Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Digital Book Clubs: Cross-Country Literature Discussions

My journey with Digital Book Clubs all started because I responded to an EdTechTeam Community post on Google Plus. Deanna Hussey, fourth grade teacher from Esquire Elementary School posted, “Are there any 4th grade teachers who'd be interested in doing global/cross country book clubs? I need some new way to motivate my students to read and have some accountability. I'm in Washington State and have a class of 23.” The thought of starting Digital Book Clubs at my small school in Wisconsin intrigued me, so I quickly emailed to talk more to Deanna about this unique idea. This started our journey of creating an experience students would never forget.

Reading Groups Created by Reading Level
To create Digital Book Clubs successfully was a lot of behind the scenes work. The first thing we did was approve this idea by our principals. Once we got the okay to move forward, we split up our students based on reading level. We created six groups with about 3-5 students in each group. We then developed a Google Sheet with students names, student emails, and reading level for each group. This organization helped when sharing documents and working throughout the school year.

‘Get To Know You’ Day
Before introducing the idea to our students we provided them with a Get To Know You Day. Deanna and I started a Google Hangout that connected my class to hers and we had students ask any question they wanted. Some inquired about the geographic differences between our hometowns, football teams, school size, or even favorite ice cream flavors! The conversations were important in creating a open and safe climate between our two classes. When we were done with the Hangout, we gave each student a “buddy” to learn more about that was in their group. The students shared and answered questions to learn more about this student. The students had a BLAST with this Get To Know You Day and we were all excited for what more was to come. That day I sent home a Digital Book Club information sheet to parents and they were thrilled with their child being able to participate in this experience.

Pick Great Books!
Each group at a different reading level received their own book to read. When we picked out books for each group, we had to think about student interest and books that we knew students would love to read. Then, we created a planner for each book sectioning off each part of the book. This planner would help keep Deanna and I organized and be handed out to the students in each group to let the kids know what section of the book we would like to read and by what day.

One-to-One Check ins
Throughout each week I met with each student independently and check that they are reading the selection of text required. These meetings usually last about two or three minutes. The check in times are a way for me to prepare students for our discussion and check for appropriate comprehension. While students read, they are asked to come up with at least three flags (post-its) filled with questions, comments, ideas, things they noticed, etc. These flags are vital for our conversation during the Google Hangouts.

Discussion Day
Deanna and I normally only have one or two groups discuss on each day. Students and their teacher gather around a computer with their books and flags. Then, we have used Google Hangouts to facilitate a connection across the country and discuss the text. They use their 10-12 minute block of time to discuss anything they would like in the text. My students have a list of conversational moves above my reading table that they can use to foster discussion. For the majority of the time, the teachers are quiet facilitators of the discussion, however, at times there are necessary prompting to help focus our discussion. At the end of our discussion, we go over the text for next time. Students have absolutely LOVED this experience. I have groups that are so excited about talking with the group that they are meeting before every Discussion Day just to prepare what they would like to say to our reading buddies in Washington!

Write About the Text
Directly after our discussion, students are asked to answer a writing prompt about the text. This writing prompt is on a shared Google Document and sent to all students. We set it up this way because we want students to continue collaborating and discussing electronically. Students are allowed to use the comment feature to respond to others’ response to the question. Here is an example of the way we set up these written responses.

These Digital Book Clubs have been an amazing experience for my students. Becoming connected with a school across the country has inspired each student to read, talk, collaborate, discuss and write about what they’ve read like they have never before.

Reach out to me if you would like more information about our Digital Book Clubs!

Christine Perkins
Purdy Elementary School
Fort Atkinson, WI
Mrs. Perkin's Classroom Website

Want to set up your own cross-country literature discussion or connect with other educators across the globe? Join Christine and others on the EdTechTeam Global Community!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Area of Shapes Scavenger Hunt via Google Slides

Geometry is one of my favorite units to teach. In this unit, there are so many ways to create lessons, activities, and projects that are easily aligned to the real world. I’m not saying that is not the case for other units but I do have to get a little creative when we start working with advanced operations with exponents.

