Sunday, April 3, 2016

We are makers!

Can you believe it's spring already?! It's been a busy winter and we are winding down for the school year. Because it is testing season, I want to give my students a space and time to explore their passions as a way to close our year. My goal is for my students to get creative and dive into the makerspaces movement- in our own way of course. Here is what we have accomplished so far.

Cardboard Challenge

My 3rd graders have been busy planning and creating their cardboard arcades. They are definitely having a blast making these and can't wait to have our 1st grade classes come to our class arcade. The idea for this challenge was inspired by the documentary Caine's Arcade. While my students did get an opportunity to participate in the global challenge that goes along with this movement- that's not stopping us from joining in the fun! The icing on this maker cake has been our segment in the news. As we were working, I tweeted out our progress and our local station came to interview us. I thought this was perfect in not only sharing our cool creations, but also practicing real-world communication skills. To see the full report, click here. 
Being interviewed about our Cardboard Challenge! 

Maker Centers

 I have also created several bi-weekly maker challenges and tasks as part of center time for both my younger and intermediate learners. My main sources of inspiration have come from and Diana Rendina's blog (@DianaLRendina). So far we've made corner bookmarks and tinkered with Scratch through  Right now, my 4th graders are working on our Paper City, where they are creating their own 3D city display to reflect their personalities, wishes, or hopes. Our next challenge will focus on using cardboard to solve real-world problems like creating a stand for an electronic reader or device (from I'm curious to see how the challenges will work out since it will be the first time I try these with my students. 

2nd graders showing off their corner bookmarks. 

Tinkering with Scratch & Animation. 

DIY Projects

Our 4th and 5th graders will get an opportunity to explore their passions and interests through their DIY Projects. After conferencing with students, I guided them in choosing a topic or skill they would like to learn or share with the class. Next, they selected a skill/badge from and a few challenges that relate to their "passion." As a culminating project, they will create products to showcase their learning and research a career that best reflects the badge or skill they selected. Each week, students will be expected to keep a log to reflect on their process and highlight a classmate who was helpful or that went above or beyond in their work. So far, students are planning the following projects: 1) Creating last minute costumes, 2) Exploring music making and creating a theme song for our class, 3) Exploring more advanced animation features in Scratch and create a project or ebook with tips/instructions for computer programming, and 4) Exploring different acting techniques to perform for a class. As students create, they will also document their process by taking pictures to include in their Google Drive and be expected to create a digital display either through Google Slides and or other media (videos, podcasts, etc). The final products for these will depend on the student as he/she will select the best medium to showcase their project. I can't wait to see my students' creations! 

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Ready, Set, Go(ogle)!

Google Tool Bar Scavenger Hunt 
My school year has been flying by. Or so it seems. We started our year back in early August and I can't believe it's already October. We are in the full swing of things with our 1:1 Chromebooks. So far I'm loving the transition to these nifty devices since we are a GAFE district. This means my students have access to school gmail accounts, which we now use like second nature for submitting assignments and projects. Here's a glimpse of what we've done so far.

1) Getting Acquainted with our Chromebooks- As with any device I implement, I go through procedures and guidelines for both handling and assigning devices. Students that have gmail accounts (upper grades) have assigned devices that they log into with their gmail accounts, which gives them access to their Google Drive and Google Classroom. My lower grades log in as guests and only use web-based programs that I will later get into.

2)  Google Classroom-After my students logged into their assigned device, I let them jump right into Google Classroom. Following a quick tour, I then had them complete their Inner Selfie Project, which was inspired by this lesson. For this particular project, students were not only using Google Docs for the first time, but also importing their selfie through their gmail, and then submitting the final project in Classroom.

3) Google 101-Each week as we complete assignments and projects in Google Classroom, I also introduce different Google apps/tools (also known as GAFE).  I usually post an assignment that has students explore the app and then create a quick product (or assignment) to show me that they know how to use that app. This idea was inspired by a Growing Up Google presentation I attended at the last Google Summit in Atlanta. Some apps they will explore in greater detail are: Google Drive (Folders), Gmail, Google Forms, and Google Slides.

