Monday, December 19, 2016

Do You Even HyperDoc?

My favorite thing lately is the HyperDoc. You probably use elements of HyperDocs in your classroom in some form or another, and didn't even know it.
"HyperDoc is a term used to describe a Google Doc that contains an innovative lesson for students- a 21st Century worksheet, but much better." 
I found a great website that goes into depth about the definition, philosophy, and structure of HyperDocs (a best practices overview) over at - I've been re-vamping many of my units into the HyperDoc format, and I really love the simplicity of it.

Here's where it started: I was noticing that my Google Classroom assignments were becoming a bit of a jumble of attachments to videos, rubric doc files, web resources, and templates for work. Then, in the middle of a unit, I'd find another relevant resource, and I'd go add it to the assignment by editing it and adding yet another link, or adding a comment with the link on the assignment. This gets really confusing for students really quickly. Even for 8th graders.

My light bulb moment came while I was going over the Google training information for the Certified Educator program, and I came across the concept of a HyperDoc. Why hadn't I thought of this earlier? I can put everything students need for a lesson into one doc shared to students and it will always be updated, because Google Docs! No more attaching a zillion things to my assignments.


Best practices for a HyperDoc follow the basic components listed above. I'm also a pretty big sucker for formatting - making the doc very easy to read and follow; using tables, images, fonts, and colors to emphasize important aspects as needed. But easy to read/ease of use is number one.

I'm constantly going back over my worksheets and digital resources to update and re-vamp them, so a shared Google Doc that constantly syncs to all of my updates and revisions is really the best thing ever. I made a HyperDoc for my 8th grade WeVideo unit, and I love the fact that I can update my student examples as time goes on - the projects just keep getting better and better, and therefore so do my examples! 

Here are some screenshots from my WeVideo HyperDoc:

A good majority of the links here can only be accessed from within my district network, so a screengrab will have to suffice.

The only part that's kind of frustrating is that YouTube is currently blocked for all of our middle school students. Even if I use SafeShare to get a "clean" view of a video, the view is still blocked because it originates from YouTube. 

What I do in these cases is show the video to the whole class, since my teacher access is not blocked. I still keep my video links in there, so that a student could access it from home, if needed.

You can create a HyperDoc and have students make their own copies so that they can work directly on the doc, and then submit the copies to you via Google Classroom, email, or any other preferred method. I like to use my HyperDoc as a main hub for directions and resource material, with work completed and submitted via separate files (like our WeVideo project file) submitted via Google Classroom where the HyperDoc is posted. The nice thing about my view-only method is that students will always see the most updated version, even if I have to make changes/additions during the unit. (As soon as a student makes a copy of your Doc, it becomes a separate file and does not update. Not necessarily a bad thing, but something to be aware of.)  

For even more on using HyperDocs in the classroom, check out this blog post by Justin Birckbichler.

Have you used HyperDocs in class before? What worked for you?

- Mrs. L.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Why You Need an Epic Hallway Maze at Your School.

Every quarter, I put a new maze down out in the hallway outside my classroom. It's just blue painter's tape on linoleum floor, but to students, it's the greatest thing, ever.

My classroom is in the basement, across and around the corner from a couple other elective/specials (whatever your building calls us) classrooms. So a whole bunch of students from all three grade levels pass by in the course of a day. The first time I did this, I had an unexpected but hilarious result: students would walk up to the maze, glance down, and then proceed to walk through the maze pathway to get to the other side as they were traveling to their next class. Like, during passing periods.

The art teacher and I entertained ourselves by watching this phenomenon happen this first week, even joking with students that if they did not follow the maze, they would be reported to administration for "non-maze compliance." This usually resulted in giggles, eye-rolls (it is middle school), or a quick back-track to walk through the maze correctly a second time.

So, advantage #1: Hilarious social experiment.

I didn't put the maze down for the reason listed above, though. I taped down a maze for the purpose of using our Sphero robots. Students use the Tickle app on iPad minis to write a drag-and-drop block coded program to (hopefully) send the Sphero through the entire maze. It's not nearly as easy as you would think! Few, if any, students are actually able to accomplish this task each term. But everyone makes an attempt.

Therefore, advantage #2: Awesome curricular challenge using Spheros:

Another unexpected thing happened when I put down the hallway maze the first time. Other teachers became curious; they actually asked me about what I was doing in class. Students not enrolled in my class would stop and ask about it. My administrators came down to see it. In a random stroke of good luck, it was open house night not too long after I put down the maze. Therefore, parents even stopped and asked about it.

Advantage #3: Curiosity! Opportunity to talk about your class to others! Free advertising!

I made up the maze on my own the first time it occurred. But then I thought, "Hey, why am I doing all of this work, when students will take way more ownership over something that they do themselves?" So for round two, I had a student stop by after school and make the maze himself. He designed it and (with a little help from me) taped it down. All I had to do was give the parameters: ten squares long by five squares wide was the area he had to work with. It was pretty fun.

This quarter, I gave all of my students a chance to design a maze for the hallway: I created a simple grid on a half sheet of paper, and had each student draw and submit a design. I chose one that I thought would functionally work out best (after having done this a few times), and surprised the students the following day with the "winning" design, in actual maze format on the hallway floor. Pretty sweet prize, if you ask me.

Advantage #4: Student ownership and buy-in. Motivation.