In the past, I have done many different activities and projects with my students, such as:

*Calculating the circumference and area of doughnuts.
*Designing cities based upon geometric figures and terms.
*Creating and designing Pythagorean Theorem spirals.
*Measuring and labeling (with chalk) the dimensions of objects around school, as well as calculating the perimeter and area of these objects.

…and more!

All of those activities/projects have been great because they have been engaging to students. Especially, the doughnut one – which I will continue to do this year. I mean, who doesn’t love to eat doughnuts in class? However, I wanted to find a way to allow students the opportunity to explore the perimeter and area of these shapes in the real world.

The last activity that I listed was one of my favorites. The students really enjoyed exploring the shapes that were outside of our classroom. In fact, some of them found some very creative ways to form shapes from multiple objects. This year, I decided that the best way for the students to document their work was to create a digital Slide Deck documenting the shapes that they have found, as well as calculating the perimeter and area of these shapes.

Click HERE to create your own copy of the Slide Deck.

The idea behind this “scavenger hunt” is simple. Students will:

*Explore the campus to find and take pictures of the given shapes.
*Document the dimensions (length/width, radius/diameter) of the shape.
*Upload the image into the Slide Deck.
*Calculate the perimeter and area.

That’s it!

Although my students have not completed this activity, I will be posting some of their projects once they have completed their Slide Deck. Within the Slide Deck, I have given examples and instructions to get you and your students started. As always, feel free to reach out to me with any questions or if you plan on using this activity. I love to hear from other teachers when they use these projects to give me ideas on how to modify it for future teachers and students.

Re-posted from

Meagan Kelly
Math & AVID Teacher
Team Technology Leader
Hesperia, California
Twitter: @meagan_e_kelly

Monday, April 24, 2017

Students at the Forefront: Blended Learning & Math

Math seems to be at the forefront of many districts’ agendas. With the Common Core State Standards launching in 2009 and textbook publishers having to recreate their curriculums, many districts were left with their teachers having to come up with their own curriculum that met the new state standards. Luckily, the publishers have caught up and we are back to being able to adopt a Common Core aligned math program. In my district, I was one of the many teachers that chose to pilot a few different curriculums.

However, like many schools these days, our district is moving farther away from traditional teaching methods in which we teach specific subjects at specific times (which is what the curriculum publishers supply us with) and is instead encouraging us to teach in a more blended learning/project based learning approach. Blended learning combines digital methods and traditional teaching methods in which the teacher is present, but the students have more control over the pace in which they learn. Project Based Learning is when students work to answer a question, problem or challenge over an extended period of time. In addition, when incorporating technology into our curriculum we keep the SAMR Model at the forefront of our minds so that we know the technology that is being used is meaningful and transformational in our students learning.

While finishing up a recent graphing unit in second grade, my teaching partner and I decided to put the scripted curriculum aside and relate our students knowledge to a real life question that affects every student in our school…”What is your favorite spirit day?” Yes, I know, a hugely important topic in the age of a five to ten year-old. Needless to say, their engagement in the topic was impressive.

First we had to decide what the choices of our survey would be, which included past spirit days and new ones the students had never even heard of (i.e. twin day...spoiler alert, it was a huge hit.) After the students voted on the final four choices they worked in groups to visit classrooms around our school to gather data with tally marks. When returning to the classroom the students turned their data into a hand drawn bar graph, pictograph, and line graph. Our main goal though was to see what the entire school voted as their favorite spirit day and with that, we needed to combine our data.

I took the students data and created a Google Sheet with each of the individual classroom’s data. This information was sent to all the students through Google Classroom for the students to view. The students logged into their Google Classroom accounts on their iPads and began to calculate the total number of students per grade level and the total number of votes for each choice.

A second sheet was also sent to the students through Google Classroom with a copy made for each student where they would log their very own tabulations for the total number of votes and number of students for each grade level. After they finished and submitted their sheet, I was able to individually assess the students on their totals before we went over the results as a class.

After the students finished their totals and we went over the results as a class, as well as all the different methods students used to be able to solve the problems, they took the final data and created hand drawn bar graphs based on both grade level specific results and entire school results.

