Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Refocus, Refresh, and Re-organize: Getting Ready for the New Year

It's hard to believe that in just a couple of weeks, it will be January already! For me, the winter break is a time to relax and rejuvenate, but I also love to take some time to clean the clutter, make some changes, or experiment with new ideas for when the break is over.  This way, I can hit the ground (or classroom) running and am ready to go! Teacher productivity ultimately benefits our students as well, right? So, here are a few strategies to help you power up for the new year!

First, is your Google Drive "Driving" you crazy?  If you are a G-Suite classroom, your Drive has probably been getting a bit cluttered. I start the year off great but by December, it is time to clean up a bit. It feels so good to get the Drive organized so you can actually find things again. Here are three easy ways to get started and get that Google Drive under control.

Next, take some of those little things off your plate in January by giving the students more leadership roles.  They are ready! Have iPads or other technology in the classroom? Create a student tech team that can rotate each month.  Let the students be in charge of powering off and charging the devices, or assisting their classmates.  Give them the opportunity to be peer helpers or experts in the classroom. Have a few students who are high flyers and don't need the mini-lesson in math? Let them create, set up, and run a station during the workshop. 

Don't forget about YOU! Add a brain break during the day that will benefit both you and your students.  Use yoga, meditation, or visualization to calm or re-energize throughout the day.  There are many apps and websites out there to guide you.  Here are a few of my favorites:

Finally, just browsing Pinterest while drinking a cup of hot chocolate is relaxing to me.  Sometimes, I find some great ideas and get super excited to try them with students after the break.  The most important thing is that you come back relaxed, excited, and ready to teach!

Enjoy your break and see you in 2020!

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Taking Charge of Your Own PD

Are you a coach in charge of providing professional development to your teachers? Or, are you a teacher who wants to put some new energy into the classroom but aren't really finding what you want in district-led workshops?  Many of us, especially those who have been in the profession for a while, truly love our jobs and the students/teachers we work with. But let's face it, sometimes district PD can leave us wanting.  I've seen many a teacher zone out, bring papers to grade, or even fall asleep because a PD session just wasn't relevant. 

One thing I firmly believe in is that changing things up and trying out new ideas can spark excitement for both the teacher and the students.  So, what do we do when we are stuck with this uninspiring PD?  We go with the famous saying..

If you want something done right, you've got to do it yourself

There are actually a lot of options out there if you are willing to put aside some time to improve your own practice.  Many PD resources are online and can be accessed from the comfort of your couch (my favorite place).  Here are a few of my favorite "on my own" PD opportunities for the K-5 level:

Edcamp is a great way to get together with other educators/coaches/administrators, etc. to learn from one another. For those of you unfamiliar with Edcamp, it is considered to be an unconference, where everyone who attends has the opportunity to voluntarily run a session on any topic.  There is a large board with times and rooms, and you attend whatever sessions you like.  The best part is the "rule of two feet."  If you find that a session isn't for you, you can leave in the middle to attend another and no one is offended.  The only downfall is that most Edcamps are held on Saturdays but there are so many these days that one of them will surely fit into your schedule. Check out the Edcamp website to find one near you!

PD in your PJ's by Seesaw is one of my favorite ways to add new ideas for my students to show what they know.  Whether you are a beginner user or have been using Seesaw for years, there is a video for your level and interest.  You can register for free, live sessions or just watch recordings of sessions that have already run.  Best of all, you can do it from home whenever you please and learn at your own pace.

Edutopia is definitely in my top 5 places to visit online for my own PD. Browse by topic to get a list of resources to peruse on your own time.  Resources include reading, videos, and blog posts pertaining only to the topic of your choice so there is no need to weed through other topics to find what you need. If you like, you can also subscribe to their newsletter and receive the newest material to your inbox each week.

Finally, don't knock social media if you haven't yet tried it for PD purposes.  There is a wealth of information and resources to be found on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook.  On Twitter and Instagram, you can search by hashtags.  I love to browse hashtags such as #teachersofinstagram, #edtech, #teachersfollowteachers, #1stgrade, #elemed... there are so many options.  For Facebook, there are some amazing groups to join to connect with fellow educators.  Just put your grade level in the search bar and you can find one that fits your needs!  And Pinterest... I could browse all day long...