4) Programs We Use- Along with Classroom, we have also used a variety of other programs with our new devices.

  • Digital Passport (Blended Course)- My 2nd-4th graders complete a module each week and the accompanying activity in the Student Handbook. 
  • Everfi- My 5th graders are going through a module each week. Because this course is higher level, I let them go back and review their module before they take their post quiz to move on the next one. 
  • I signed up all my 3-5 graders to this site to practice basic keyboarding skills. As students progress, I encourage them to take the quizzes to test their speed and accuracy. 
  • BBC Dancemat Typing Games- I have all my 2nd graders start with this course to practice their keyboarding skills and once they finish it, I will sign them up to 
  • I have all my students on this site and each have different courses they start on. My 2nd graders start with Course 1, while the rest of my grades start on Course 2. Once students complete their course, they move on to the next course at their own pace. I also have students explore other tutorials for the Hour of Code if time permits to design their own patterns (Frozen), create their own stories (Play Lab), to actually using coding (Khan Academy). 
So there you go! Are you a 1:1 Chromebook gifted classroom? I would love to see what you are doing with your students and what has and has not worked for you. 

Friday, June 26, 2015

Do You Really Want to Program?

"Do you really want to program?" If you stopped by my room this summer, you may have heard me singing this to the tune of Frozen's "Do You Want to Build a Snowman." Why was I cheesing out so much you may ask? Well, all thanks to coding!

For this summer's enrichment program, I decided to bring coding to students in our district. After having tried the Hour of Code in December with my gifted classes, I felt there was a need to keep spreading computer science to our elementary students. I wasn't surprised to find out that a majority of them have never tried coding or any type of programming as this is the case for most schools in the U.S. An Overview 

During our 4 week program, my goal was for our 3rd to 7th grade students to not only do an hour of code but try different tutorials offered by the amazing site, These folks have done a wonderful job of providing different tutorials and mini courses that break down the concepts of programming for beginners. They even offer video tutorials with tips and testimonials from people in Computer Science and those who have dabbled with it. What's even more is that these "faces" represent diverse and relevant folks in the field of technology.  And that to me deserves praise.

My Course 

Here is a break down of my course, where I saw each group of students twice a week for 30 minutes. My time was limited so we needed a structure where I gave students minimal guidance and focused more time on exploring.

Because I did not create an account for each student in the program, I had them track their progress and reflect on our Tech Time Log instead. Below are a few samples.
Click here for a Tech Time template. 
All programs can be found at:
YouTube Video Playlist, click here

Week 1: Introduction to Pair Programming/Angry Birds

  • I showed the video on Pair Programming and established guidelines for collaboration and problem solving. I also stressed that I would not figure anything out for students because it was their responsibility to problem solve. 
  • Students started the Angry Birds Tutorial and had the option of completing levels at home for the remainder of the week. 
*Note: If students struggled with certain levels/concepts, I showed the brief videos to review those concepts that were included in the tutorial. For example, the If/Else Blocks in the Angry Birds (Zombie Levels) were an issue with my lower grades. 

Week 2: Frozen 
  • I showed the Intro video for Frozen and reiterated the guidelines for collaboration and problem solving. 
  • Students started the Frozen tutorial and had the option of completing levels at home for the remainder of the week. 
  • Assessment: When students expressed that they completed either Angry Birds or Frozen, they got their own computer and completed the last level on their own. The indicator would usually be that they complete that level without any problems. I would indicate completion on their Tech Time Log at this point. 
Week 3: Flappy Bird/Play Lab

At this level I was able to differentiate for my learners.
  • Beginners: Students continued working on their Angry Birds and Frozen tutorials. They then moved on to Flappy Bird and Play lab for the rest of the week. 
  • Intermediate Learners/Advanced Learners: Intro to Flappy Bird/Play Lab. Students worked on these for the week. 
  • Advanced: After completing Flappy Bird/Play Lab, students could try Khan Academy Tutorial with their own computer! 
  • Coders Club!- Those students who have finished Angry Birds or Frozen (or both!) received a Certificate of Completion and were enrolled in Course 2 on 

Week 4: Explore! 