After using this maze concept a few times with 8th grade, I realized that I could do so much more with this! My 6th graders have Dot and Dash robots, and the maze would be the perfect challenge for Dash! Similar to programming the Sphero to travel through the maze, students could write a program for Dash using the Blockly app and have him travel the path, too. I love when I can do work and get some extra bang for my buck!

Advantage #5: Bonus curricular content with Dash robots!

My math teacher friend crocheted these cute little winter hats for our Dash robots. :)

Hopefully I have convinced you that you need your own epic hallway maze. I can tell you from experience that blue painter's tape will NOT mark the linoleum floor, no matter what your custodian may try to tell you. Don't use masking tape though - that will!

Even a carpeted floor would be just fine for making a maze. If you have space in your actual classroom, go ahead and do that. But the hallway is more advantageous, if you ask me. I love the curiosity and excitement it builds when people see it. When I was an art teacher, advocating for your program was one of the philosophies that was drilled into my brain as an undergrad. So, anytime I can "advertise" what's going on in my classroom, I consider that a very good thing.

- Mrs L.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Strategies for Building an Ed Tech Resume

I'm always on the lookout for ways to improve my teaching and keep things exciting. If I'm not feeling motivated and enthusiastic, how can I expect my students to be?

It turns out that a lot of the things that one might do to keep growing as an educator are also awesome for building your ed tech resume overall - and you never know where that may lead! I'd love to eventually leave the classroom and start helping other teachers (in a more formal capacity) to utilize innovative teaching strategies and new technology in their own curriculum, so I'm trying to get lots of experience in a variety of areas in order to help facilitate that dream.

Here are some things that you can do now, as a teacher in any subject area, to start building your ed tech resume. You don't need to necessarily intend on leaving your current gig; these steps will help any educator at any level/subject area become more effective at their job!

Grad School: 

You don't need to go back to school for a full degree; explore your state's requirements for additional endorsements on your current teaching license. You may be surprised to find out that it only takes a class or two to become endorsed in a brand new area! This is what happened to me when I switched from visual arts to computer literacy. I was actually able to snag endorsements in computer applications and technology specialist at the same time! Depending on your district's policies, you may be able to complete these classes via an online program (my program was through University of Illinois), and even get reimbursed for classes.

Google Certified:

Does your district use Chromebooks? Does your school have G Suite for Education? For either of these situations, I highly recommend the Google Certified Educator programs. There are two levels, so if you're feeling a little timid, you can start at level one and see how you feel before moving on. The Google Certified Educator programs are a great way to learn in-depth about the possibilities and functions of G Suite - you'll likely learn lots of fun new tricks that you can begin integrating immediately into your teaching! There is a small charge associated with each level test, but I think it's a good way to make sure that the people completing the program are really serious about it. When you pass level one or two, you get a nifty digital badge to display on your website, resume, or portfolio for the next 24 months!

Apple Teacher:

Similar to Google Certification is the Apple Teacher program. Although my district isn't a "Mac/Apple" district, we still have some iPads deployed within the schools. I have a set of 8 in my own classroom for use with our Spheros, Dot and Dash, etc... So I feel like this would be a good way to get in some more professional development that expands my areas of expertise. My husband's district is 1:1 iPad, so he's been working on his Apple Teacher badges. I decided to go along for the ride! You can earn badges in the area of iPad or Mac (I'm currently working on iPad), and if you earn all eight badges in either area, you get the privilege of being known as an Apple Teacher, which also has a sweet logo to display, and the opportunity to earn even more badges in other Apple areas.

Teacher Institute/In-service Programs:

Unless you are in a coaching/TOSA type of position in your district, you may not have a whole lot of opportunities to teach other teachers. Keep an eye out for potential small events in your district, or building, and volunteer if you can! Last year, my district hosted a "Tech Camp"-style in-service day, and I taught two different sessions to other teachers in my district. Sometimes you can submit a proposal to teach a class within your district for other teachers, or present to one particular subject area or department on an institute day. If you are lucky enough to have these types of opportunities, be sure to take advantage of them! They're a great way to start small in preparation for larger presentations, like at professional conferences (see below!).

Conference Presentations:

It's one thing to attend a professional conference. It's a whole other ballgame to actually present at one! If you have a job where you don't have a lot of opportunity to be a leader (say you're a classroom teacher looking to move into a coaching position), but you have something to share, try presenting at conferences! If you're nervous, start small. I started out by presenting at my state professional conference (the IAEA - all art teachers!) on a topic that I was really comfortable with. The following year, I decided to present on social media, which, although being a presentation for art teachers, was still within the realm of technology and easily adaptable to many different subject areas. Up next on my presenter schedule are a Google Summit in January, and the ICE Conference in the spring!


Grants are awesome for the simple fact that you can get free stuff to help you out professionally - maybe it's supplies for your classes, a rad guest speaker, or tuition for continuing education classes. But winning a grant is also a great item to add to your professional resume, because it shows that you are innovative (hey, you won!), but also willing to go above and beyond in your job, because writing a grant is quite a bit of work on top of your normal job responsibilities. My district has an education foundation that holds fundraisers year-round, and then grants money to teachers who apply for various projects. I've been fortunate to win grants from this program several times! If you've never applied for a grant before, a really simple program to win small tech toys and/or accessories is the iPevo Wishpool program. In past years, I've been granted iPad keyboards, cases, and charging accessories.

As is my philosophy with most educational concepts, dream big, but start small. You'll be amazed how much you can accomplish within a small time frame if you just focus on little steps along the way.

