Dene E. Gainey

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I Can't give you Success, but the Tools I Offer

Student empowerment is a big deal in classrooms of today. I believe it is safe to say that we (educators) want our students to not simply reproduce the knowledge that comes through the many varied lessons that we teach, but that we want them to construct knowledge, go after knowledge and even create new content. Is a dream worth going after without the tools by which one needs in order to ascertain it? As an educator, I have seen over my years of experience, the trickle down effect of increasing expectations for students. So as educators, we constantly evaluate and review expectations in an effort to have a firm grasp on the skill set(s) necessary for the students we serve. While we teach them in a certain grade or a certain class, I believe it is necessary to teach beyond that. It is limiting when we focus simply on what needs to be attained by the end of the year, as if to remove the opportunity for students to exceed those expectations. One of the things I have been excited to do this year was teach technology. Technology continues to advance, and quickly. I graduated with my bachelor's degree in the winter of 2003 and the iPad had not yet hit the market. How, 14 years later, the iPad is readily available, in many shapes, sizes, and versions. Having always had an interest in technology and gadgets, I always had something to play with and I remember well when I first purchased an iPad. Compared to the one I have now, it was much smaller in size as well as capability and storage space. I could only maximize it's function when connected to the wireless Internet. Oh but now, I have a larger device, capable of storing a huge amount of information, a Bluetooth keyboard that is attached to it, a case that is designed to convert to desktop computer style as well as the apple pencil that is connected to the iPad device via Bluetooth and can charge by plugging into the iPad itself. What I was not able to do in 2003, I am able to do in 2017 and in many cases, much faster or more efficiently.  So consider the tools. Tools are necessary in order to accomplish a task. If I wanted to change the oil in my car, I would need tools in order to replace the oil filter as well as release the used oil from the bottom of the car. In order to build and compound knowledge, I need the tools that enable me to research, plan, execute and further my learning process. Tools are not simply hardware devices that provide some type of service to the learner, but may also include: organizational skills, encouragement, motivation, affirmation, space & opportunity, and perhaps even a model to follow after, albeit the educator himself or herself, or someone to whom the learner can look to for direction or guidance.

One of the phrases I use in class often is "prior planning prevents poor performance." I say it so often, that now all I have to do is start it and the students in the class will finish it for me. It has been ingrained into them as a practice and an understanding, or even a philosophy. It's a belief system. My goal is to aid in the development of good habits. Now even as adults, I am sure that we can all admit that we have procrastinated a time or two. However, it is my belief that we should teach students to be proactive consumers and producers of knowledge, rather than waiting until the last minute. Quality is always the desire over quantity. I further believe that you can tell someone something long enough that even if it was not believe at the onset, they will eventually begin to believe it and not only that, but see the change or the outcomes, or the reality of the thing they have been saying over time, out of routine or mere instruction even. "You are the best and the brightest," does wonders for motivation. It is amazing how many students feed off of the positive reinforcement and affirmation. Perhaps they don't receive such at home, or often enough, so I believe that it is important even in this way, to give students the tools we might call affirmation and motivation.

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I further believe that when students are engaging in the learning process that meaning is attached when you can makes connections to their lives. Why does this matter to me? Why should I learn this? Well, "student one, when you read with feeling and expression it helps to captivate an audience, gain their full attention and ultimately deliver to them the information you have defined as important." In life, this equates to being able to deliver messages, having good listening and speaking skills. It may even include empathy and caring about those to whom you speak. This is a life skill. All of a sudden the electric current running to the light bulbs in students' heads is at an all time high. No longer am I learning something because "it's what we do" for 6.5 hours at school." It has new meaning and I know that what I am doing now (or not doing) is going to matter to me as I continue to learn, grow and develop.


So this is something I have been focused on this year to get students motivated about "tools" that are available that support the teaching and learning that is already happening in the classroom. This technology class is set apart from the rest of the day, however, students are being introduced to so many different tools, available in the iPad that can be used to plan in the ELA content area, take notes, document learning or create based on learning that has taken place, which is the largest component (the application of knowledge).

Fresh Grade

This is an e-portfolio tool designed to connect teachers, parents and students in a Facebook-style electronic portfolio that individualizes learning and captures ongoing successes as well as areas to improve upon and reflect on. Not only can this be accessed via an Internet browser, but it is also available as an iPad app. We make use of the iPad app frequently during classes.


Popplet has become a hit with students because it provides them the opportunity to document their learning and even plan using a popple-organization format, where they can visually organize information using text and pictures.

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Students love the ability to create using iMovie and are currently working on a year-long project titled the "Year-Long Reading Review" which will be completed documentary style, hopefully.

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The white board app called "ShowMe" is used to draw and create freehand, with integrated pictures and recording ability. Many have integrated their "ShowMe" creations into other applications, such as iMovie.File_001 (1)


Buncee is another great tool that students use to create for many different purposes. It has a variety of components that when pieced together, can result in a comprehensive student presentation that contains pictures, text, and even animation.



Tellagami is another great app used to animate oneself. Students take a character and tweak it to look like themselves. From that they can record voice and add to the animation, or use voices that come with the app. It is a fun way to create using voice as well as appropriate background scenery and character costuming.

Emoji Me

I love Emoji Me, simply because students can form visual representations of themselves as well as characters from a text, for example, based on author description. I love providing students will tools to bridge the visual learning with what they are hearing.



Telestory is the newest app introduced to Students because of its versatility in telling a story. From creating a news show, to featuring a band or even the Eye Spy scenario, this app allows students to experiment with augmented reality, adding overlaying costumes, sound effects and other features into a seamless video format which can then be exported as complete video and shared.


Inspiration is an app that allows students to organize information visually using an assortment of graphic organizers as well as pictures that can be associated with topics in every subject area. This is great for visual learners.

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Chatter Pix

Chatter Pix Allows students to create characters and animate them as well, by adding in their voices. Example below.

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To recap, I have shared these apps because they are tools that have been employed in the classroom. Students are able to use them at any time to accomplish tasks and demonstrate and/or showcase learning. The likelihood of learning becoming a chore or boring is lessened when we are able to approach learning from a variety of different ways. Tools. We need tools in order to accomplish tasks successfully. Without the appropriate tools:

  • We are stiffened.
  • We are limited to one way.
  • We are boxed in.
  • We lack motivation.
  • We are stuck.

But being provided access to the tools opens the doors to success. Success for one may not be success for another, which is another reason why offering variety is important. I am grateful for the tools that lead to success, whatever that success may be.