  • Students will be able to continue their learning path (see above) and explore other sites such as Scratch. 


Overall, our students truly enjoyed working through the courses and were very excited to be included in the Coders Club! This resource is a fantastic way to introduce students who have had minimal to no experience coding. Of course, you can extend the activities and try other programs such as Scratch. Next year, I hope to continue coding and find other ways to integrate literacy and creative writing now that our students have learned the foundations of computer programming. Stay tuned! 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The "Code" Never Bothered Us Anyway

This week our REACH students have participated in the Hour of Code. We started exploring the basics to coding with Angry Birds and characters from Frozen. Although these tutorials may seem like games, they actually involve problem solving and logic. The neat thing about these tutorials is that they progress from simple tasks to more challenging ones that allow the students to apply concepts that they have learned throughout. Also, there are several video tutorials where experts give advice for new skills such as using loops.

Another feature I particularly liked was that the tutorials offered different levels to accommodate a broad range of learners. I used the Angry Birds tutorial as our introduction and for younger learners in 2nd and 3rd grades. I encouraged my 4th-6th grades to start with the Frozen tutorial if they were proficient in games and computers. Finally,  my more advanced learners (aka My Minecraft bunch) moved on to the Flappy Bird and Scratch tutorials featured. To read more about different tutorials to try with your students, click here. 

It is safe to say that we enjoyed exploring the language of coding and computers. We plan to continue coding by trying out the 20 hour course offered through as well as other programs such as Scratch and Tynker. I may also try the Unplugged activities featured on the site to make the concepts of coding more concrete for my younger grades.

I have to admit that coding has been on my mind and "to-try" list since last year. Due to my lack of confidence in an area I was not proficient in, I kept postponing it. Thanks to, I feel like I can explore this new area with my students without pressure.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Social Media Inspired Writing Prompts

Recently, I have taken the plunge into my own form of blended learning. While my students have used Edmodo for social interactions and collaborative projects, I have also integrated Google Classroom with my 5th and 6th graders. Eventually, I want to utilize Google Classroom as our main LMS and Google Drive for eportfolios. For now, I am posting all writing prompts on either Edmodo (grades 2-4) and Google Classroom (grades 5-6). These platforms are ideal for our current writing unit, where my goal is to use a variety of social media inspired prompts to hook my students while showing them the more playful side of writing. Here are some of my favorites so far:

Dear Letters 

Skills/Focus: Multiple Perspectives,  Developing Voice,  Descriptive Writing 

To introduce this assignment I show the Dear Kitten Series by Buzzfeed. These immediately grab my students' attention and have been a favorite! After the video, we discuss point of view and the purpose behind the letters. Next, I challenge students to write their own letters. Here are the directions I give: 

  1. Pick an inanimate object or animal.
  2. Pick audience (who/what), Nontypical context (i.e. Instead of animal in the wild, what about animal in a zoo?)
  3. Write a letter giving advice to something else (point of view)
  4. Make the setting specific and interesting. (i.e. marker in PreK class on the 1st day of school)
  5. Select picture to capture the message/mood of letter. Use or

Here are few student examples: 

Image Source:

Image Source:

Two Sentence Stories 

Skills/Focus: Storytelling, Vocabulary, Summarizing  
I modified this assignment based on the article, 20 terrifying Two-Sentence Stories. I came across this article on Facebook and shared only those samples that were school appropriate. Students created their own stories based on the following guidelines: 
1. Choose a genre (i.e. Adventure, Epic, Romantic, Mystery, Scary, etc.) 
2. Condense a story into two sentences. Choose your words wisely! 
3. Select a picture to use as an illustration or cover for your story. Use or

Image Source:
Image Source:

 Scary Stories in 5 Words 

Skills/Focus: Storytelling, Vocabulary, Context 
This prompt was inspired by a Twitter hashtag. I found this humorous trend appear in my feed and thought why not use it to insert some humor into writing! I recommend to not use actual hashtags in the event that there are inappropriate examples. So to make this more school appropriate I selected a few samples to share.