These tips will help you to build your educational technology resume, both for teachers looking to move into technology roles, and for those working on a future-ready approach to teaching. Do you have any special strategies for building your technology skills?

- Mrs. L.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Stupid Questions: How To Teach Google Forms to Middle-Schoolers

There are some concepts that I struggle with teaching my students. One of those are spreadsheets. Sure, if you're out working in the business world, you probably use them all the time, or if you're living on your own and need to plan budgets and life skills of that sort, spreadsheets are super useful and relevant to your experience.

But middle schoolers just don't have the "need" for it that many adults do, making it really hard to get them excited about it. And it's part of my current curriculum, so I'm trying to find ways to make it "work."

Well, I found something, and it turned out to be a pretty fun activity, actually, so I thought I'd share!

I call this lesson "Stupid Questions." :)

It's a 3-day activity (assuming 40-45 minute classes). Here's the basic outline:

DAY 1: 
Go over directions as a class.
Have students take my sample quiz; show results
Show students how to create their own quiz
Work time 
DAY 2: 
Show how to preview quiz and share URL
Finish writing quizzes & submit URLS
Start taking classmates’ quizzes
DAY 3: 
Finish taking classmates’ quizzes
Go over results as a class, show Google Sheets tricks 

Basically, I have each student create a Google Form 9-question "quiz" utilizing the different types of questions available to create. They can ask anything they like, provided that it is both school-appropriate and respectful.

You know how much people love taking those quizzes on Facebook to "see which Disney princess you are?" Yeah, it's kind of like that. No wonder they enjoyed this so much!

Once students had created a quiz, they shared the URL to a Google Doc. They then had to go down the list and take all of the quizzes that their classmates created! Some students were very non-sensical and weird with it. Others were pretty darn clever:

By taking each other's quizzes, students gave each other a batch of data that could be viewed in Google Sheets and be manipulated in a variety of ways. If you're looking for some ideas, here are some of the ways I showed students to view/manipulate data from their forms:

Do you want to take my Stupid Quiz? You can here!

I concluded the lesson with talking to students about how Google Forms can be a useful tool for middle school students: creating review quizzes, surveying friends, making class presentations more interactive, etc.

Do you have any Google Forms or Sheets lessons that seem especially engaging for middle school students? Please share!

- Mrs. L.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Using Pixlr to Combine Images in Creative Ways

I love using Pixlr to combine pictures to make silly photographs! My students do several projects using Pixlr editor that require removing the background on a photo and combining it with another. Removing backgrounds and combining images are pretty simple starter tasks for learning how to manipulate digital images. Here is a breakdown of how we have used Pixlr in class.

Me on a Wheaties Box (left), and Mr Gail-nimals (right)
Visual Puns (left), and Animal Mash-Ups Alliteration Poem (right)

Past projects have included putting ourselves on a Wheaties box, creating animal mash-ups and writing alliteration peoms to accompany them, and visual puns. Just for fun (we had a couple of extra days one term!), we put our assistant principal's head on a variety of animals and called them "Mr. Gail-nimals."

What's great about these projects is that it gets students comfortable with the idea of layers and how to manipulate them, as well as file type limitations (like how a .jpg cannot have a transparent background!) and sizing/re-sizing of images.

We use Pixlr as our image manipulation tool because it is a pretty good FREE resource that works on our Chromebook devices - it's not as user-friendly as fancy Photoshop software would be, but since we can't install software anyway, this suits us quite well. Students need to get used to using the "Free Transform" tool to re-size images and create a selection box with anchor points - they're used to just clicking on an object in Photoshop - but most of the functions are so very similar that the transition from one digital manipulation software/application to another is pretty easy.

This last quarter in 8th grade classes, we made a "Mount FaceMore" project where (as you can guess) we swapped out the faces on Mount Rushmore. After walking around the room and providing assistance to students, I realized that I kept answering the same questions over and over again. So, I decided to make a video all about the process. The first half is about about removing backgrounds using Pixlr, and the second half shows how to manipulate the layers and file types to save as:

This turned out to be pretty helpful in class, as students could refer back to the video (just skipping to the point that they needed help with), but also could get help if they worked from home, or were absent on the day that the project was first introduced or demonstrated. Win!

I really like teaching digital imaging, as it combines my love of art and computers in one happy place. The skills and concepts that students experience in this project are extremely helpful for future applications and across classes, when custom graphics or images can help demonstrate knowledge in other areas.

Do you have a favorite digital imaging project?

- Mrs. L.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Using Ozobots in the Middle School Classroom

The middle school tech teachers in my district have tried really hard in the last two years to modernize the curriculum and engage students. One of the ways that we do this is through tech tools and gadgets, which we refer to as "Innovation Stations."

8th grade (a nine-week course) uses Spheros, Makey Makey, and LittleBits, 6th grade (a six-week course) uses Dot and Dash robots, and 7th grade (also a six-week course) uses Ozobots. So each grade gets to have an experience with at least one new tech tool/toy/gadget/whatever you like to call it.

We have been very lucky to receive funding to buy most of these tools via our curriculum department, but our middle schools won a special grant from our education foundation to purchase our classroom sets of Ozobots!

I thought I'd go over a little bit how we use Ozobots in my 7th grade computer classes. First, I divide the unit up into three sections: on paper / on an iPad / on a Chromebook. Ozobots can do a lot of stuff and be used in different ways, so we start small, on paper, with Ozobot reading lines and color codes, just to learn the basic workings. We look at the sensors and how the robot works. We talk about basic care and maintenance: cleaning the wheels, charging the battery, and calibrating the robot before sending it off to travel.

