Monday, December 15, 2014


Just ran across this and had to share.  I love this!!


Comment re: the above movie from

In the old days, we rummaged through our parents' garages turning soda cans into hockey pucks, cardboard boxes into magical forts, and bedsheets into magician's capes. We found joy in using our imagination to transform simple and unassuming things into the building blocks of something truly extraordinary.  
Technology runs our world today, and our children are becoming more and more glued to their screens. We want them to grow up not being mere consumers of these digital tools. We need new ways to play that take them beyond the screen. As parents, we want our children to find their own joy in learning and become shapers of their own worlds.
... remember the spark of inspiration you got from that cardboard box or tire swing while you played as a child. 
So here's to creativity. We hope you'll keep exploring with us on this next phase of our journey - helping every child question, think, and create. Every day.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Testing Camera

One of my favorite authors, Peter Reynolds, recently released this short animation.  As with all of his stories, I loved it!  I have, for a long time, felt really badly about the amount of testing that our students go through each year.  It seems as if there are tests every day of the week.  I know many of my colleagues agree with me.  Thinking back to my school days -- I remember tests ... but I remember thinking that school was more than that.  It was fun!  We learned by playing and singing and exploring and creating!  Gone are the days when teachers had plenty of time to provide exploration and creative opportunities for their students.  Moments that allow a student to ENJOY their school experience.

One of the best parts of my job as a computer science teacher in an elementary school is that I don't really have to "test" my students.  I have to assess -- yes.  But, test -- no.  I can assess acquired learning in many ways.  Observation, evaluation of projects, and individual/class discussions are some of my go to strategies.  I know that kids learn in my room.  They learn how to use the computer as a tool and not only as a toy.  They learn to research, to keyboard, to code and to create.  I see it.  I hear it.  I KNOW it.  My classroom -- and the other specials classes they enjoy -- are pretty much the only subjects that they are free to explore, to create, and to question without the looming presence of a cumulative test to worry about at the end of the day.

We have to remember, as educators, that our goal is help our students become life-long learners.  Assessing that learning is important.  It helps us plan and strategize our next steps in the classroom.   I worry, though, that the "picture" our kids see of themselves isn't a truly accurate impression of who they are -- that they are going to be limited or hindered by the "images" that are on those test results.  

Watch the movie.  Encourage your students to respect the value of the test -- but to also see that the results don't define them.  Help them explore.  Find ways for them to create.  Make learning fun.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Hour of Code - Unplugged

As the Hour of Code gets closer -- I'm getting more and more excited.  This year, I am going to incorporate more unplugged activities into my lessons.  I recently took one of the unplugged lessons and made a Google Slides presentation incorporating the main ideas.  I'm attaching a Slideshare of that presentation below.  I start the lesson by defining the word "algorithm".  An algorithm is a list of steps that you can follow to complete a task.  It's fun to ask the kids if they can think of simple algorithms for things we do every day -- brushing our teeth, making a sandwich, etc.

After our introduction discussion, the kids are given a sheet of paper with 6 four-by-four grids (graphs) printed on them (see image below).  They will follow the simple directions (or algorithms) on the slides to create a design by shading in certain squares on their graph paper.  The directions are in the form of visual arrows (left, right, up, down) and a lightning bolt (shade in square).  If they are correct, their four-by-four square will look like the example shown to them at the finish of each activity.

After completing four whole group practice runs, the students are given the opportunity to use one of the two remaining squares to create their own design.  They will then partner with someone and give them verbal directions (left, right, up, down, fill) so that they can copy the design on their last remaining square.

Simple.  Fun.  Engaging.

Happy Coding everyone!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Are you ready for the Hour Of Code??

I am very excited about the upcoming Hour of Code (December 8-December 14, 2014) sponsored by!  Last year, my students LOVED every minute of it -- and I know they are looking forward to it just as much as I am.

I recently attended a full day workshop held in Lincoln, Nebraska on the lessons.  The workshop was led by Dr. Kent Steen and had a great blend of online and "unplugged" activities.  To be honest -- some of my favorite parts were the team activities spent working on the unplugged lessons.  These activities really solidify the learning process of coding and teach the concepts in a very fun and engaging way.

One of the fun activities was the Getting Loopy Dance.  It teaches the concept of Loops using easy-to-learn dance moves.  (If I can do it -- so can you!)  I think it will be a great "brain break" for my kids.  Check out the video highlighting this activity.

