iPad Best Practices and Project Ideas

Whether your district is a 1:1 iPad device environment or, like mine, you have only a handful per classroom, this presentation will hopefully give you insight into making iPad usage more meaningful. I’m very happy to see that educators are moving away from consumption based activities and are now allowing students to create products that demonstrate understanding. Apps like Seesaw and Doink have been a real game changer for my campuses. Documenting the learning process, communicating with parents, and ditching worksheets have all contributed to improving the teaching craft. I read a blog post not too long ago from EdTechTeam that described 6 ways to transform learning with the iPad. I turned it into a PD for my campuses and included built in iOS features that they might not be familiar with. Feel free to use the resource below and please add additional ideas in the comments section. 

Stuff That Rocks for the Week of January 13

RIP Rock the Lab. I decided last year to no longer maintain the site because of the time it took away from my personal life. The archived version that I moved to this blog had outdated resources and broken links, so I made the decision to permanently remove the site. However, I do want to continue to provide you with all of the content I was either making myself or curating from other content creators on the web. Stuff That Rocks will be a weekly post that shares inspirational lessons or tools that can support engagement and interactive lesson design. Check out 5 things I found recently that will hopefully rock your week.

The embedded presentation below is from a site called genial.ly. It. Is. So. Cool. Click on each number to see the content. If the font is too small to read as is, click on the 3 dots in the bottom right corner to make it full screen.

Rock Your December

As we welcome a new month, the Featured Lessons page on Rock the Lab gets some new December Bling. There are multiple engaging lessons that allow students to practice various technology skills, core content learning objectives and have a little fun to boot. Just click on Rock the Lab in the main navigation toolbar and then click on the December button under the Featured Lessons Section. 


I highly recommend you preview the lessons before using them with students so you can decide on your workflow. Assigning them through Google Classroom might be your best bet. That way students don’t have to share the activity with you and your email inbox will be quite pleased. Let me know how it goes in the comment section. Merry Techmas!

2019 Hour of Code

Hour of Code will be celebrated during the week of December 9-15. I recently updated my HOC choice board you can use with your students. Code.org® is a nonprofit dedicated to expanding access to computer science in schools and increasing participation by women and underrepresented minorities. Their vision is that every student in every school has the opportunity to learn computer science, just like biology, chemistry or algebra. This resource begins with videos of actual coders in the field discussing how computer science has a huge impact on our world. Students can choose to follow the fundamental courses that are designed for each grade level (K-5) or choose some of the other coding games like Harry Potter, Minecraft, or Dance Party. The last resource is a site where you can type your students’ names and print participation certificates. 

Click here to open the presentation choice board.


Creating a SMART Command Center

SMART Boards can be so much more than an expensive display for your projected desktop image or something underneath a document camera. They have the potential to provide students with the opportunity to engage with content, facilitate task management, and promote an interactive learning space for both whole and small group instruction. Below are some easy ways to create a “SMART Command Center” for your classroom.

  1. Classroomscreen.com: This is a simple website that will help you facilitate any lesson you are teaching throughout the day. Think of it as control central for managing time and responsibilities. You can read more about Classroom Screen in my previous blog post.
  2. Annotate PDFs using SMART Ink Document Viewer: View PDF files with the SMART Ink Document Viewer and use SMART Ink to annotate over them. What makes this so great is that the digital ink layer stays in place as your document scrolls up and down.
  3. Quick Formative Assessments Using SMART LAB Activities: Gamify your exit tickets with these quick activities that make checking for understanding fun and engaging.
  4. Take Attendance and Lunch Count: Check out this curated list of already created Notebook files for each month
  5. Use your SMART Board as a station for Flipped Instruction: You can create a recorded lesson using the SMART recorder or students can use the SMART recorder to make their thinking visible!
  6. Flippity Skip the Spreadsheet: Create random name generators and word games without having to use a Spreadsheet
  7. Badge Tracker: This free tool allows you to award and display classroom badges.
  8. Bouncy Balls This site uses your computer’s microphone to monitor the noise level of your classroom.
  9. Go Noodle: GoNoodle helps teachers and parents get kids moving with short interactive activities. Desk-side movement helps kids achieve more by keeping them engaged and motivated throughout the day.
  10. Display a Learning Menu: Give students choice as to how they apply their newly acquired knowledge. (From Kasey Bell)
  11. Create an Interactive Word Wall: This tool makes it quick and easy to create interactive word walls
  12. Display Learning Strategies: This site contains a plethora of learning strategy ideas for whole, small group, and individual instruction.
  13. Smart Exchange is a website where you can download free lessons for your Smart Board and Smart Notebooks. From Jeopardy templates to a map of the 50 states, it’s worth a look to see what you can find!
  14. Virtual Math Manipulatives This site contains links to some amazing free to use sites that make math visual.
  15. Draw a Stickman: I’m not even going to explain this one…you just have to do it!