So hopefully, if your district PD isn't cutting the cake (and teachers do love cake...), you can find something here that will spark some ideas and inspire you to try something new!

Monday, November 4, 2019

The Math Learning Center Virtual Manipulatives

The Math Learning Center is my favorite place to find virtual manipulatives for math.  When my K-5 teachers are looking for a way to model in math, these are the first apps I recommend.  Not only are they simple to use, but they offer built in tools for showing work, calculating, measuring, and drawing.  If used in conjunction with Seesaw, students can reflect and/or explain their thinking process as they solve problems.  This post is meant for those teachers who would like to use virtual manipulatives but may not be aware that these apps exist both on the iPad and as web apps available in your browser.  

Below are my absolute favorite Math Learning Center Apps but don't forget to click the link above to see all of the apps available absolutely free!


The geoboard offers a variety of digital boards and multiple colored rubber bands.  No more rubber bands being lost or snapping in half! You have the option of showing the board with a grid and/or an x and y axis.  There is also a text tool for creating equations and tools for moving, sizing, coloring, etc.

Pattern Shapes

The pattern shapes are perfect your geometry, shape studies, or patterns in algebra units.  Shapes are dragged onto the board from the sidebar and you have the ability to change shape, size, and color.  You can change the gridlines in the workspace, rotate, or use some of the built in outlines to fill.


The Fractions app allows you to create bars or circles to show fractional amounts.  You can choose how many parts and then color in the parts according to the fraction you choose to show. You can rotate the fractions, group them with the lasso, add labels to show what the written fraction looks like, and of course the drawing tools are available as well.

Number Blocks
Number Blocks supports students as they work with base ten.  It offers a primary and intermediate set of ones, tens, and hundreds that students can drag to the workspace for place value, adding, subtracting, etc.

Number Rack

Number Rack assists students with number sense as they think of numbers in fives and tens.  You can change colors, drag beads, add rows, and cover certain sections of beads as you instruct.

Don't forget that, whether students are working in the whole group, small groups, or independently, they can easily extend their learning by adding their work to Seesaw to reflect, explain, etc!

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Getting Started With EdTech

If you are a first year teacher, or don't consider yourself to be very "techy," having iPads or laptops added to your classroom, whether shared or 1:1, can be overwhelming. There are so many apps out there for the K-5 crowd that it is hard to decide where to begin, especially when you are also trying to plan lessons, learn new curriculum, keep up with paperwork, etc. The start of the year can be daunting to say the least. 
However, integrating technology doesn't have to be scary and you shouldn't feel intimidated by those who are able to dive right in. Slow and steady can still win the race.

First of all, don't overwhelm yourself. If you aren't ready on the first day or week of school to get those iPads/laptops out, then don't. Get settled first.

Make goals. For me, I suggest three apps for the year. Seesaw, Freckle, and Epic. All are available for both iPad and laptop and fit into your curriculum naturally.

September: Seesaw
  • Set up your class at Seesaw.me
  • Take a few photos of the kids in action and upload them into Seesaw.
  • Print the QR code for families and put it out at Back to School Night. This way, you'll know parents are all signed in and excited to be an audience for their child's school experience.
  • Make September "Seesaw Month." Just focus on getting the kids used to taking photos of work they are proud of, recording themselves to reflect or explain, and generally showing all of the wonderful things they know!
  • Create a "Student Tech Team." These students can close apps, charge iPads, and make sure all iPads are signed out of Seesaw, etc. There is no need for you to be the one in charge of this every day. Let them be in charge of it.
Seesaw also has a great set of YouTube videos titled, "PD in Your PJs." Check it out for all sorts of lesson ideas and how-tos for your classroom.

November(ish): Epic Reading
Go to getepic.com and set up your class
Take some time to learn the app yourself. This video will help!

Epic is great for all genres but especially nonfiction. You can project from your device to model reading skills and strategies, create a station to look for nonfiction features, make a listening center using the "read to me" or "audiobooks," or have students use Epic as a resource for nonfiction research projects. They even have videos!