The online lessons have taken on a great new look too!  There are the Hour of Code lessons that were available last year -- but they also have a Course 1 for beginning readers and new to coding in grades K-1, Course 2 for students that are readers and in grades 2-5, and Course 3 is a follow-up for those who have completed Course 2 and are in Grades 4-5.

The original Hour Of Code Lessons are still available, too.  There is also a quick set of lessons that teach you how to make your own flappy bird game!

The lessons in all the courses are amazing!  The instructions are easy to follow -- there are video tutorials in between lessons that introduce a new concept -- and there are suggestions for improving codes that are written, but need some tweaking.  If you haven't taken a look -- visit today!!

Check out some of my finished projects!  I know that my game is cool.  Don't be jealous!  :-)  - Sweet Design  - Arrow Control Game - Flappy Bird

Friday, October 24, 2014

Halloween Fun

It's almost that time of year when the kids stop thinking about school and more about what they are going to wear on Halloween -- and more importantly -- how much candy they are going to collect!

As a reward for finishing assignments in class, I have found some great online activities that have a "spooky" feel.  So far, my students have loved them!!  Many are Flash games -- so make sure you have Flash enabled.

For the Littles (Kdg- 2nd) I found some fun activities that help strengthen their drag/drop, language arts, and math skills.  The kids really liked the activities!  Some of our favorites are:

Farmer Fred's Pumpkin Patch - Math
Raking Leaves - Art/Drag/Drop
Pick A Pumpkin - Language Arts
Spooky Sequences

Carve It - Mouse Skills

For my Bigs (3rd-5th), I had them play some of the Escape Games found on the Hooda Math site.  There are tons of great logic/math puzzles focusing on escaping a room, building, or other location.  This sort of cause/effect type game is very popular right now and the kids are loving it.  Some of our favorites are:

Ghost House
Ghost Town
Harvest Festival

Spooky Farm
Corn Maze

What are some of your favorite holiday activities/sites?  I would love to hear about them!

Happy Halloween!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Hour of Code - WORLDWIDE

The Hour of Code is coming .... are you ready???

Check out some of the great new courses that have been designed for Elementary students.  I've worked through some of the lessons and they are great!  I can't wait to share them with my students this year.  Not sure I can wait for December...

Will you join the Hour of Code this year?  What activities are you planning?  I would love to hear about them...


Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Importing and Exporting -- Fun with Photobooth

My students love the PhotoBooth app.  Who doesn't?  An application that allows you to take endless "selfies" and twist, twirl, and warp your face so that you look like something out of a fantasy movie?  PERFECT for a kid of any age!  

Most of the time, my kiddos use the app when they earn some free time after finishing projects -- but we also use it to learn the art of exporting and importing files.  

My Second Graders have recently been working on creating Kid Pix documents that involve them importing 4 images and adding text as captions.  Simple and easy fun for them -- and a project that allows me to assess their skill at exporting/importing as well as text editing (font, color, and size).

First -- we take four selfies showing four different emotions.  I use a word bank on the whiteboard to give ideas of emotions and we do a couple of practice "snaps" to get our face loosened up.  

Second -- we export our four images to the desktop by dragging and dropping them out of the Photo bin and onto the desktop.  I've also had them drag them to a folder with their name on it inside the Student document folder (our local save file) on the hard drive if I want them to keep the images for another use.  

Third -- I provide a simple template in Kid Pix Deluxe that has the screen divided into four quadrants.  Student use the Import-Graphic option in the menu bar and bring in each of the images.  It's a challenge at first -- because Kid Pix brings in the images really big.  Like REALLY big -- and they have to carefully resize and relocate the pictures so that they are inside each of the four areas.  

Fourth -- Once all the pictures are imported, they start adding text boxes with simple captions that state the emotion being shown. 

I ask that each caption be typed grammatically correct and that punctuation is used.  I also ask that they modify the text in at least two ways using the font, color, and size options.  

Yes -- it's an easy activity -- but the kids love it and they are fun to hang up at conference time.

What activities do you do with PhotoBooth?

