Sunday, October 21, 2018

LEGO-Inspired Minifig Portraits Using Google Draw Tools

I like to teach my students about Google Drawing tools because it's an often overlooked app in the suite of Google tools that I think has so many great uses! You've probably seen my Google Draw "Doodle Yourself" blog post in the past. That lesson is by far my favorite, but I have another lesson that I use with 6th grade students - not quite as advanced - but just as fun! We explore and practice using Google Draw tools to create custom LEGO-inspired minifig portraits.

It's a fun way to get to know a class, because they can customize their clothing and accessories to reflect their personal interests. These digital artworks look really cool printed out, and grouped together on a board, like these:

The minifig shape is iconic, easily recognizable, and universally loved. I have yet to come across a student who wasn't excited to create a project that involved LEGO in some way. I love that students can build their figures in a variety of ways, and get as detailed as they want. You can see the wide range of ideas in the photo above.

The way I teach this project is to use a Google Slides file that is shared by the entire class. Then, each student gets one slide with a minifig template as a background image. They can then build their figure by "coloring in" via layering shapes on top of the template. I like to use a Slides file because I can "lock" the background image down, and students can see what their classmates are doing and collaborate and share as needed. But you could also make these exclusively in Draw, too. Draw and Slides have the same tools, so by using the drawing tools on one, you are also learning the other.

Do you want to do this project with your class, too? Well, I'm sharing my Slides template with you today so that you can make your own copy and try it out in class!

I've also made a YouTube video that introduces the project and goes over basic Google Draw functions and tools for getting started. You can check that out here:

If you do this lesson with your class (or even just on your own for fun), I'd love to see the results! Consider sharing with me or tagging me on Instagram or Twitter so I can check them out! 

- Mrs L.

Sunday, October 14, 2018


So, I've been a little slow as of late on the blog, but it's because I've been about a zillion times more busy than normal IRL! The latest news is that I earned the final badge in my Google collection, Google Certified Trainer! Now I told everyone that I have #allthegoogles and hopefully they don't come up with even more because geez that'd be hard.

So, as of right now I'm still up to my neck in my Innovator project. I've done like three different video shoots for my first and second videos and then I decided that none of them were quite right and I'm back at square one and it's mega frustrating.

So because I need to just focus on that and get going, my former focus over here, the blog, has taken a bit of a back seat. But it'll come back ASAP. I've got a bunch of ideas to share, including a major project FLOP a couple weeks ago in 8th grade that I've really learned a bunch on and can share, and my new class website, and a super sweet robotics kit I was lucky enough to trial and share!

But first, breathe. :)
Talk soon!

- Mrs L.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Virtual Open House: Classroom Tour 2018-19

It's that time of year again! School has started. I just dropped my son off for his first day of first grade. It was so... uneventful. He said goodbye, turned around, and walked into the door of the school with his friends. I wanted to cry. Obviously this was way more of a big deal for me than it was for him. He was excited to go. #momlife

Meanwhile, back at my own school, I made my annual classroom tour video EARLIER than ever before! Yay! I like to do this so that both students and parents can see a little peek into our school, and to what students can expect when they come to class. Some things are very similar to previous years, and others are quite different. I like making these videos to highlight those changes.

One of the biggest changes from last year to this one is the official name change from "Computer Literacy" class to "Creative Technology." It just SOUNDS more exciting, doesn't it?

The annual classroom tour video is fun to make, because designing for learning spaces is one of my favorite things to do. One of the things I'm most looking forward to for this school year is the creation of our official makerspace next to the library at Sandburg. It's 100% brand new and set up from scratch! Having so many possibilities always makes me excited.

If you enjoyed this year's tour video, please share it on social media! Here's to an awesome school year!

- Mrs L.

Friday, July 20, 2018


professional photos by Andrew Weeks Photography

So, we got out of school right before Memorial Day, and I found out shortly after that I was accepted into the Google Innovator program for the #LAX18 cohort! My summer plans instantly became 100000x more exciting.

So from July 9-11, I flew into California and got to hang with 37 of my new best friends and seven coaches for some intense training at the Google Venice Beach offices. It was overwhelming and wonderful all at the same time!

My innovator colleague Manuel Herrera @manuelherrera33 drew super cute cartoons of all of us! 

Day one started with a tour of the YouTube Creator Space LA, and then headed over to Google LA for team-building and design thinking intros. We ended the day with a relaxed dinner and got ready for day two, which ran from 8 am to 8 pm!

Day two was an intense day of spark challenges, design thinking, brainstorming, prototyping, testing, and obtaining feedback from our fellow innovators and coaches. We were taught to think big, to start small, and to fail fast! It was incredibly energizing and overwhelming to be around so many like-minded educators and I want to take them all home with me so we can start our own school! :)

deep thoughts at #LAX18
my overflowing vision board for my Innovator Project brainstorming sessions

Day three also started bright and early, was filled with more Sparks and design thinking, and ended with an awesome live-streamed graduation event! I was so excited that my husband, son, mom, and mother-in-law were all able to watch me in California from back home here in the Chicago suburbs. I was a big crybaby because I was so happy and overcome with emotion that the whole experience was ending.

my crew, Team Nacho Mama, and a sappy graduation pic

I am so grateful and amazed that this whole experience happened to me! It pretty much still feels like a dream. I have a lot of work ahead of me in the next year for my innovator project, which will be all about giving teachers a chance to try new things and to re-energize their teaching, which is something I'm really passionate about.