The internet is down worldwide. 

Imagine a world without pizza. 

There is no wifi here.

Whatever you do, don't move. 

I am telling on you. 

Tips for Student Writing 

Although all final products are posted online, I encourage students to use whatever method works for them as they are brainstorming and writing their first draft. While some students choose to use a graphic organizer/thinking maps, others can doodle or take notes on a piece of paper. Most my students have chosen to draft using Google Docs, so I encourage the use of add ons and tools to assist them. I am moving towards collaborative editing "teams" where students will need to "hire/contract" their own peers to assist in the editing process. It is important that as a teacher I am not the only individual giving feedback for student writing. Finally, student work is displayed either on our class blog or class Twitter account to share with a global audience. 

Monday, October 6, 2014

It's Better to Learn Together

Just recently I attended and presented at our state gifted conference. I wasn't sure I was going to make it this year, but was glad I did! This year I presented, Birds of a Feather Tweet Together: Building Your PLN through Twitter and other Social Media Tools. For years, I have connected, collaborated, and as a result grown professionally thanks to my PLN. I have noticed that members of my PLN have even made it to more personal aspects of my life. From my Facebook account to my RunKeeper App, I am surrounded by my PLN who inspire me to be the best I can be. I know that sounds corny, but it is true. For this reason, I chose to share my love for my PLN with colleagues from all over my state.

My Sharing in a Nutshell

In my presentation, I focused on my why. This is what not only drives our instruction, but is the reason we connect. I made sure to also differentiate between a connected educator versus a connected person. This idea was inspired by Amanda Dykes' (@amandacdykes) post, Are You a Connected or a Connected Person? I shared that in my case, I was both. This is why I don't have separate accounts on Twitter or Facebook.

To check out my presentation slides, click here
For my handout, click here

Sharing is Caring 

But perhaps the biggest moment during my session was not my sharing. Instead, it was when my colleagues gave their input and insights. This made my heart smile to know that my fellow teachers were comfortable enough to share their experiences, whys, and questions. And to know that they were engaged throughout and related to my message was absolutely priceless! Conversations were going before, during, and after the session. We even started a Google Spreadsheet on our state Facebook group page to continue the conversations. And that's what's it's all about for me. The connections.


So here are a few topics that emerged from our sharing during the session. I have also included more resources to explore. This section is dedicated to my state crew!

Tips for Building Your PLN

  • Find your people
  • Start small (with one tool) and get comfortable with it! 
  • Pick the tool that is right for you and stick to it 
  • It's amazing how far we've come thanks to technology! Now we can connect with gifted educators all over the nation and globe. 

The Maker Ed Movement: 


Professional Conferences/Groups:

Monday, August 25, 2014

Happy New (School) Year!

View from the back of the room.
It's back to school for many this week and I want to wish everyone a great start! As for me, well we're going into our fourth week of school since we are early starters here in the South. I wanted to take the time to share the learning spaces in my classroom. Thanks to my lovely and very talented teammate, I now have a classroom set up that works! After being in three different classrooms over the past four years, I can finally say I feel settled. I have struggled with finding the perfect set up with the space available to me. And now, I feel there is a certain flow to my classroom that is conducive to center work, collaboration, and flexibility. So here's a quick tour:

Supply Headquarters

At the front of the class you will find my supply headquarters. Here I have reference books, school supplies, and pencil sharpeners attached to a small bookshelf. At the top are two bathroom caddies that students can take for restroom breaks if needed. Above the shelf will be our Student Spotlight bulletin board. This board will be dedicated to a student who exemplifies strong work ethics and positive attitudes throughout the year. It will be changed throughout the term to celebrate our students and their achievements. We also provide guidelines to students who are selected. To read these, click here.