NOTE:  Apologies for subjecting you all to my images and not sharing some student work.  I figured it would be best to keep their images off a public blog.  You'll have to trust me that their work is much cuter than mine!  :-)

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Get clicking with KidsMouse 3

Kindergarteners -- or as I call them, my "Littles" -- come to the Computer Lab with big, open eyes and excited smiles ready to see what we are going to do each day.  I love hearing the sounds of excitement escape from them as they listen to directions and watch me demonstrate what the new activities look like.  I chuckle to myself as I watch them practically knock each other over as they bolt to their computers, ready to try out the program or website for themselves --- and then sigh in exasperation as many of them start poking at the computer screens with their fingers.   Many of the kids don't think about using the mouse or track pad since they are so used to using an iPad or other touch screen device.

The Curse of the Tablet has struck again.  Dun dun dunnnnn........

Because of this, I'm always on the lookout for fun and exciting activities to teach mousing skills to the Littles.  I've found some great ones over the years, but one of my favorite finds is the KidsMouse application.  This easy-to-use program reinforces the click and drag concept with fun activities that also strengthen language arts, math, and other skills.  You can download and sample the program using their Free Trial.  You can only play about 8 of the 22 activities in the free trial -- but you will at least get a taste of how easy and fun it will be for your students.  If you like what you see, you can buy it for individual computers at $15.00 per device.  I chose to use part of my yearly budget and paid for school-wide license for $150.00!  That is an amazing deal for the number of activities you get in this one program.

Page one of three Kidsmouse activity pages
One of the best things about this is the positive reward of a happy dog wagging its tail when the Little solves a puzzle or completes a task.  They learn that if they don't see this, they have something to fix.

Activities like the ABC Puzzle help with alphabet recognition and order.  The activity focuses on both upper case and lower case letters.  I love that there is an easy level (figure 1) and a challenge level (figure 2).   The Littles always tell me that the easy level is super easy -- but they have a "woah" moment when they try the challenge level.  When they get to this level, I start hearing the ABC song start to be sung by 23 different kids -- each one starting at a different time.

figure 1 - ABC Puzzle (easy)
figure 2 - ABC Puzzle (challenge)

As the school year progresses and more and more Sight Words are learned, I like to introduce the Missing Word (figure 3) activity.  This puzzle provides each Little with a picture of an easily recognized animal or non-living item.  They then have to drag missing letters to spell out the word.

figure 3 (Missing Word)

Other favorites are the math activities that strengthen counting and sorting.  In Color Ball (figure 4), the Littles drag colored balls into the appropriate area focusing on the number of balls required to move on to the next level.

figure 4 - Color Ball

In Number Puzzle, there is an easy level and challenge levels.  In the easy level students click and drag numbers to their matching shadow -- much like the ABC puzzle.  The challenge activity (figure 5) requires the Little to count items and find the number that matches.  

figure 5 - Number Puzzle

In version 3.2 of KidsMouse there are 22 activities that help strengthen mousing skills while focusing on core learning abilities.  Geography, Geometry, Patterns, and Drawing --- all of them fun and engaging.  

Check them out for yourself!!

Monday, September 8, 2014

International Dot Day - coming September 15ish

I love Peter Reynold's book, "The Dot".  (In fact, I love ALL his books.)  I'm a proud member of the Dot Club.  If you aren't familiar with "The Dot", it's a wonderfully empowering story about a little girl named Vashti, who felt she couldn't draw.  With a little nudge from her Art teacher, she not only becomes an artist who is unafraid to "make her mark" -- but helps to motivate others to find the creativity within themselves.

Each year, on September 15-ish, students at my school, along with countless others around the world, celebrate International Dot Day.  We wear dots on our clothes and we paint dots with watercolors, draw them with crayons, and color dots with markers -- but we also create using our computers.  For my "littles" it's a great way to introduce our drawing program, Kid Pix Deluxe.

I love using this book as an introduction to Kid Pix Deluxe for my "littles" because, many times they have trouble clicking and dragging to create the lines on the page.  They get frustrated.  They don't believe that what they are drawing is good enough.  I remind them that Vashti kept trying -- she experimented with color and size.  She was BRAVE (see my Brave post from August 20)!!

We talk about the drawing tools and the different options to create dots.  We explore what the pencil lines look like compared to the chalk, crayon, and marker lines.  We learn how to change the color.  We experiment with the size tool.  We draw dots freehand.  We practice clicking and dragging to use the Circle Tool.

LARGE DOTS, little dots, overlapping dots, see-through dots....ALL kinds of dots.

After the kiddos have created their masterpiece, we print them out and they sign them.  These masterpieces join the countless others lining the hallways of my school in celebration of Dot Day.  My kids learn early that they have the power within to MAKE THEIR MARK!