I know my blog post here hasn't done the whole experience justice. Several of my colleagues have also done reflections on #LAX18 that you should also really check out:

I'm so happy and proud of myself for taking a chance and applying to be a Google Certified Innovator. An extra special thank you shout-out goes to Ben Hartman, my colleague at Churchville Middle School and fellow Google Innovator for helping me with the entire application process! I couldn't have done it without you!

- Mrs L.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

My First ISTE Experience

So, I'm almost a week out from my very first ISTE experience. For anyone who's never been, ISTE is the International Society for Technology in Education, and their yearly conference is a super big deal in terms of size and scale. It's basically the national version of your teaching association group, but for anyone who uses tech. 

Then multiplied by 100. 

In Illinois, we have a state group, called Illinois Computing Educators, with regional chapters and such. Their state conference is big and all (it's the one I usually go to) but I was grossly unprepared for what to expect at ISTE. 

This year, ISTE was local to me, being held in Chicago at McCormick Place... the place that the auto show and Comic-Con is held, if that helps. Oh, and it's expensive, like too much for a person to pay out of their own pocket. So you have to be lucky and have your company or school district send you there. Thankfully, because of my history with WeVideo and willingness to present on their behalf and work in the exhibitor booth, they offered to send both myself and my husband, who teaches art in Oak Park. We worked in the exhibitor booth for 2 of the 3 days, and just that experience alone was insane and fun and basically a giant overload to the senses!

I know it's mostly because it was my first time, so I was unprepared as to what to expect. I'll do better next round. 

Mr Leban and I doing what we do best. Being weird. 

For starters, it felt like we were non-stop hit by people at the booth! Some with questions, some who wanted to try out awesome green screen activities using WeVideo, and LOTS of friends: both my coworkers AND my virtual friends who I was finally able to meet up with in real life and say hello! 

from upper left, clockwise: Suzee Reinheimer (my D205 coworker) and Todd Burleson (author/librarian/twitter buddy), Ben Hartman (another D205 coworker), Kaitlin Fajks (my grad school colleague), and Abby Almerido (one of my new #LAX18 cohort pals!)

I was able to hit up a few sessions, including one on creativity by Todd Burleson, who was kind enough to include me in his Green Screen Makerspace Project book last year, and one on the Google Dynamic Learning Project, which I am super interested in learning everything about! 

Not only did I meet friends at the WeVideo booth, I also had the chance to present at the Google for Education booth on WeVideo. (WeVideo is a Google for Education partner and so we had a space to present - it was super fun!)

I haven't actually shared the awesome news here on the blog, although I've been tweeting all over - I was accepted to the Google Certified Innovator program this summer! I'm going to LA in a little over a week to work on my project, and I am so so psyched about it. I have a really amazing and friendly group of teachers in my cohort with me, and a bunch of us were able to meet up IRL at ISTE! Don't worry, I'm sure to have a blog post all about it after I get back. :)

(Note to self #1: Always take selfies with everyone you meet at ISTE. I forgot this like 90% of my time here.)

We were invited to the special WeVideo/Soundtrap social at Underground on Monday night, which was super fun, and I met up with even MORE friends. Seriously, this ISTE thing is the best place ever to connect with your PLN! :)

Our WeVideo crew! Back row L-R: John, Todd, Me, Jaime, and Krishna. Front row L-R: Emily and Allison

On day three, Todd and I had the time all to ourselves, so besides hitting up a session AND meeting another friend for coffee, we made a valiant attempt to make it through the vendor hall... and I'd say we did a pretty good job of it? 

I was ridiculously excited to find the Osmo booth (I don't use it in middle school, but Iggy has a setup at home and we keep buying more stuff for it because IT IS AMAZING) and I got to meet Awbie of the Osmo Instagram account, who I'm kind of obsessed with. He's just the cutest. 

I also got to talk with exhibitors at some of my other favorite (and new favorite!) vendors, and learn a bunch of new and exciting tricks and preview a bunch of upcoming fun things: Makey Makey, littleBits, iPevo, Swivl, Flipgrid, Creaza, Strawbees... oh geez and I'm probably forgetting a whole mess of others... I told you this ISTE thing was overwhelming! :)

Did you go to ISTE? What was your favorite part? 

- Mrs L.

Friday, May 18, 2018

I'm A Failure, And That's OK!

I’m writing today’s blog post to tell you all about how I’m a failure. I’m going to my first ISTE Conference this summer. Because I’m a WeVideo ambassador, I typically present a session on their behalf in exchange for admission to the event. Well, this time around, the deadline for sessions had already passed, so I was asked to submit proposals for the “New Ideas” sessions at ISTE.