Front Board 
Adjacent to our Supply Headquarters is our front board. I was delighted to find a newly installed interactive whiteboard this fall. We use this part of the room to view the daily news either on CNN Student News or Channel One. Also, I post our schedule on a small red chart next to our board and use the left side for notes or directions, while the right side can be for reminders and notes. Students hang their backpacks and lunch bags underneath the board for organization. Because I had these hangers put up, that left me without a ledge to put markers and erasers. I use these magnetic bags to keep all markers and erasers and keep them low so that students may use them when needed.

Classroom Library
Past my desk is our classroom library. I have organized this section into reading levels, where each shelf houses a certain range of levels. I have placed novel sets on the bottom shelves and in baskets. All picture books are above the shelves in wooden crates. The bulletin board will highlight book review posters that students can share once they complete a book of their choice. I am missing a rug and will write a few grants to make this space cozier for students. This area of my room has been a work in progress, however I am pleased with it so far.

Storage Corner

Past the classroom library and towards the back corner of the classroom is my storage corner. I have inherited some file cabinets where I keep my resource materials. My goal is to purge two more cabinets if not all to add space to my classroom. In the meantime, I use the top of the file cabinets as a storing area for any maker projects. Each grade or class will have an assigned bin where they can store their projects. Underneath is a poster box that contains all laminated maps to use for Mystery Location Calls and poster boards for any projects.

Tech Time Cart
To the right of my Storage Corner is our Tech Time Cart. This houses all our macbooks and headphones. I have put up some technology related posters above the cart and plan on adding some Mac Shortcut Posters. I have posted logins to student programs such as Accelerated Reader, Compass, Edmodo, and Scholastic's Book Flix. Students will also keep their logins and passwords in their folders. This year each student will be assigned a computer, which they will be responsible for putting back in the correct slot and charging. Also, I am excited to use Google Drive to set up digital portfolios and for submitting work.

A new addition to our classroom is our Non-Fiction Library! I was thrilled to have inherited this bookcase another teacher graciously donated. For the past couple of years, my teammate had all the nonfiction books in her room and decided to bring them over to my side. I created a nook near our classroom opening (we are in one large classroom with an opening to pass through). The top shelf has all parent and teacher resources for gifted children while the remaining shelves have books organized by categories such as World Cultures, Geography, Animals/habitats, The Human Body, and much more. These will come in handy once students start their Passion Projects and independent research projects.

Past the opening to our classrooms, is my closet door. Here I have placed a pocket chart to keep all student handouts such as reading logs or thinking maps. This will keep my desk area clutter free and accessible for all students. The pocket chart has labels that I can add to assist students in locating the appropriate resource they need.

The final section of my room are my counters and cabinets. The cabinets underneath contain a supplies that we don't use on a regular basis such as rulers, bulletin board borders, and craft materials. Each cabinet door is labeled to assist in locating materials needed. The counters hold our Literature Circle baskets, where students can keep their independent reading books, reading logs, and Literature Circle jobs. In the center I have placed a paper tray with construction paper and poster paper followed by cubbies with classroom folders. Our classroom folders will organize any weekly logs, handouts, resources, and projects we complete on a weekly basis. On the wall, above the folders is a red pocket chart with our Performance Standards Scale, which are based on the DAP Levels. Students work and behavior are evaluated using this scale.

Panoramic View from the door. 
From this view you can see that there are four rectangular blue tables located in the center and two round tables along the perimeter in case students want some more space to work. We normally hold our morning meetings and any whole class instruction or events (such as technology tutorials or Google Hangouts) at the blue tables. I also have an additional office chair near my desk where I like to have "appointments," or one-on-one conferences with my students.

This concludes my classroom tour. I hope you enjoyed it and of course I am open to modifications throughout the year from my best critics and problem solvers- my students.