Tonight’s #edchat discussion on how we move from the idea of tech as a ‘tech tool’ to a ‘learning tool’ was one I’ve had numerous times over the past year.  It was the perfect conversation to end my day. Today my 1st and 2nd graders with whom I have been working over the year on higher order questioning and shared inquiry based around classic stories began recording their book reports in GarageBand.

We spent the last week writing them, filling out information such as the title and main characters as well as the plot and reflection questions.  This week we were to begin recording our book reports to share with each other.  Of course, in typical School District of Philadelphia fashion, we found out 1 minute before our reading group time that this would be our last meeting together. I moved forward with our plan anyway, even if just to give my students a chance to record their voices.

My students had never used GarageBand before, so I spent a few minutes showing them the basics of creating a podcast with the record button, play button as well as how to delete recordings and move them around.

Within minutes they were recording their voices. They started by reading off of their papers, but many of them began ad-libbing, describing the story in detail in their own words. A few of them decided to begin reading the story they chose, stopping to listen to themselves and starting over if they didn’t think it was done well.

As you can imagine, there was quite a din with all of them recording at once.

Unfortunately, in the video above, I had a very impatient student calling my name! However, you can tell how focused and engaged the students are as they ignore all of the background noise.  Amazingly, some of them didn’t mind.

A few complained about the background noise, so I pulled out some copy paper, remembering the trick that Samantha Morra shared in her Digital Storytelling session at Educon this year.  The students rolled up the copy paper to create a little tube, focusing their voice on the microphone.  This helped cut out a lot of the background noise in the classroom.

As I moved around the room observing and helping students, I was amazed at how engaged the students were in reading their projects and their stories. I could hear them reading with inflection, which I don’t often hear them do when we read out loud. I heard them reading and re-reading whole paragraphs until they got it ‘right.’


The project I had planned as a simple way for them to share their book reports had turned quickly into a project that helped them build reading fluency and verbal expression skills.

A specific dialogue during tonight’s #edchat conversation with Rich Kiker and Rebecca Petersen got me thinking: Can I pick a tool to teach content with or should the content lead to the tool?

In this case, the content led to the tool. This is how I tend to approach technology integration in general. Plan the lesson and the learning goals first, choose the tech tool last. However, I hadn’t considered how the tool might help my students learn in other ways. So in the future, could I plan a lesson around GarageBand with the goal of increasing reading fluency?  Or would I plan a lesson on fluency, including my learning goals, keeping in the back of my mind how GarageBand would serve as a great tool to teach this skill?

Or is this a case of the chicken and the egg?

In any case, it was a powerful experience for me and my students with huge potential for learning.


  1. Reply

    All the children you teach and all of us should be calling out your name for teaching excellence. I would love to hear their podcasts.

    This was an outstanding learning experience using appropriate technology.

  2. Reply

    John Hattie (New Zealand prof) says repeated reading is one of the most effective teaching strategies especially at Grade 1&2 level. This was a very inspirational story for me to hear as I have not used garageband before because I don't know enough about it. I think I too can learn it if your kids has so much success. And thanks for the paper rolling trick!!! That's awesome.

  3. Deven Black


    Your ingenuity and dedication are a model for us all. This is the first thing I'm reading today (it is now about 5:45AM) and it is a perfect start for my day.

  4. Reply

    Thanks 🙂 Unfortunately, most of them didn't finish! We were planning to work on them all week, but it turned out to be our last day together.

    I do plan on digging through to see if any are publish-ready 🙂

  5. Reply

    My alarm went off at 5:45am! Glad to help you start your day on a positive note. Thanks for stopping by so early!

  6. Reply

    This is a wonderful project. I have never used Garage Band and immediately tried it out. What a great way to have students record their stories!

  7. Reply

    Great idea for using garageband.

    After experimenting with several web 2.0 tools in my high school classes, my comfort level increased exponentially when students became so engaged. It became immediately apparent which skills were supported by online tools so next year, I can be more deliberate and purposeful when I choose how to use technology to support learning.

  8. onewheeljoe


    This is a great example of using a tech tool and then noticing beneficial engagement that springs from it. I think your question, "Should I plan a lesson on fluency?" deserves some consideration. My gut reaction is that you should think about other ways you can use Garage Band for authentic publishing purposes, so you build on the strengths of this tool. I definitely think you should point out the happy accident you discovered to your class, "I noticed many of you took time to read things two or three different times. You did that because you were doing a type of editing. I like it because I know that when you read and re-read your work, you're also practicing your fluency." One strong outcome is students begin to see the benefits of tech integration because you're making it explicit.

  9. Reply

    Awesome that you took 'the plunge' and went outside your comfort level to engage your students! It is a slow process and a messy one! Good luck with your endeavors 🙂

  10. Reply

    I agree that explicitly explaining to students what they are learning is an important part of the process. Thanks for the feedback and the thoughtful recommendation!

  11. Reply

    MB: I would love to learn how to use GB for podcasts too. I would like to be a student in your class, that is such a fun lesson!

    It is so nice to see students engaged and focused.

  12. Kelli


    THANK YOU for the paper tube trick! I have done screencasting in a lab setting and background noise is one of the kids' biggest disappointments in their finished products. I will try it on Monday with my next group!!!

  13. Matt Arguello


    I love GarageBand and use it often with 3rd through 8th graders. I had my 6th and 7th graders do a business project in which they created their own business. They were required to write a script for the audio commercial and create a logo to go with it using a graphics program. The audio portions turned out really great with most of the kids using sound effects ( and music. They had a lot of fun with it and I think it really got them thinking about things like diction and speed.

  14. Boris Yellnikoff


    Does anyone but me know any adjectives besides "awesome" to describe something of quality?

  15. Boris Yellnikoff


    You would think that college grads would employ a wider variety of words to articulate their thoughts instead of relying on what's "popular" to say.

  16. Reply

    Hi Mary Beth! I'm a student at the University of South Alabama, and I'm taking EDM 310. I see where your a k-6 computer teacher. Do you find it hard to keep your students motivated in learning about new technology? What do they think about using computers?

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