With this project there is a wide range of ideas you could give students who finish early. Early finishers were first given the task of totaling the entire school’s results by taking all the individual grade level data and totaling it up. Further ideas include using the data to create graphs within Google Sheets itself, after they had drawn their bar graphs so as to check their hand drawn graph against a technology created graph. Finally, students could work collaboratively in a Google Slides project to present their data to the school during a whole school assembly, or in our case, as a suggestion, supported with data, for our student council.

Ann-Marie Skaggs has been teaching elementary school in the San Francisco Bay Area since 2005. She has received her Masters in Education in Curriculum and Instruction from Dominican University. Her passion lies with technology in education. She is an Apple Teacher and a General Board Member of North Bay CUE. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @TeacherSkaggs and on her blog at

Friday, April 21, 2017

Educators Guide for Designing a Makerspace

Over the past few years, I have had the privilege of leading a team to create a makerspace in leading international schools across the globe.

Main goal of creating an educational makerspace “the Innovation Lounge” has been to support and encourage students with hands-on learning, multi-disciplinary collaboration, design, development, invention and innovation as they meaningfully engage in STEAM activities.

Makerspaces, Genius Bars, Idea Booths and Fab Labs are mushrooming all over the world. Consequently, educators around the world are exploring various options to encourage student collaboration and creative thinking by designing Makerspaces in their institutes. This is a quick guide for all the fellow educators interested in designing a best suited makerspace for their own institution.

Where to design a makerspace?
Identify a some physical space in your learning environment to engage students. Makerspace doesn't have to be a fancy room full of various equipments. It has to be a safe space with easy accessibility where students can tinker, collaborate and communicate freely. Think about how you can convert an extra room in the school, libraries, unused breakout spaces in the corridor, courtyards or even a corner in your classroom into an exciting learning space.

Who are the users of maker space?
While designing the makerspace always remember your students are your main audience. Ask yourself these simple questions while developing your makerspace.

  • Is it safe for children?
  • Will it encourage independent learning for students?
  • Will the students collaborate and communicate during the project creation?
  • Is it an engaging and enjoyable learning environment?

If the answer to all these questions are yes then you are on the right track.

It is also quite rewarding to open the doors of your makerspace to fellow colleagues, parent community and other educators. Makerspaces play a great host to events such as parent coffee mornings, student conferences, parent teacher meetings, parent workshops and professional development session for educators.

How to design a makerspace?
Designing a makerspace is a collaborative effort. Ensure the involvement of Leadership Team, estates team, IT Support team and school community during various stages of planning and development of the project.

Visiting other makerspaces also crystallizes your thinking and vision about goals and expectations you have from your own makerspace. Whether you are seeking help from the parents body, volunteers or professional architects for designing and layout of your makerspace, it is a good idea to provide them with list of resources and furniture you are expecting in the makerspace. These details are very helpful for creating specific electricity points, data points or simply arranging the furniture ensuring the space is well used, functional and child friendly.

What resources to have in the makerspace?
It is a common misconception that makerspaces are fund guzzlers. It definitely does not hurt to have a latest 3D printer or a robotic kit in the learning area however think about common materials such as cardboard, ice cream sticks, blu tack, feathers, scissors, tape, aluminium foil, plastic water bottles, crayons, paintbrushes and colours to get the creativity flowing. For more technology focused makerspace the following list of resources might be useful.

  • Bee bots
  • Dash and Dot
  • Makey makey kits
  • Sphero balls
  • Ollie
  • Big Trak
  • Arduino kits
  • Lego EV3 Mindstorm kits
  • Osmo Kits (Coding, Words, Numbers, Tangram, Monster, Newton and Masterpiece
  • Tiggly Kits (Word, Numbers and shapes)
  • LightUp Kits
  • Little Bits
  • Green Screen
  • MakerBot
  • 3D printer
  • Xbox Kinect
  • Child Friendly headphones such as BuddyPhones
  • Promethean Active Tables
  • Display TV screens
  • iPads
  • MacBooks
  • Apple TV
  • Short Throw Projectors

These resources will get your makerspace off to a good start. However, never shy away from having a wish list to further improve teaching and learning in your makerspaces. Virtual reality and augmented reality tools such as Microsoft HoloLense and Google Cardboard are currently topping my wish list.