What will you do to make your mark in the world?

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

All Hands on (Pear) Deck!

One of my favorite new finds this summer is Pear Deck!  My friend Susan from The Digital Scoop and I were blown away when we saw this web tool used this summer at the Great Plains Google Summit.  Pear Deck allows you to plan and create interactive lessons for your classroom.  Slides can be created directly in Pear Deck or imported from your Google Drive presentations.   You can create slides that are content driven in which students are seeing only what you want or interactive slides where kids can move a marker to certain areas (draggable) to show understanding or provide instant feedback to a question (multiple choice or free response).  The best part is all of your Pear Decks are stored in your Google Drive!  You can even import pre-existing PowerPoint and Presentations directly into Pear Deck as PDF's.

Students will need a device (computer, tablet, phone) with an internet connection and the unique student code to access the deck. They simply go to and type in the code and then wait for the teacher to begin the presentation.  As the teacher progresses through each slide, the images on the students device change as well.  

Teachers project the Classroom view on whatever display is in the room.  What's fun about this is when each student chooses an answer or moves the draggable dot to certain areas of the screen -- all answers show up on the Classroom view while the student only sees their response.  Instant feedback!  Great opportunities for discussion!

I have used Pear Deck as an introduction and review of classroom procedures, content review of various skills and programs used in the computer lab, and am happily creating more and more!  The students LOVE them and it's a great way to get quick data on how much students are understanding and retaining.  

Pear Deck is now in Public Beta and available to any Google Apps users using the Chrome browser.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Be Brave!

Be Brave

The new rule in my classroom.  Be Brave.  
Dream.     Create.      Dare.      Risk.      Plan.       Build.

Be. Brave! 

Last week was the start of school in my district.  I spend the first rotation (five days of 27 different classes) going over expectations, rules, and procedures.  Over the years, my rules haven’t changed much, so my “littles” (a.k.a. Students) were surprised when I said I had a new one for them.  Can you imagine the reaction I got when I said my new rule was “Be Brave”?  Exactly what you thought — silence.  Confused silence.  So — I asked them to give me the definition of the word brave.  

I got some great answers:  To not be afraid.  To be strong.  To be powerful.  Merida from “Brave” was Brave!  Yah, but so was Elsa from “Frozen”!  My grandpa is brave — he fought in a war.  

I loved the answers I was getting.  But then — one of my more vocal students asked “What does being brave have to do with Computer class”?  This question was followed by a few gasps and even more giggles.

This is the answer I had in my head:  Over the years I have seen kids (and many adults) become complacent in their lives.  We have become list makers and checkers.  Our mantra is to do what’s on the list and nothing more.  I blame that on time.  We are all so busy with everything life throws at us.  I know that there isn’t nearly enough time in my day to get everything I want to get done even STARTED — let alone finished.  It’s got to be the same for our kids who are going to school all day and then seem to have another days worth of activities filling their night.  Soccer, dance, piano, homework, art class, taekwondo, church….the list can go on forever.  It’s so easy for us to not stretch ourselves beyond what we have to do.  I also blame this on the fact that our kids are being tested and tested and tested……and tested again.  Many students are so “test stressed” that school isn’t fun.  It’s not a place where they feel they CAN make a mistake…. a place where they can be brave and explore and question….a place that will allow them to find not just the quickest answer — but maybe the most creative or FUN answer.  

This is the answer I gave to the class:  Because I want you all to NOT be afraid to try your hardest.  Because I want you go beyond what is expected and do the extraordinary.  Because I want you to not be afraid to try — even if you fail — because that is how we learn.  Because thinking outside the box is FUN!  Because coloring outside the lines is even MORE fun!  Because I believe in you.  Because I know you can do remarkable and wonderful and amazing things if YOU believe in yourself and are Brave.  

Eyes were wide open everywhere.  Smiles on all the faces.  Not a peep in room.  They listened to my words….but more importantly, I think they HEARD what I said.  

One of my “littles” said we should pinky swear to all be Brave.  So we did.  A pinky swear is serious business.  We will be brave in my classroom this year.