January (ish): Freckle Education
  • Go to Freckle.com and set up your class
  • Freckle has a free version and a paid version. You only need the free version.
  • Here is another short video walkthrough to get you started:

February until June:
Your Tech PD goals for the rest of the year should be to use these three apps as effectively as possible to best benefit student learning. If you decide to do more, great! If not, that's ok. Next year you can make some new goals!

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Making the Most of Shared Devices in the Classroom

One of my first experiences as an instructional technology coach was in a K-3 school where teachers had eight iPads for their classes of approximately 20-25 students.  The most popular question I received was, "How am I supposed to teach 24 students with only 8 iPads?"  This was a humbling experience for me because I was ready to train them on apps to enhance instruction/learning and hadn't even thought that they might need more than just these tech tools for teaching... I was clearly a newbie and needed to take a step back before moving forward.

Now,  several years later, one of my first priorities when I visit a teacher who has been given shared devices, is to make sure they feel supported as they become comfortable with the devices in their classroom and give them some ideas so they can explore various ways to integrate them into instruction. 

Before I get into the variety of instructional techniques, I suggest imagining your classroom is completely empty.  Now that you have these devices, what does your classroom look like if you re-design a bit?  Is there a specific area where you will keep them?  What does organization look like?  Maybe you see a low table with pillow seats around it or a bulletin board that compliments your new technology?  If you have a new interactive board, where is the best place for students to gather?  Would tables be better than desks?  Would flexible seating allow students to collaborate more easily when using the devices?

I find this to be almost therapeutic.  Many teachers end up changing their whole room setup and it refreshes their passion for teaching as well as their room. 

Ok, on to the instruction!

If you are in a K-5 classroom, your instruction is naturally student-centered.  Adding shared devices to this type of instruction can be a fairly smooth transition.  Once your room is ready and you start planning, think about your lessons and what integration options might work best for you and your students.  If you are brand new to devices, you might want to only pick one content area to start with and move forward from there.  Here are some ideas for implementing technology into your instruction.  Feel free to comment with your own ideas too!

Depending on how many devices you have, you can do your mini-lesson and then divide students in half.  While one half works on the iPads/Chromebooks, etc, the other half can work with the teacher or be completing a hands-on or independent activity.  Rotate halfway through the workshop.  Come back together at the end to share or assess.

Partner up:
This can be done during the mini-lesson or workshop time and, depending on the amount of devices, you can use groups of three students also.  Students can sit together on the carpet with devices face down on the carpet until it is time to use them, work together, and then hold up their work.  If you have airplay, they can project their work from the iPad right to the screen.  During workshop time, students can work around the room with their partner and the devices.  Once the activity is over, sharing can be done all together or students can place the devices around the room and do a gallery walk to see the completed activity.

Similar to Halvsies, you are just dividing students into three groups.  One activity would include the technology, one would be another activity, and the third would be working with the teacher.  This is great for differentiation. Create the groups according to ability levels.  Everyone still completes each station but you will work with each group on their specific needs.

12 devices = 3 stations with 4 devices each
8 devices = 2 stations
4 devices = 1 station
You can also create a static research station during a specific uit of study using Epic Reading or Chrome, Safari, etc.  If students can't find certain information, the iPads become a great place to explore other resources.  If you have some high flyers, a station can be used to challenge them.  Student who are struggling can get some extra practice or instruction.

If you are using Seesaw or some other type of digital portfolio for students to document their growth, teach students how and when are acceptable times to go grab an iPad and upload/reflect on their work.  Let them take ownership and grab an iPad whenever they want to document something they feel proud of as long as they aren't interrupting the instruction.

Don't forget that modeling is one of the best methods of instruction.  Use the technology during your mini-lesson or mid-workshop interruption to demo what something looks like, sounds like, etc.  You can also showcase student examples or share a new strategy.

