after awhile, this learning didn’t just happen on Wednesday. Most of my students worked on We Wonder during choice time or asked me if they could stay in at recess to continue working.   I have always called my classroom a community of learners and this year it truly was.  I learned that by lifting my expectations and giving students a chance to lead the way, we all learned more than expected.


How We Use BookCreator and Educreations In Our Classrooms

Our first graders love reading and writing. We spend a large part of time reading and writing everyday. Our classroom culture is based on the belief of student centric and student created content. As a class, we write and publish frequently. We write for a variety of purposes: personal stories, informational text, realistic fiction, reviews, the list goes on and on.   As a first grade team, when we were looking at app to add to our 1:1 program, we wanted to ensure our apps aligned not only to Common Core State Standards but that they also aligned with our classroom culture of writing and reading for a variety of purposes. We wanted an app that was easy to use and was easily adapted across content areas. Most importantly, we wanted apps that are creation based and allow students to share their learning in an unique manner.   Our search led us to two apps we decided to adopt: BookCreator and Educreations. Both apps offer slightly different benefits and we felt that both would be well utilized in our 1:1 program.

Educreations was the first app we adopted and worked heavily with. We selected this app for a few reasons. Educreations is a free or very low cost app, if you choose to upgrade to the pro account. It is very easy for students to write, draw, upload pictures into and narrate over. In this video, the student was working on learning the names of 2-D geometric shapes and using the shapes to create new shapes from the composite shapes (CCSS Math 1.G.A.2).  There are some drawbacks to Educreations, students cannot go back and re record if they make a mistake. Additionally, without the pro account, students can only save one draft at a time, which can be problematic if you have students working on multiple projects at once.

BookCreator is an vast app in which students can write, add text, draw, add photos and narrate over books they create. These books are shareable to iBooks or can be shared easily by converting the book to a video that is easily uploaded to a variety of platforms such as youtube or blogs. Bookcreator allows students to share their learning in a variety of different ways. It provides student who may be impacted by the amount they can write a method of sharing their learning through voice over. A student may only be able to write a sentence but can speak a great deal about a topic. Bookcreator provides this outlet for students. Bookcreator has many features that my students were still discovering on the last week of school. In this example, the  student used many features of Bookcreator to create a vibrant, full book.

Whatever app you decide to adopt in your own program, make sure that it has multiple input points for students to access and ensure it is easily sharable in some manner. High quality student work should be shared and celebrated!

Building Learning Communities – My Summer Learning


I love that I work in a school that values professional development.   And not just professional developed that is “sponsored” by our district but professional development that is” teacher driven.”  So in May 2014, I asked to attend my first BLC (Building Learning Communities) conference. Not surprisingly, my principal and the PTSA agreed that this would be money that was well spent in our school.   So last week, I spent four days in Boston with my colleague, Julie Colando and 900 plus other educators representing more than 75 countries around the world.  We all came to Boston because we know that schools are changing and the way we teach kids should be changing too.  No longer are teachers the sole bearers of information. No longer are classrooms places where kids and teachers work in isolation.  Technology has changed our profession and forced me to rethink everything I do in the classroom.  I learned this when my first grade team was given the chance to pilot a 1to1 program in our classrooms.  In January 2014, every one of my 25 students had their own iPad.  Unfortunately (or not) the devices didn’t come with instructions or a curriculum or even a teacher’s guide. Luckily, I had Twitter.  Years ago I had started using Twitter for professional development, (In my first year as a teacher there was very little money or time for professional development and what little PD I received was mandated by our school district.) So, I read somewhere that teachers were connecting on Twitter and I decided to try it out, never expecting how much I would learn.   These teachers became my professional learning network and it was way more powerful than any workshops that my own district offered for professional development. In the beginning, I just lurked on twitter.  But I soaked everything in.     So when devices arrived in my classroom, I took a deep breath and just dove in, (plugged in?)   I knew immediately that my students would not be using iPads for app work, we wouldn’t be clicking on math games just to practice our facts.   I wanted the learning to be much more powerful.    I wanted my students to use these devices to capture their learning.  I wanted them to show their thinking and then be able to share that thinking with each other.  I wanted them to find new ways to learn.  I wanted them to create and to connect with others.  They did and throughout the process we were all learning together. My students were collaborating in ways I hadn’t imagined.  They were working in partnerships and groups.  They were teaching each other and they were finding new and creative ways to learn.     They individualized their own learning, they collaborated and they started thinking more creatively.  They taught each other and they taught me.   We became learners together. So back to my summer learning, BLC14.    In Boston, I finally got to meet some of the teachers and educational leaders that I followed on twitter.  There, I heard many stories similar to mine.   Students at all grade levels are now learning by doing, engaging and connecting in new ways.  Students are also sharing their work with a much larger audience.  Everything I heard at BLC reinforced my own experience.  I know that I have so much more to learn this coming year and I am hoping that many more teachers will go on this journey with me and my first grade team.  BLC14 taught me that we as teachers have so much more to learn.  And at the heart of learning is sharing what we know and what we don’t know.  We have to step out of our comfort zone.  It’s not enough that every child have access to technology, it’s not about the devices, it’s about giving students opportunities to use technology in meaningful and relevant ways.  And ways that are relevant to them not just to teachers.   Classrooms, yes even first grade classrooms, should be places where kids learn how to be digital citizens of our world.  And these same kids should have a voice in the powerful conversations that are going on in the classroom, school, school districts, states, even the world around them.  I keep coming back to a question that was posed by BLC keynote speaker,  Dr. Alec Couros, Professor of Educational Technology & Media at the Faculty of Education, University of Regina, when referring to how kids are learning in most of today’s classrooms:  “When you can choose your own adventure, Why do we have kids doing exactly the same thing?”   So, I guess that’s why I am sitting at my computer on a summer day off wondering how I’m going to apply all I’ve learned in my classroom next year.   I don’t know.  I just know that I’m going to try.