NOTE:  The inspiration for this new rule came from a dear friend of mine who is challenging herself to do some amazing things.  She calls it the Brave Project.  I think she is a pretty amazing person already — but I can’t wait to see how wonderful she is after she experiences and conquers all the challenges she sets before herself, and becomes even more brave than she already is.  I believe in you, Lynne!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Google's Free Lesson Plans

Today while scanning my Twitter feed I ran across a post that sparked my interest.  A couple of clicks later and I found a sortable collection of lesson plans -- all focusing on Google Apps!  Over the past few years, Google has really vested a lot of their interest and time into Education and the result is a collection of THOUSANDS of lessons.....all sortable by Google product, subject, and age!  ALL FREE!!

I'm looking forward to spending lots of time exploring this for the upcoming year!  Why reinvent the wheel, right?

Ways To Sort
By Google Product
  • Apps
  • Apps+
  • Apps & Earth
  • Blogger
  • Computer Science 4 High School
  • Digital Literacy
  • Docs / Drive
  • Exploring Comp Thinking
  • Fusion Tables
  • Google Earth
  • Google Lit Trips
  • Multiple
  • Science Fair
  • Search
  • Sites
  • Sketchup
  • YouTube
By Subject
  • Fine Arts
  • Social Studies
  • Language Arts
  • Science
  • Math
  • Computer Science
  • Research
  • Physics
  • Computer Design
  • History – Social Sciences
By Age
  • Ages 0-6
  • Ages 7-12
  • Ages 13-18
  • Ages 15-18

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

ESU 5 Tech Fair Presentation - June 2014

Today, my friend and colleague, Susan, and I had the opportunity to share our Google Drive: It's Elementary presentation with some great educators at the ESU 5 Tech Fair in Beatrice, Nebraska.  We had a great crowd in our session and had a wonderful time sharing.

Make sure to check out the QR Code and link at the end of the presentation that will take you to a Google Drive Folder filled with great project ideas and templates that use all of the Google Apps for Education.  Enjoy!  #esu5TF2014  #GAFE

Friday, June 20, 2014

Are you a DCT?

Friday night and I am home in my recliner reading tweets, news feeds, and blogs looking for that next cool app, thought, or web 2.0 tool.  Good times, right?

One of the good reads I found was on the Daily Genius.  This is a new blog for me and if you aren't familiar with the Daily Genius -- check them out on the web, Twitter, or Facebook.

The post focused on being a Digitally Competent Teacher -- a DCT!  It spoke specifically of the characteristics of a digitally competent teacher -- and not just a teacher with digital "skills".  I think this is an important distinction to point out -- since I think many times we become so enamored with the technology that we forget how to best utilize it to aid and enhance our students learning.   The best part of the blog was the really easy-to-read infographic they shared -- so I am sharing it with you!

Are you a DCT?

Thank you Daily Genius for this great visual!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Twenty-one PBS Kids apps -- Free Today!

If you are like me -- then you are always looking for the best apps to use with your students.  One of my favorite go-to sites to find great FREE apps is  If you sign up, you get daily emails highlighting some of the greatest educational apps out there that are free, inexpensive, or free for a limited time.

Here is a highlight from todays email :

Click here for a direct link to the page.  You can select whichever app strikes your fancy and you will be redirected to iTunes App Store.

Happy Downloading!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Who needs an Hour of Code --- Let's do a Summer of Code!!

We are in the midst of the last few days of school in my district.  Projects are being completed, final assessments are given,...and, let's be honest, the kids are starting to shut down.  Right?  During the last rotation of Computer classes, I always give my kids the chance to put the finishing touches on any project that needs to be completed.  If they happen to be finished with everything they get the chance to free choice!  Usually this means that kids are tunnel-visioned on Super DX Ball or messing around on some of the fun websites I've curated on our school website -- especially the last week of school.

Not this year.  They are coding!

We, like many around the country, participated in the Hour of Code in December 2013.  We were even privileged with the opportunity to participate in a Tech Titan web chat with Susan Wojcicki, one of the senior VP's of Google.    We have done coding before, but I was amazed at how quickly the kids took to the tutorials and lessons on the website.  Even after our lessons ended and we loved in to other skills, my students continued to go back to those activities whenever they had a free moment....even during the last few days of school.

So,'s your summer assignment!  Show me what you can do with the following Code-centric apps and sites.  If you create something cool and amazing...share it with me!   I'll be checking my email from beside the pool!  Happy Summer!


Cargo-Bot (Free)
Tynker (Free and Paid)
Kodable (Free and Paid)
Daisy the Dinosaur (Free)
Move the Turtle (2.99)
Hopscotch (Free)