Finally, which ways to keep student engagement ongoing?
Student engagement is an ongoing process. Make efforts to keep students engaged or better yet let students take the lead. Make a group of interested students and tap into this talent. Create peer groups such TechWiz, Innovators and Genius Guides to keep “ Student Leadership in Technology “ alive.

Run weekly professional development sessions for interested teachers with “Tech Tuesdays” or “Fab Fridays”. Develop common understanding of expectations and set a few rules to follow in the makerspace.

Receive feedback and try to improve with evolving needs of your students. Learning Forward Makerspaces are unique to each school and to its learning environment. These questions support development and planning of makerspaces keeping in mind specific requirements and needs of students. No matter what resources you use, learning by doing remains the main focus of all educational makerspaces.

Mayuri Ambule
Apple Educational Trainer
Apple Distinguished Educator
Google Certified Innovator
Common Sense Certified Educator

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Word Silhouette Project with iPad

I love providing students with the chance to express themselves and dig deeper into what makes them special people. In this project, we are taking an old concept and redefining it with technology. Using multiple applications to create a dynamic perspective of student identity.

A few years back I wrote a book highlighting this fun project, which is available in iBooks Express Yourself: The Art of Me. The original project utilized Mac and iPad, but I have changed it up to use iPad only for classrooms that may only have access to iPads. Hope you enjoy version 2 of this very fun and engaging project. I have divided this project into three parts: inspiration, application, and publication.


The project begins with students writing adjectives to describe their classmates. They wrote these words on paper taped to each other’s backs so they couldn’t see. Once they took the papers off, students were able to see how others see them. Smart, funny, confident, athletic, caring, sensitive, hard worker, kind, brave, and creative were just a few words to describe some of my amazing students. After reading the words, I asked students to circle five words which were their favorite. We set the papers aside and began the second part of this project.


Camera App: The first step to this project is taking a profile photo in front of a white or other solid colored wall. This will make it easier to create the silhouette. Remind students to stand so their profile is showing. They can also add a fun pose with their arms away from their bodies.

Drawing Pad: Next, students open up the app, Drawing Pad. They insert their profile photo and use the tools to carefully paint black over their photo to create a silhouette. Once they have painted over their entire picture, they can choose a background color. This will enhance how their photo appears once imported into Wordfoto. Students will save their creations to the camera roll for the next part.

Wordfoto: After opening Wordfoto, students will import their silhouette photo. They will tap on the text button and type in the five favorite words they chose. Next, they will see their words beautifully expressed on their silhouette. Students can change the font, colors, styles, and experiment with fine-tuning their image to their liking. Save this to the camera roll.

Visual steps:

What next? PUBLISH!
Don’t let the images die on the iPad! SHARE these! Here are some ideas:

  • Have students Airdrop their pictures to one iPad or computer and create a video with all of the photos.
  • Have students do a voiceover on their individual photos and read their words.
  • Publish this video and share with the world!
  • Create a photo slideshow and share!
  • Print photos and display in hallway of the school.
  • Send photos to parents. I’ve done this and several parents had these photos blown up and framed to put in their child’s room.
  • Make a collage of photos and share on social media

Final project examples:


Express Yourself: The Art of Me:
Drawing Pad:

April Requard
Apple Distinguished Educator
Instructional Technology Consultant
Instructional Technology Teacher
Albuquerque Public Schools
Author and Speaker Blog:
Twitter: @AprilRequard

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

How to Smashboard

So What Exactly Is a Smashboard and How Do I Create My Own?

In my last EdTeachTeam blog post I shared why I use Smashboards and in this post I would like to share in more detail what a Smashboard is, how my students are using them and how to create your own. To start, let me state that a Smashboard is all of the following:

  • An interactive graphical board that can be teacher led or self-guided by students
  • A game board design which encourages progression towards an end goal
  • Full of attention-getting icons and graphics where all icons on the board are clickable

So I know what you're asking, is a Smashboard just a glorified HyperDoc? Well, yes, a Smashboard is every bit a HyperDoc with some additional twists! Smashboards are HyperDocs that utilize a game board design and involves appsmashing to encourage critical thinking and creativity as part of the product development process. Additionally, I only assign work that involves #thinkopen applications, namely, apps that are cost-effective and cross-platform so any teacher can replicate them without hinderance.