I'm an almost 100% paperless classroom, so it bothered me that I was having to print out so many calibration sheets on paper (even if I kept and collected them each class, they would get lost or damaged/folded up and I would have to make more), so I found a solution that seems to be working really well so far! I cut out circle stickers from black matte vinyl on my Silhouette Cameo machine at home (I bought one two summers ago for my own personal use and I love it!), and stuck them to the underside of my centerpiece placemats at each student work table. If you don't have placemats to hide stickers under, you could still put a circle sticker on each desktop/tabletop in your room for calibration purposes.

In class, we also talk about line following/line sensing robots and how the technology is being used now/could be used in the future. One of my favorite videos to show is this one involving robot chairs!

Students can choose to work individually or in pairs with Ozobot, since I have 18 devices total. But for the second part of our unit, which is on iPads, we have to get into groups that are a little bit larger, because I only have 9 iPads. It ends up being no more than 4 per device, so not too bad. We use OzoGroove to program our robots to dance! Working in larger groups means using multiple Ozobots with one iPad, which is actually advantageous when using OzoGroove because you can write one dance program, but run it on several Ozobots at one time so they dance synchronized! It's pretty neat.

Out last portion of the Ozobot unit is using our Chromebooks! We use OzoBlockly to solve puzzles (the shape tracer) and to write code (the Editor) to load and run on our Ozobots. If you've ever used Scratch, you'll find that OzoBlockly Editor is very similar in how it functions.

The end of the unit is the most fun for me, because I like to see what students can come up with using their Ozobots. Some set up games, like tiny bowling pins, and others make mazes or race tracks for their Ozobot to run. I've been doing a little bit of exploring via Pinterest as to how other educators and families are using Ozobots, and I found an awesome resource over at Tech Age Kids where they detailed the instructions to build a tiny Lego chariot for Ozobot to pull! I was so excited to find this that I had to try it out right away:

I'm going to give students the opportunity to integrate Ozobots with Lego this term, and I'm excited to see what they do! Every time I teach a unit, it gets a little bit better and I see more and more cool things that students come up with!

- Mrs. L.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Chromebook How-To: Reverse Image Search

Have you ever watched an episode of the TV show Catfish? Each episode details the story of a person who thinks that they have found love online. Over time, they begin to have doubts as to whether or not the person they're talking to is who they really say they are. The results of each show vary, but the investigation pretty much always starts out the same: with a reverse image search!

Knowing how to do a reverse image search is the first step towards identifying fake profiles on social media. I made a video directed specifically demonstrating the different ways to do this on a Chromebook:

Out of all the options, I think that my favorite way to do the reverse search is the simple "right click" method in Chrome! All you have to do is right-click the image, and select "Search Google for Image!" Ridiculously simple!

My 8th graders watch an episode of Catfish as part of our digital citizenship and internet safety unit. We have several essential questions to ponder:
  • How does the anonymity of the Internet allow you to be someone other than yourself? 
  • Do you ever find yourself doing this to any extent? 
  • How would you feel in the shoes of this show's victim? Of the guilty party?

Our lesson ends with going over some tips for spotting a catfish, and about how to take some steps to try and keep our information private. We then try out reverse image search, so we have some strategies for doing our own Catfish-style investigating when communicating online!

What are your favorite tips and tricks for catching a catfish? Do you have any catfish stories of your own?

-Mrs. L.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

ONE Simple Way to Start Using Flexible Seating in The Classroom!

One of my points of focus in the classroom this year is to incorporate more choice in the classroom environment, and to meet a variety of needs for students (from both emotional and kinesthetic approaches) in order to make them more comfortable and therefore more engaged in learning. I detailed a lot of the changes that I made to the classroom this year in my classroom tour video.

I know that I've been very lucky in the form of receiving grants and having a super supportive principal who has helped me create a lot of the changes in designing my room. I realize that a lot of teachers and schools can't afford to replace every chair or desk in the classroom in one fail swoop. Therefore, I've been thinking about the kinds of small changes - simple changes, low-cost changes, even FREE changes - that teachers can make in their classrooms in order to start moving towards a future-ready/21st century classroom that utilizes concepts like flexible seating options.

My number one simplest idea for moving towards a flexible seating concept in your classroom would be to bring in lap desks! Students probably already love sitting or laying on the floor or outside in the hallway. You can make things a little easier, a little more productive, a little more appealing by offering up lap desks to use during class. It encourages students to move around more and to get comfortable. 

Both students working in the hallway with lap desks. One student chooses to sit on the floor, while another prefers to bring a stool out into the hallway. 

Students work 1:1 with Chromebooks at my school, and some of them love having the lights off in the classroom while working, but others may prefer light. I allow students to work out in the hallway, which gives students either lighting option while working. I also allow students to listen to music using headphones, if desired, so long as they are staying on task during class (we use Hapara, so it is easy for me to see what tabs students have open at any time, if needed).

I have a rug in the classroom, and four beanbag chairs, so students will opt to sit on the floor, in a beanbag, and even lying on the rug occasionally! All of these options are more comfortable for students if they use a lap desk. The scene in the photo above could easily be any classroom with students working out in the hallway - you don't need fancy furniture to give students flexible seating options to start!

I was able to purchase a handful of laptop desks at the beginning of the year from Amazon using budget money that I had available. Here are some sources and pricing that I've come across:

You may be thinking, "But I have no money at all? How am I supposed to get lap desks for my room?"