The Daily Dose:
Have a station set up for a morning activity that 4 students hit each day of the week until all have completed it.  Maybe one iPad is designated for sharing the weather during morning meeting and a different student is in charge of reporting each week.  Help students become more self-aware by creating a status check to display using airplay during writing workshop. Promote confidence and responsibility by creating a student tech team and giving students the job of closing apps, charging devices, updating, assisting the teacher, etc.

These ideas can work whether you have shared iPads, Chromebooks, or other devices.  Once you play around a bit, you will find what works best for you!

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Rethinking the Daily Reading Log

Ever wonder how you can use technology tools to make reading logs more engaging and beneficial to your students without just creating a meaningless substitute for the paper version?  There are actually lots of ways to breathe life into reading logs so they are looked upon as fun and not so much of a chore to fill out each night.  The right kind of reading log (digital or not) can be meaningful for both the student and for the teacher and can tell a lot about who your students are as readers.
  1. Reading logs promote student independence, self awareness, and reflection
  2. They allow students and teachers to see growth over time
  3. They inform the teacher as to whether a book is too hard, too easy, if students are stuck, if they are spending too much time in one book, or if they aren't getting enough time with "eyes on print," etc...
Let's face it, most students don't enjoy writing down the title, author, page numbers, genre, level, etc. every night. It's boring and tedious.  However, some districts require it and we as teachers can tend to feel stuck.  The digital tools I share below can help us give these logs a major facelift.  There are various options and you have less chance of the data being lost or eaten by the family dog (so they say...).  Change things up a bit and you increase motivation because you are adding engaging activities that offer useful information and also add student voice, choice, and the opportunity for purposeful work that will improve reading skills.  Here are some of the possibilities.  I hope they spark some ideas for you!

Google Forms:
If you want to have access to student reading logs and don't mind if students can't easily see their own until you share it with them, Forms is a great option.  You can ask about finished books, have them write little reviews, have them jot an example of a reading strategy, etc. and it all gets collected into a convenient spreadsheet that you can organize by student name, date, etc.  You can share the responses with them as well if you like but this isn't as useful for the littles.  I actually love Forms for reading conferences but that's a whole other blog post...

Google Slides:
I love this option.  If your district requires reading logs and your kids have Google accounts, Slides is the way to go.  Not only can you make it colorful and engaging, but you can have various types of reading activities in one presentation, easily duplicate pages if they need more, and share it in Google Classroom so you can easily access each student's work at any time.


These are both online sites that allow students to log their reading online.  You create the classes and have access to all of the logs.  Students can recommend books, write in their logs, collect awards, and participate in reading challenges.  Check out these short intro videos!

Google Maps:
This type of logging is a lot of fun and adds a global awareness piece too!  Add your books according to the main setting or where the author is from.  Each layer of your map can be a different genre so both you and the students can easily see preferences and/or interests.  Add book cover photos to your pins and text can be mini-reviews, character traits, or a "show what you know" for any reading skill or strategy.  Click on the map below for an example.  The kids love this!

For the littles all the way up to 5th grade, Seesaw is another option.  If you aren't overly concerned about page numbers, students can take photos of their books, record themselves reading a page or two, or talk about the book, and then add it to their journal.  Both parents and teacher can see the books their kids are reading.  You can also create activities if you want to focus on specific skills for a finished book or, if you have editing turned on for your students, weekly logs can be created that can be filled out each night.

Have a great week!

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Don't Eat That Donut! FREEBIE!!

There is rarely a day when I walk into one of my schools and don’t see some sort of snack in the office or workroom. Donuts, cakes, bagels, soft pretzels, etc. It is way too easy to just walk by the table, pick up some delectable little treat, and pop it into my mouth. 
The regret comes later...

It seems that food is at every turn and it isn’t always healthy. In fact, most new teachers gain around 15 pounds in their first year or two of teaching. I'm in my 20th year of being a human yo-yo when it comes to my weight and one of the biggest culprits is my teacher workroom snacking.

This journal is meant to help you whether you want to lose weight, maintain your weight, or just make better choices throughout your work day. It isn’t focused on counting calories and it is not time consuming (because we are busy enough!). I kept it simple. Instead, the focus is on being aware of our food and making better choices. 

Click on any of the page previews below to download this freebie for your device!