Well, yesterday I found out that BOTH proposals were declined. Heck if I know why, but it happened. It is what it is. I still get to go to ISTE, and I’ll be running some fun demos at the WeVideo booth (so stop by and say hello!), so it’s not really a loss on my part except for a little blow to the ego.

I really feel like it’s important to talk about our failures as well as our successes, for a variety of reasons:

Failing teaches us about what DOESN’T work. 
In the great wise words of Jake the Dog, “Dude, sucking at something is the first step towards becoming kinda good at something.” We learn a lot from failing!

You won’t have ANY success if you never put yourself out there.
If you never try, you never take a risk, you never even gave yourself the chance that you just might succeed. You’re doomed to fail no matter what!

Failure makes us human.
Failure is a part of life. No one is perfect, or succeeds all the time, and showing vulnerability is just one way that we can relate to other people.

Trying new stuff (whether we fail or find success) is good for your brain.
It stimulates creativity. You get to know yourself better. You overcome fears.

Failing shows others that you’re trying.
Again, as in #2, if you never try, you’ll never achieve. Others see you working hard and putting in effort regardless of your success (or lack thereof).

So speaking of taking chances and putting yourself out there, I decided to apply to become a Google Certified Innovator - the next cohort is being hosted in LA this summer (#LAX18). I know a few people who have done it, and I decided that I’m ready to take the plunge, knowing full well that many people do NOT get accepted the first time they apply, and it takes several tries before they got in. But I’m doing it anyways. Because failure is good.

Guess what? My theme, or problem that I want to tackle as an Innovator, is all about failure and risk-taking! I want to help other teachers and school staff be OKAY with failing. Let’s try new things! We always tell our students about how failure (or trial and error) is a learning process, so why don’t we follow our own advice?

I had to make a movie about it, you can check it out here:

Applications close TODAY. I’ll know if I’m accepted sometime after school gets out (our last day is May 25th), and although it’s nice to be accepted, if I fail, I’m okay with it.

Actual footage of me failing miserably. :)

Just get back up, and do it again!
Hope to see you at ISTE this summer!

- Mrs L.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Easy Video Ideas for Teachers!

I love experimenting and testing out new video project ideas! But to some, new projects are a source of stress, fear, and anxiety. What if it fails? What if I forgot to plan some key component?

Or, the most common concern I hear:

To help combat these concerns, I've compiled a list of easy video project ideas that you can start using in your classroom right away. The EASIEST method of incorporating video would be to simply offer it as a choice item amongst a variety of choice project options for demonstrating understanding and/or mastery of a concept. Put the onus on the student to find the time and resources to develop the video on their own, if they so choose.

But maybe the idea of doing a video project in your class sounds super fun (spoiler alert: it IS) and you're just not sure where to start? Here is a list of some easy project ideas:

  • Narrate over a slideshow and record as a video instead of a whole-class presentation. (Eliminate student stage fright!) See my suggestions for screencasting below.
  • Set up a video camera on a tripod and record an IGNITE presentation (Presenters get 20 slides, which automatically advance every 15 seconds. The result is a fast and fun presentation which lasts just 5 minutes.)
  • Create a screencast (it’s a one-shot and done type of deal) - I like Screencastify and Screencast-O-Matic, although WeVideo has built-in screencasting abilities, too! Great for how-tos and having students teach eachother. 
  • Give a virtual tour - students could always record this outside of school, and use a limited time allotment in school to edit and assemble.
  • Create a gif using stop-motion: could be using photos or simple sketches/graphics, like a flip book. This is so easy that it can be done with as few as two pictures!
  • A book trailer - WeVideo now has TEMPLATES to use for video creation, as well as a gigantic media library (hundreds of thousands of files) of still images, video, and audio content (royalty-free!!!) that makes creation fast and easy - you don't even need a camera! 
  • A newscast - also available as a template on WeVideo!
  • Time-lapse: Set up a camera (or smartphone, iPad, etc) while students work; speed up the video to show work being completed at an amazing rate! This was super fun to do in art class to show progress over the course of several days; all it took was the time to set up the camera!

  • Lip dub: My son made this video in his bedroom all by himself, using a selfie stick. I can't even handle the cuteness, but imagine THIS with a whole class of students. They could each be responsible for a verse or phrase... or an AIR INSTRUMENT!

  • Challenge students to tell a story in four shots (or less!).
  • Challenge students to do a presentation on a topic in only 3 minutes! Here are some 3-minute(ish) TED talks for inspiration.

Hopefully this list has got you itching to try a video project in class! Maybe you're not sure where to go from here? As far as structuring your video projects go, I’ve done presentations on this very topic for a variety of groups. Check out my slide deck from a presentation on this topic that I gave last year:

I love helping other teachers try out new material in their classes, and brainstorming new, fun ideas. Never hesitate to reach out if you have any questions or need help!

- Mrs L.

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