...My favorite way to acquire items for the classroom is to ask my PTA for donations! Not monetary donations, but via unused items from home - many families will have a lap desk (or two?) that they no longer use and would be willing to donate to the school. You never know until you ask, right? And best of all, it's FREE!

You may also be thinking, "Students can sit on the floor without a lap desk, why would they be necessary?"

And the truth is, they're really not. But having them makes choosing an alternative seating option more "special," more desirable even, and moving around and having choice will make your students more comfortable in the classroom space. When students feel more comfortable, more relaxed, they're easier to engage in learning and motivate to learn. Even though my room has beanbag chairs and wobble stools, I still have kids who would just prefer to sit on the hard floor! A lap desk makes it just a teensy bit nicer. 

Once your students, faculty, and admin start to see the value of flexible seating (invite them into your classroom to observe!), you'll have a stronger case towards adding other seating options to the space in the future!

-Mrs L.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

How I Use Pinterest Boards for Professional Development

I've been using Pinterest personally for years now... to save images of pretty homes, recipes, fashion, shopping wishlists, and the like. You probably have, too.

But it recently dawned on me that a Pinterest account - a "professional" Pinterest account, devoted solely to teaching - could be incredibly valuable for saving and organizing all of the great articles, websites, and resources that I access all of the time for teaching. It's also an awesome starting point for brainstorming new ideas and lesson plans, especially when it comes to using new technology and tools. Why re-invent the wheel if there are already a TON of awesome ideas to use as launching pads for using our class' Spheros, or Makey Makeys out there (and, for the record, there are!)?

Ok, some of you are probably thinking "uh, I've been doing this for AGES already..." in which case, sorry that I'm tardy to the party! One of my professional goals for the future is to move into an instructional tech coaching position, and I think that having all of my resources saved to different boards, organized by subject matter, makes information and idea gathering SO much easier! Even if I'm not currently teaching math, having a whole board of relevant resources about teaching math makes life easier in the future if I need to help out in that area and brainstorm some ideas. I'm not operating out of a total vacuum.

As I've mentioned before in previous posts, one of my passions in education is learning spaces and design for learning. Pinterest is a HUGE wealth of resources about this very topic! I love how simple it can be to find current content on the subject, as well as links to places to buy equipment, or DIYs to "hack" your own classroom space.

Check out my board on this topic here:

I'm also working on boards for specific subject areas: Math, ELA, Science, etc... and (as a former art teacher) I'm making sure to include "elective" areas, too! I've also got boards going for tech- and maker-space-related topics like tech tools, coding, LEGO, and video production.

Now, when I need to quickly come up with some ideas, I can reference a board that I've already been saving ideas and tips to in order to speed up the brainstorming process!

If you're on Pinterest, be sure to head on over and give me a follow so that I can find and follow you back! I'd love to swap ideas and inspiration with you!

-Mrs. L.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Virtual Classroom Tour: 2016-17

They're here! Our new NeoRok stools arrived on Friday, so I finally got around to making our "Welcome to Computer Lit" video for the 2016-17 school year. Take a tour of the classroom, and see what's new this time around. There's lots to see, and I'm pretty proud of how the room has evolved over time into a pretty fun future-ready learning space!

One of the things that you don't see in the video is how I tried to consider all of the senses when I was designing the space. Our room is in the basement, so the space can get a little... well... musty. So I brought in a wax warmer lamp to make the room smell nice! Students walk in and try to guess the scent of the day!  At present, it's usually something pumpkin-y or fall-related...

In coming up with improvements to the classroom space, I thought about the aesthetics of the kinds of spaces that adults like to work in outside of home or the office - places like Starbucks, Panera, or Barnes and Noble. Soft surfaces, comfortable seating, relaxing music and sounds, and soothing smells. I tried to echo and pull from these qualities to use in my own classroom. 

You can watch our room tour and hear about what's new here:

I turn off comments on my YouTube videos (because YouTube), but I welcome your comments here if you have anything to share!

- Mrs. L.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Classroom Organization for Technology and Makerspaces

One of my strengths as a teacher is my ability to consider the classroom space and to organize materials, furniture, and equipment for optimal functionality. I like to think that it was an after-effect of my teaching art and having to organize a large studio art space (and the corresponding art materials) for 13 years!

One of my passions as an educator is design for learning spaces and classroom environment. If you watch my YouTube video from the beginning of last year, I give a mini-tour of our classroom space (updated version for this school year coming soon with lots of new stuff!). I give a lot of thought to the aesthetics and functionality of the classroom.

When I first made the move from huge art studio classroom to gutted-out former computer lab (the size of a typical classroom), I knew that there were two very important tasks: I needed to paint the room, and I needed storage space for students' books. 

The tables in my room are small. They have to accommodate four students at a time, so there is absolutely no room for books on the floor or tables. Space is precious! So I utilized a KALLAX IKEA shelving unit as "cubbies" for my middle school students to stash their books, trappers, gym clothes, and chromebook cases during the class period. It's been a life-saver!

Shortly after the school year started, I realized the importance and need for a set of USB mice in the room. Some projects (like our Google Draw Avatars) require some precise fine-motor skills, and an external mouse really helps! After a failed attempt to store mice in a plastic bin in individual plastic sandwich bags, I switched to this shoe-hanger technique that's been wildly successful! Not only are my mice organized and tangle-free, I can easily see if they've all been returned at the end of the period. 