Summer Learning Series: Travel Across the Curriculum with Google Earth

The next edition of my summer learning series features my all time favorite technology experience (notice I didn’t use the word tool). Google acquired Keyhole Earth Viewer in 2004 and was launched as Google Earth in 2005. Since then, I have been obsessed with discovering everything I ever wanted to know about our planet’s physical features, or specific destinations I know I’ll never get around to visiting on an educator’s budget. I recently put together a resource for K-12 teachers that showcases how you can support classroom instruction across the curriculum utilizing Google Earth Pro, Web and App. The presentation begins with basic navigation skills for all 3 versions and goes into more detail with advanced features such as Voyager, Street View, creating tours, and toggling between Moon, Sky and Mars.

There are numerous slides that allow you to practice the skills referenced in the video tutorials. Towards the end of the presentation, each curriculum area has specific examples of lessons that allow you to see the power of Google Earth in the classroom. Click here to make a copy of the presentation below. 

WARNING: Once you discover how cool Google Earth is, you will spend many, many hours of your summer vacation traveling to exotic locations. 

Summer Learning Series: Flipgrid and the 4Cs

Summer is one of those sacred “reboot” times for teachers to take care of themselves and focus on friends, family and fun. It’s also the only opportunity many of us have to explore new ideas for implementation during the new school year. So, before you get bombarded with beginning of the year tasks, take a few minutes once a week to check out my summer learning series.

Today’s post features a game-changing tool that many of you already have mastered: Flipgrid. But, have you thought about how this amazing tool can help modern students develop essential skills needed to succeed in tomorrow’s workplace? On January 7, 2010, Steve Jobs introduced the world to the iPad. That was only 9 years ago. Think about all of the jobs that now exist just from the introduction of the iPad into our daily lives. We can’t possibly know how our current Kinder students will be making a living once they graduate and enter the workforce. One thing is for sure…the will need to be proficient in the following skills:

  • Communication
  • Collaboration
  • Creativity 
  • Critical Thinking

Last week at Igniting NEISD, I facilitated a workshop that provided examples of how Flipgrid can support the 4Cs. Below is the embedded presentation that might spark ideas you can use with next year’s classes. 

If you have additional ideas or resources, please share in the comments section below. Happy summer!


May the Fourth Be With You

May the Fourth be with you! Saturday, May 4th 2019 is Star Wars Day, the fan-created international celebration of all things Jedi. (Fans of the Dark Side will have their turn Sunday with their own day, “Revenge of the Fifth.”) There is an entire page on Rock the Lab dedicated to providing you and your students activities that celebrate the most successful film franchise of all time. But beware, not everyone, especially The Empire, wants you to celebrate this day:

Star Wars Day Attack Ad: Say No to May the 4th on Disney Video

Just have your students head on over to Rock the Lab, scroll down to the bottom of the home page and click on the Star Wars Fun button. There are many activities, some educational and some not so much, that can be used as a brain break from intense Death STAAR review prep.


TCEA Digital or Printable PD

I was giddy with joy when Matt Miller came out with his Printable PD Volume 1. I immediately knew that was how I was going to share what I learned at TCEA with my teachers and department colleagues. The presentation below can be used digitally or can be printed and placed in the teacher’s lounge. Simply scan the QR codes with your cell phone (or click on the QR codes when using a computer) to access all of the golden nugget take-a-ways and resources provided by the TCEA presenters. Click here to make your own copy. Enjoy!

Rave Reviews for STAAR

The weeks leading up to the STAAR Assessment DO NOT have to be painful (for you or your students). Every year, the forests in North America seemingly become smaller and less dense due to the massive amounts of STAAR Review packets that teachers love to print for every tested subject area. This year try something new and exciting. There are a plethora of free tools to use across all of your devices that will bring out the ferocious learner in your students. The Sway presentation below highlights 10 tools that include example activities for elementary Math, Reading, and Writing. There are also links to video tutorials in case one or two strike your fancy. Just click on each card to advance.

Divide and Conquer

Work smarter, not harder. Each team member on your grade level can choose a different tool to create a review activity. All of the tools mentioned above have the ability to share your finished product with other educators. Once shared, you now have 6 or 7 review games (depending on the number of teachers on your team) to use with students, and you didn’t spend hours of prep time making them.

Bonus Ideas

If you use Seesaw or Flipgrid with your students, have parents record an inspirational message of encouragement that students view right before they take the exam. These are also great tools to use when you need to make student thinking visible.



Make Thinking Visible

  • Use the creative tools in Seesaw to make thinking visible. Try this activity where the student becomes the teacher!



The Importance of Student Publishing

While collaborating with colleagues a few weeks ago, one of our ELA specialists (@vhellamns) mentioned something that really resonated with me. She shared that teachers often consider the publishing stage in the writing process to be nothing more than a neatly written version of a student’s draft, or they just skip the publishing stage altogether. I will absolutely admit that I was guilty of the same thinking back when I was a classroom teacher over 10 years ago. I never really thought about the importance of student publishing until I started this blog. My personal writing journey has completely changed the way I view the writing process as a whole. Not only is publishing an extremely important part of the writing process, but the way in which students choose to publish is just as important.