In summary, all Smashboards are Hyper Docs but not all Hyper Docs are designed to be Smashboards. Get it now?

So How Do Students Use Smashboards?

Practically speaking, students begin by being given access to the Smashboard via Google Classroom or a shortened link. I always share my boards in fullscreen mode as a way to eliminate distraction and for aesthetic purposes. I will share more on that later.

Given a timeline for the final project, and typically a timer to complete daily work, the students progress from a starting point and complete a series of steps that conclude with a unique end product. These are simple rules I share with my students, note, they are simply the explanations of the icons found in the Legend section of the board:

  1. Open ...We always start with the Problem.  Return to this often to be reminded about the purpose of this project.
  2. Open ...Key Concepts are the lecture notes, or formal presentation materials that are either given in advance, or can be referenced independently.
  3. File:Lol question mark.png - Wikimedia CommonsCreative Apps will soon be added to increase the fun. Maybe the icon is a direct link to a new app. Maybe it’s a link to a certain app, or possibly a digital app randomizer that links to something you’ve never tried before.  Be on the lookout for this icon being replaced with something new!
  4. Basketball Basket, Basket ...We Set Goals together. When you see this icon, we will collaboratively agree on what the minimum expectations are for this project and create the Doc for reference.
  5. Lifesaver - Free images on PixabayIf you see a Help icon,  it is there to help you understand what to do with an app. If you don’t know what to do at any given step, you can also suggest that the teacher add a Help link for clarity.
  6. Original ...Design & Do is exactly what it sounds like. Get to work! This may link to a  template or a Google Classroom assignment. You may see this icon multiple days in a row. Work, work, work, work!
  7. Check Mark, Check Box, Green, ...Peer Review is a must. This icon will point to a rubric based on the collaborative goals previously set.
Newspaper, Read, News ... Finally, we Publish, so I tell my students to make their product great!

How to Design Your Board

If you're ready to get started, use this mini board template and feel free to make any changes you like. Whatever you do, continuously ask your students for feedback on how to design the board better so that the expectations are clear and the activities are truly engaging. You will notice on the left hand side there are several icons that link to a digital randomizer for the different types of apps. If you want to know what kinds of apps these icons link to, see the speaker notes at the bottom. You can use these randomizers, or DigiDice as I like to call them, or you can change them to directly link out to a specific app. It’s your choice, you’re the game maker!

Some of my boards are completely full of icons from start to finish, some are revealed one step at a time on a daily basis, some involve lots of student choice, some are limited to pre-selected options. No matter how I design my boards, I inevitably make several changes, and only consider them a finished product after they have been student-tested.

Most recently, I have been making the editable version of the board visible to the students and we develop the board together. My students were proud of our collaboratively created Anti-bullying Campaign board, as you can see below. Here is the link if you would like to explore it for yourself.

My 4th Grade Advisory students at Charlotte Lab School are so engaged in Smashboards now, they decided to challenge one another on designing their own boards.

Additional Recommendations

I highly recommend using a single slide in Google Slides to create your pathways using block shapes. You should not feel limited to a square board or square spaces for that matter, I just think it's a good start since it's a familiar design that requires little explanation on how to progress from start to finish. After you and your class get comfortable with the basic concept, you can creatively branch out from there. For instance, a colleague of mine impressed me recently with her curvilinear progression design to study Hurricanes. You can see her work in progress here. Also see this fantastic Digital Breakout board from Meagan Kelly using Google Drawings.

A final but important tip I recommend is to publish all hyperlinks to make sure everything is accessed in full screen. Alternatively, a trick I have learned is to simply replace the tail end of the url from “edit” to “preview” so that my formatting is maintained and if I want to restrict viewing access to only those I have shared the docs with or only within my school domain. Either way, fullscreen is the way to go to eliminate distraction.

I honestly didn't know if the idea of Smashboards would stick, but I have to gush a little- it's working! I invite you to join the fun and submit your designs with the HyperDocs Community and social media using #smashboard.

Dee Lanier
Google Apps Cert.
Trainer & Innovator
Charlotte, NC