I love this method so much that I purchased two MORE shoe hangers this school year to store microphones, mic stands, digital cameras, and video cameras! I hung the shoe hangers on a closet door to a non-functional closet, so the door is always shut, and now this space is functional again!

My next favorite organizational tool is to use inexpensive bins and boxes:

I purchased these small plastic lidded boxes at the dollar store to hold our Makey Makey devices. Each box holds the Makey Makey "controller" panel, the USB cord, and a handful of alligator clip wires. It's very easy now when we work in stations for each group to just grab a boxed Makey Makey kit and get to work! I printed labels out to number our class kits and used plain old packing tape to stick them on. 

IKEA makes the BEST bins for Legos! They're shallow, which makes them good for digging in, and stackable, which allows for easy storage on a cart or shelves. They have lids! And they're inexpensive, too! These TROFAST bins are $3 each for the boxes, and another $1.50 for each lid. I highly recommend these boxes for at-home Lego storage, too! 

Our Legos are mostly used in conjunction with LittleBits electronic building and inventing blocks, which presented yet another organizational challenge. LittleBits come in nice sturdy cardboard boxes, sectioned off for each bit, but my 8th graders couldn't be bothered to figure out which bit went where, and in a hurry, would stuff them any place that they could. I tried a plastic tackle box, like for organizing jewelry, but that, too, was too fussy. I settled on this system, pictured above, which has worked very well so far. It's two plastic 3-drawer storage units, stacked vertically. I think the drawers are about the size of a sheet of paper? I had to search a few different Target stores to find them, but it was well worth the hunt. I labeled the drawers by bit color/type, and that organization seems simple enough even for students cleaning up in a hurry to handle!

The best organizational investment of this school year has been for a couple of gadgets that allow me to charge several devices at once! This nifty rack, shown above, can handle up to 10 USB charging cables! I have a set of 8 iPad minis that need to be both stored and charged, so this was the perfect solution! Pro tip: splurge for a set of shorty USB/lightning cables to avoid a tangled mess of wires!

Here's another charging adapter that will handle 10 USB cords. It doesn't have the organizational "rack" function for iPads like the first one I showed you, but this multi-charger is used for my Dot and Dash robots, which wouldn't fit an organizer system like that anyways. Before I had a nifty multi-charger like this, I was running multiple power strips along the floor of the classroom in order to get them all charged at once!

My newest organizational tool for the classroom is the perfect complement to our wipe-off surface tabletops: magnetic baskets to hold our wipe-off markers and erasers at each table! I bought wire mesh baskets with small extra-strong magnets on the back. My table legs are metal, so this fix is just what we needed, but you could affix baskets via zip ties, velcro, or hooks if you wanted. I love that now each table has their own set of supplies (as opposed to a communal bin of markers and erasers), and they take up very little space, while still leaving the entire tabletop free!

I hope that you enjoyed some of my organizational tips and can find one or more that will work in your classroom. Maybe these ideas could even help inspire you to come up with your own different organizational solutions!

- Mrs. L.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Teaching Technology in the Zone of Discomfort

I see and hear a lot of stories, tweets, quotes, images, and infographics about failure. How it's an important part of the learning process. About how we need to allow for the possibility of failure in our students, and allow for them the ability to reflect, revise, and try again.

I'm on board. Sounds great!

But what about teaching? Teachers need to feel like it's okay to make mistakes, too. We need to embrace the zone of discomfort. We need to feel like we're taking risks, but within reason... a safe risk-taking, if you will. Teachers can no longer wait until they've "mastered" a tool, or feel 100% comfortable with technology inside and out before utilizing it in the classroom. Things move so fast that if we waited, it's likely that the technology would be obsolete by the time we've fully grasped it!

For example, here's my story: I teach 6-week classes. Yep. I see kids for 6 weeks, and then they're gone until the next school year. It's less than optimal, I know, but it's all I've got. The good side of this is that I have the ability to reflect and revise my curriculum and teaching strategies many times throughout the school year. 

The downside? 6 weeks! Ugh. 

But anyways, this year I've been very fortunate to receive two new technology tools for my 6th and 7th grade students: Ozobots and Dot and Dash robots. We're a 1:1 Chromebook program, but I received 8 iPad minis to use with these new tools. Luckily, at home, we're an Apple family. 

Awesome! But uh oh... I have a lot of new stuff to learn! 

Since my "free" time is quite limited, I had to take a different approach to incorporating these new tools into the curriculum: I had to teach it without knowing it 100%! This is very scary for many teachers, and, I'm not gonna lie, it's quite stressful, because there are so many unknowns. But it's also challenging, which is something that actually I love when I'm teaching - give me a challenge! I'm a pretty good creative problem-solver. 

Here's what I did: I opened up the boxes, watched a few video overviews, and made sure that I knew the basics. The VERY basics. I took a set of robots home over the weekend and had my 4 year-old play with them with me. He loved it, and I got a little bit more practice with everything. 


Then, when I went back to school, I had a conversation with my kids: we were going to learn this new thing TOGETHER. Students were tasked with discovering new features and concepts and sharing them with me and the rest of the class. When someone was having trouble, or stuck on a task, we'd poll the class: "Hey, we're having trouble getting our program to load on the Ozobot. How are you guys doing it? Can you show us?"