PostScript Summer 2015 –

This month Alan November will be hosting BLC15 again in Boston.   I am sorry that I will not be able to attend.  Hopefully, next summer.  But I will be participating in the learning.   I know there will be many tweets and learning conversations inspired by the #BLC15.

What 1:1 Looks Like In Our Classrooms

It’s a Monday morning and my students are filing into the classroom rambunctiously after our weekly assembly. As they settle onto the rug in the front of the classroom, I already have the projector loaded up with twitter and we are looking at the weekly math problem/picture that gets posted from the weekly math talk (#mtgr1). This week’s image is a picture with children and balloons climbing a hill. My students and I spent 5 minutes discussing the various math problems they could create based on the image. We also scroll through the other hashtags and see what other first graders around the country have come up with. Set up around the classroom, there are tables with various tools, paper, pencils, markers, white boards, iPads and math manipulatives. Students are dismissed and they eagerly seek out the tools they will need to recreate their math problem. Some students spend a great deal of time writing various word problems and drawing pictures. Others open an app such as educreations and illustrate multiple number sentences they see in the math picture. About a third of my students reach for their iPad initially, the rest spent time using other writing tools such as pencils, markers and paper. Eventually, all students will use their iPad in the very least to snap a picture of their work to blog about later while some will complete the whole assignment on their iPad.

This example really highlights what 1:1 looks like in first grade.  Students are still using pencils, paper, whiteboards, markers and their iPads are just another tool for them to use. We as teachers are still  teaching kids math, reading, writing, social studies and science.  But because our students have access to iPads they are able to capture and share their learning with others and get immediate feedback.  I often stand back and watch students as they work to figure out a problem and I still marvel at how students approach problems differently.  What works for one doesn’t for another.   So often I will approach students and say, “Wow,I never thought of doing it that way…can I show your work?”   And in a second I can project their work on the classroom projector and everyone can now see a “new’ way to approach a problem.

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Once that happens, the learning is infectious and everyone wants to project their ideas.  And before you know it, students are teaching students and all of us are learning from one another.

It always surprises me when parents or other adults suggest that our youngest students already get too  much screen time and that iPads aren’t appropriate in elementary school.   And then I realize that most people don’t understand that it’s not about giving kids a device and picking an app, and sending them off to work in a corner.  It’s a tool that provides student with another way to show their learning.  Technology gives them so many more choices.  Using creation-based apps students can draw, write, and voice their thinking.  They can add pictures and graphics.  They can upload their work to share on their blogs and they can share their thinking with other first grade students in the classroom and around the world.

When we started this journey, we knew from the start, that we would not be using a lot of apps in the classroom.  And that was hard because there are amazing apps designed to help students practice math facts, learn to read, etc.  Instead, we wanted the focus to be on the classroom and what we were already doing.   We didn’t want iPads and technology to be “one more thing”, one more subject on an already jam packed schedule.   It needed to be interwoven into our reading, writing and math workshops.  It needed to be a place where students could share what they were learning and eventually became a portfolio of what they accomplished in first grade.