Sunday, January 31, 2021

The Expansion of Westward Expansion

As a student, history was never a subject I enjoyed.  In fact, I think I barely passed most of my middle school and high school history classes. (Shocking, I know!)  What I know now is that had I been taught history the way we teach history now (at least at my school) I would have been way more engaged!

Take, for example, the fourth grade Westward Expansion unit.  These kids have spent a solid month digging into all they can find about the topic.  (And they're enjoying it, too!)  Rather than write a final essay on the topic, they are turning their learning into BrainPop movies.

The opening element of all BrainPop movies is the same - a letter from "a friend" to Tim and Moby.  When you make your own BrainPop, it's no different.  Because the students have spent so much time researching, they wrote their own letters, instead of answering one of the pre-written letters supplied.  Their letters probe into the topic they wrote about:

After they completed their letters, we used the computer voice (hey, BrainPop, when are we getting Tim and Annie's voices as options to use?!) to read the letter.  By using the computer voice, the kids writing has to be free from errors - that means capital letters and punctuation must be in proper place.

The same holds true for the rest of their movie.  They copy and paste the text from their typed essay into each scene in BrainPop.  Without proper capital letters and punctuation, the computer voice reads it very, very strangely.  By using the computer voice teachers can tell who used proper writing conventions and who still needs reviewing of those concepts.  All without writing a final draft, but publishing it as a BrainPop instead!

Friday, January 29, 2021

Let's Web-quest!

Sometimes, in my role as ed tech poobah, I get to make really cool activities for teachers to use with their students. This was one of those activities. 

In an epic Mashup of BrainPop and Seesaw, students navigated through a self-paced webquest on Digital Citizenship. Following their previous lesson with me on finding reliable sources online, this webquest dove a little deeper into some of the nooks and crannies in the digital world. 

Since Seesaw added the save as draft feature, it's made it even easier for kids to engage in activities like these, since they no longer need to be completed in one sitting. Because links are now native to Seesaw, it was super easy to link the videos the kids needed to watch directly in the activity. 
If you'd like to get a copy of this Seesaw/Brainpop Mashup, feel free to message me and I'll send the activity link!

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Authors in Action

Wow can those third graders write!  And thanks to Book Creator, their writing is looking very professional in the books on which they are working!

Book Creator makes it very simple to take a piece of writing (or pieces of writing!) and turn them into polished, easily accessible, and engaging (read: you can make them interactive with links and audio!) products.

The third graders have been working hard polishing their writing in Google.  Over the past few weeks they've reviewed adding backgrounds and images and textboxes in Book Creator.  This week we learned how to copy and paste their edited writing from Google into Book Creator.  It never gets old, watching their eyes light up as they see their writing magically appear in a new place!

Through these Book Creator experiences, we also get to talk about the aesthetics of publishing.  We all know how easy it is to get lost in fonts, so we talk about how you want consistency of font style, chapter titles one font across the book, body style consistent, and how readability is key.  Those are some tough choices to make when you're in the heat of your publishing!

The kids add a table of contents, and thanks to the beauty of Book Creator, they can make each chapter in the table of contents linkable to the specific page in the book!

Book Creator offers a completely free option, completely, free!  You get one library with up to 40 books in it!  Great to play around with before you dive into the give-me-more-space-for-more-books-it's-so-much-fun world!

Friday, January 15, 2021

Reliable Sources

I'm starting to realize that I collect tech tools the same way I collect fonts.  I tend to have so many different tools, just in case...

PearDeck is not one of those tools.  PearDeck is used.  A lot.  It's not a "just in case" by any means.  

Be Internet Awesome collaborated with PearDeck to create this ready-to-go digital citizenship program.  It's organized into five different units covering a variety of Dig Cit topics.  And 5th grade kicked off 2021 with a focus on fake... well, really the focus was Don't Fall for Fake.

One of the things I really like about the collaboration is that the PearDeck slides make the content more interactive, especially for people teaching remotely.  The presentations use a variety of ways to get kids interacting with the content.  For example, some of the slides ask them to make a choice and drag an icon to one choice or the other.  Other slides ask them to respond to a question.  Still others ask them to draw or annotate the screen.

Using parts of the different lessons, we worked our way through the unit ending with the world of Interland, which is a Google game that is fantastic for reinforcing the lessons from the Be Internet Awesome program.  Did I mention all this is free?

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Flippin' for Fridays

Fridays are special in the Jewish community because they are the start of Shabbat. Last year, my school started a new tradition, Shabbat Mishpacha, where every Friday morning, the whole school mixes up into multi-grade Shabbat families for activities, community, and shabbat blessings.  COVID may have thrown a wrench into the mixing up into families this year, but it didn't stop the celebrations from happening.

Our rabbi has gotten creative with the activities this year, sometimes incorporating technology into the mix. This week, was Parashat Shemot (I'm still learning all about these Parsha - truly a foreign language to me!) and the directions to students were:
"Even though Moshe was a great leader, he needed help. He needed a push from God to do something that was hard for him.  After you watch the video, share about a time you did something that was hard. What did you do? Who helped you?"
So many of the responses were incredibly thoughtful! So refreshing to see young people sharing thoughts and experiences, reflecting on times of challenge, and appreciating the helpers in their life. All of this was made possible by the ease of Flipgrid - even the kindergarteners were able to share!
"It's easy to ask for help, but sometimes it's difficult in your mindset... it's easy to just ask for help, but it's hard on the inside." - 7th grade student

Thursday, January 7, 2021

What's that? A Wall?

Do you remember that old school dude that used to be on a wall?  His nose and his hands showing over the top of the wall?  

This wall is nothing like that.

This is Wordwall.  Wordwall is unlike any other wall around.

Wordwall is a website where you can create interactives - both printable and online versions!  Those interactives include a maze game reminiscent of Pac Man, Whack-a-mole, and the trusty quiz show, among others. You can create and print bingo boards, name wheels, sorts, quizzes, 14 different printables in the free version!  The free version of the online interactives gives you 18 different options!

What I like best is that you only have to do the data entry once.  By that I mean, you only have to enter the questions and answers, or vocabulary words and definitions one time.  Once you enter that, then you can decide which way to play!  And, if you're so inclined, they have a bunch of different examples you can play with, too!

This week, fourth grade had a tech tip review, and what did we use?  Wordwall!  The kids had three levels to work through, and each level had two ways to play.  After the kids were done playing, the teacher dashboard shows you who answered what, and how well they did.  It's such an engaging assessment, the kids don't even know they're being assessed.

The free version of Wordwall gives you the ability to create 5 different resources, that can be played online in 18 different ways, or printed in 14 different ways.  The standard version is $6 a month and you can create unlimited resources.  The pro version unlocks additional online interactives and printables.  (And as usual, annual plans are discounted over monthly payments!)  Did I mention that Wordwall is available in 26 different languages?  I was introduced to the platform by one of our Hebrew teachers!

If you're looking for an easy way to spice up some basics, pop on over to and see what you can create!