The same thing happened with advanced coding. I used Codecademy and allowed students to choose a course to take, based on their level and experience with coding. I feel competent enough in the HTML course to provide help to students, if needed, but many of them chose languages that I am not well-versed in, like JavaScript or Python. Basically, I admitted my shortcomings up front: "Hey guys, I am not an expert on these courses, so I can try my best to help, but I cannot make any guarantees. But feel free to try them out if that's the level that you are at. We can also try to find another student to help you out if I can't." 

Students LOVE being the expert on stuff! Bonus points if they know something that the teacher doesn't! It's a real motivator. By the time my first 6-week term was up, I felt way more comfortable presenting to the class the second time around. The sad part is that I'll never quite capture that magic of discovery from the first round again. Yeah, it's all new and exciting to the next group of students, but there's something really fun and special about learning it alongside with your classes. 

My point here is that you shouldn't be afraid to jump in and teach something just because you don't feel like a total "expert" on it. You shouldn't hold your students back simply because you're "not there" yet. It's okay not to know all the things. And admitting that to your students is very humanizing and honest - many of them will respect you more for having admitted your shortcomings.

- Mrs. L.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

How To Use The "Green Screen" Effect in WeVideo

Eighth grade classes are working on a project right now that is quickly becoming my all-time favorite project. I guess I say that a lot. Pretty much any time we do a new project...

We're using WeVideo to create, well, videos. The theme for this quarter is Digital Citizenship and Internet Safety. I told the students that most of the videos out there about this topic are fairly cheesy, or talk down to you, or just feel kind of fake, and I challenged them to make a video about this topic that was actually BETTER than what's out there.

So far, I am seriously impressed with what they're coming up with!

One of the most fun features of WeVideo (we have a paid account for our district) is the green screen, or color keying, option. And it's relatively simple to do! I made a quick screencast showing the steps of how to do this here:

...and yes, I know that my lime green hair gets keyed out in the final version. It amuses the students greatly.

I've been messing around and having big fun being chased by Godzilla and hanging out "in the club" via green screen. If you're interested in seeing the full project outline/introduction that I show my 8th graders, you can check out my other video here:

I went all Spike TV on this one, including REALLY bad use of middle school slang, like "epic" and "lit." The kind of adult use of slang that causes students to cringe and never use that word again. Ha ha - bonus! 

I am really loving WeVideo this year for movie production. I've used iMovie, Adobe Premiere, and Windows Movie Maker in the past... what video creation software, apps, or websites do you prefer to use?

-Mrs. L.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Harnessing the Power of Social Media for Elective Teachers

My husband and I are both teachers. We did a presentation at the IAEA (Illinois Art Education Association) conference in 2015 all about social media for art teachers. I revised our presentation for Fall 2016, with a focus on ANY elective area teacher, because I strongly believe that social media is a great way to:

  • Advocate for your program 
  • Stay connected to parents, students, and the community
  • Connect with fellow teachers in your subject area - discover your personal professional PLN!

I've embedded our (revised) presentation below:


In my opinion, one of the most important aspects of using social media as an educator is to consider your audience. Depending on what level you teach, you will have a different audience of parents vs students. Once you've determined who your audience is, choose your social media services accordingly. For example, my middle-schoolers are so "over" Facebook and Twitter... but they're pretty into Instagram and Snapchat. Ask yourself, "Is there a way to use these services to help enhance learning for my students?"

Of course, regardless of your student/parent audience make up, every level will also have an audience of fellow teachers to communicate with, too. I cannot put into words how important my "internet" colleagues are to me, and how grateful I am for all of the help and inspiration that I've gotten from them!

I am a firm believer of the "Think Big, Start Small" philosophy - if social media is new and scary and you don't know where to start, I always recommend Twitter as a launching point. Start there, and hopefully you can slowly build upon that later!

-Mrs. L

Friday, September 9, 2016

Awesome Avatars Using Google Draw!

My all-time favorite project in computer lit class is one that I call "Google Doodle Yourself" using Google Draw. You can use Google Draw to create your own illustrator-esque portraits, which are awesome for having students use as avatars. The best part is that this is actually quite simple to do! It doesn't need to be perfect in order to come out realistically. It's up to you how detailed you want to go with it.

I use this YouTube video in class to show students how it's done:

I love that you can take a picture right on the spot, but you can also upload existing photos, which lends itself to creating portraits of friends and family for gifts or other surprise things!

The trick to creating these images is the line drawing tool called "curve," which smoothes out any shapes that you make. It gives your shapes a cool cutout style for that all-around freehand-ish drawn look.

The only downside of Google Draw that I've discovered so far is that there isn't an iOS app for it. But I like to use it on Chrome (via Chromebook, Macbook, or PC laptop) using a mouse to help with the fine motor skills required if you wanna get the details looking good.

The other thing to keep in mind is that shapes work on layers, so it's important to work from largest shapes to smallest shapes when tracing, so that you can select the tiny shapes without the larger ones blocking access. Then, when filling in the shapes, you work backwards, smallest to biggest. If you mess up, no biggie, because there's an "Arrange --> Order" function that will allow you to move shapes forward or back as needed.

When you're all done, you can download your drawing as .pdf, .svg, .jpg, or .png - or you can just screen grab it, too! And from there, the possibilities are endless!

This is one of my favorite new computer tricks!

-Mrs. L.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Google Classroom: Fall 2016 Updates

In August, literally days before my classes with students were about to begin, Google Classroom unleashed an update. I decided to let some time pass so that I could work with this update before deciding how I feel about all of it. Now that some time has passed, I'd like to share a few points of consideration...