The district Instructional Specialist team will be presenting to a group of 4th grade teachers next week. We planned a presentation that focuses on providing feedback during the writing process and different ways in which students can choose to publish their work using technology. The embedded presentation below showcases 4 different apps: Doink, Seesaw, Adobe Spark, and Adobe Page

Slide 2 highlights 4 reasons why student publishing is so important.


1. Motivation – Prior to the existence of this blog, I never wrote. I had no reason to. Writing for the sake of writing turned it into a chore that I avoided at all costs. If there is no purpose to the act, students will not find the motivation to improve their craft. Once I started to gain a following of regular readers, I went out of my way to make sure that the words on this blog were spelled correctly and provided insight and relevance to the lives of teachers. My writing improved. I also happen to love this quote by Rushton Hurley, “If students are sharing their work with the world, they want it to be good. If students are sharing their work with their teacher, they want it to be good enough.”

2. Real World Relevance – The STAAR test does not assess students on their video-making skills. But, am I communicating with you right now through a neatly handwritten composition on lined paper? No. I’m communicating through a blog which is a real world tool that people all over the world use to share ideas and resources. If you want to make the act of writing relevant, the tools they use also need to be relevant.

3. Oral Speaking – By creating videos in which students record themselves speaking to an audience, students are practicing an important skill that a written composition cannot support. According to Stanford University, “An individual learns the basics of oral communication right at home. The school environment takes this learning a notch higher by teaching the student how to interact with peers and teachers alike. The quality of communication in student life will define professional communication later in life.” The College Puzzle, 21 Nov. 2017, collegepuzzle.stanford.edu/oral-communication-skills-are-important-for-students/.

4. Student Choice – There are many tools available that allow students to personalize their published writing to fit their personality. Allowing students the freedom to make that choice will boost motivation to do their best during each stage of the writing process.

Hopefully, you and your students will find this resource helpful. Begin with the end in mind and remember to….


Rock Your December

December is a busy and exciting time on Rock the Lab. There have been new additions to the Hour of Code page that includes the trending Dance Party, Make Magic with Harry Potter, and Code with the Grinch activities. There are also new lessons on the December Featured Lessons section. Google Santa Tracker just released a special page for educators that includes games, extension activities and writing prompts. Students can also explore holiday traditions from around the world via Google Maps.


If you are looking for a festive way to take attendance using your SMARTboard, checkout this SMART Notebook file that you can customize for your class. 


Finally, you might want to revisit this post from last year featuring digital advent calendars that will provide inspiration for new things to try during the new year. Hope you enjoy these resources!

Be a Bat Hero!

Every year a group of partners help organize a National Bat Week designed to raise awareness for bat conservation worldwide. It has a very specific connection to San Antonio in that the The Bracken Cave is just outside of our city and happens to be the largest bat colony in the world. What’s even more interesting is that it is filled with more than 20 million Mexican Freetail bats from March to October.  It is a key maternity site for this species, and females congregate there each year to give birth and rear their young. Even Doppler radar images pick up the huge bursts of what looks like storms emerging from central locations in the area. They leave their caves or bridges at night to help keep the insect population under control…plus, it’s just stinkin’ cool.

One of my favorite partners in collaboration crime (@battyforbooks) is just as fascinated with bats as I am. We co-created this exploratory Thingling image that curates everything you need to know about bats and the vital role they place in keeping the balance within our local habitat.

Students can explore the interactive content located at the top of the image provided by batweek.org. Once they learn about the role bats play by eating tons of insects, pollinating flowers, and spreading seeds that grow new plants and trees, students then learn about the decline in their population and why.

As students navigate to different parts of the image, they will learn more about Bracken Cave, engage in a 360 video experience of bats emerging at dusk, and learn addition facts through multimedia content. The last part of this activity gives students a choice on how they can share what they learned through this exploration. You can access this lesson here, or you can find it located on the October Featured Lessons page on Rock the Lab.

Librarian + Tech Specialist = Collaboration Sensation

Thinking outside of the box and trying new things doesn’t have to be scary when you plan and collaborate with district support staff. This session will showcase the collaboration between a campus librarian and a district technology specialist.  We will highlight lessons, tips and tricks to help you integrate technology that supports student learning and engagement.

ESC*20  Library Roundup Presentation by: Jennifer Oldham and Laura Moore (Click here to make a copy in your Google Drive)

Summer Learning Series: The New Google Classroom

Wow! Summer came and left in the blink of an eye. I hope everyone enjoyed time with their families and also had the opportunity to reflect on new tools or instructional strategies that will kick your teaching up a notch.  This will be the last installment of The Summer Learning Series. We end with something EVERYONE has been talking about for months…the new and improved Google Classroom. Many fantastic and generous educators have already created resources to introduce you to the new features. One of my favorites below is from Nadine Gilkison. It’s visual, quick, and to the point.

There are more video tutorials and blog posts that can give you additional information:

I’ve also updated my Ultimate Google Survival Guide. It is now housed in a Google Site that contains resources from classes I teach on a regular basis. It’s still a work in progress, but check it out. Click here for the link.