One of the great new updates is the ability to tag or categorize your assignments. I think it's helpful for teachers with year-long classes to divide up their lessons into units, chapters, or even activity types, such as a discussion question vs. a long-term project, or a group activity. I personally am using the tags to divide my lessons up into different topics, such as "Digital Citizenship" or "Google Apps for Education."

I do wish that there was an ability to add more than one tag to assignments, because sometimes there is an overlap of topics, and it would certainly make assignments easier to search for within the stream. Ease of search, and tagging/categorizing is kind of a trademark characteristic of Google products, so I'm a little surprised to see that that hasn't come into play just yet.

There are a few other things about the updates that aren't necessarily improvements, but changes to the way Google Classroom functions. One of the big changes that really freaked me out at first was that the join code for Google Classroom was no longer in the left hand side bar. I couldn't find it at first, and it took me a few minutes of searching and clicking around to discover that it is now located under the "students" tab. Discovering this change the morning of my first day of classes caused me a mini panic attack!

The other change that I noticed is that Google Classroom no longer gives you the ability to create an assignment for multiple classes in one step. Yes, you can create an assignment, and then reuse the assignment in another class, but in the past, you could create one assignment and simultaneously publish it to multiple classes. Since I teach two sections of the same class at each grade level, this was a really helpful feature for me. I guess I'm not sure why Google Classroom would remove a feature. Even if some teachers weren't using it, I don't know what the harm would be in retaining that functionality.

The other big update to Google Classroom this fall was the ability to have parents elect to receive email summaries and notifications. This is a feature that sounded really promising to me. The biggest hangup I'm having is that after I enable parent access, I seem to have to manually enter each parent email address individually?

What would really be optimal is the ability to give parents a join code like the students have, or a link where parents could sign up if desired. Because I'm a teacher that only teaches six-week long classes, it's not really worth the effort for me to enter parent emails. I would have to re-enter a whole new slew of parent emails every month and half!

I can see this new parent access feature being very helpful for a semester-long, year-long, or an elementary classroom teacher, because they only have to do the work one time. For me, it would just be an endless cycle of work, so I'm going to hold off until Google enables a better way for parents to sign up. That makes me kind of sad because I really like the idea.

I did, however, sign up for parent email notifications under my own "student" account, just to see how it worked. I have a student account so that I can test out Google Classroom (and assignments in general) from the student view, which, - side note - would actually be a really good feature for Google Classroom to have for teachers. I'd love to be able to toggle a tab or a switch and change the view from "teacher view" to "student view." The only way I found a workaround for that is to actually create my own student account.

I signed up as the parent (using my personal email) for my "student" account so that I would get the email summaries, to see what they look like and how they function. I was pleasantly surprised when I got my parent summary email this week and saw that it lists assignments that are posted even if they don't have a due date. I was very worried that the email summaries would only give alerts if there was an assignment coming due.

My assignments in Google Classroom typically have no due date because my turn-in times are kind of flexible - even if a student turns in the work on the last of class, I will still accept the work. Since my entire class is only a month and half long, I have to prioritize whether or not I want worry about keeping track of and taking points off for lateness, or if I would rather just rather have the work in the end. I'd rather just have the work!

So, I was happy to see that my parent email summary listed assignments that were newly posted in classroom for that week. As a teacher, this is something that I definitely would want to show up! I also liked that Google Classroom showed a summary for all of the classes that the student was enrolled in, which in my case, was all six of my computer classes.

The possible advantage/potential here is that if parents signed up for alerts in another class, their email would already be entered into the "system" and I wouldn't need to enter them - parents could just elect to get updates from my class, too. Therefore, if parents were signed up/enrolled school-wide to Google Classroom alerts, I wouldn't have to enter any parent emails at all! My school hasn't really adopted Google Classroom as a whole just yet, but if this happens in the future, this would be really nice.

... but in the end, this kind of puts me back at square one, which is a waiting game: either having Google create a join code/link for parents to use to sign up, or waiting until a majority of my building has adopted Google Classroom and parents are enrolled school-wide.

I do wish that Google seemed just a little bit more receptive to requests or suggestions. Here is my ultimate wish list of Google Classroom features at present:
  • The ability to tag assignments with multiple topics/tags, for easier searching and sorting, kind of like Gmail labels. 
  • The ability for parents to sign up for email summaries via a join code or link, rather than the teacher having to enter each parent email. 
  • Bring back the ability to publish an assignment to multiple classes at once. 
  • The ability to switch between "teacher" and "student" views in Google Classroom. If I'm projecting my machine up on a screen for the class to see, my view differs from what they see unless I'm logged into a student account. 
  • The ability to customize the left hand side bar - particularly, I would like the ability to post links to some outside sources, like PowerSchool, so that students could check their grades, or a link to the school website. 
  • The ability to customize your class colors, because although you can put your own image as a header at the top of your class, Google Classroom chooses the "main" color scheme for you. Being able to self-select the color scheme would allow me to better organize my classes visually. For example, my two sixth-grade classes might be purple, my two eighth-grade classes could be green, and my two seventh-grade classes could be blue. I find that having things organized visually helps me to be more productive.

Wouldn't color coding make this so much nicer? Maybe it's just the art teacher in me, but...

All in all, I am very happy with Google Classroom overall. I like Google classroom as my main hub for information and assignments. I will continue to use Google Classroom, regardless of whether or not all of these new features are 100% viable for me personally.

-Mrs L.