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,

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 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.

Summer Learning Series: Share Your Smarts with Seesaw

This has been an exciting summer for NEISD Technology Services. Our district just purchased Seesaw for Schools for every one of our 46 elementary campuses. This platform provides our teachers the opportunity to effectively communicate with parents and collect student work that shows growth over time. Students now have the means to make their thinking visible so the teacher can quickly clarify misconceptions, and students can choose the way they wish to create a unique project by using one of the 7 options in the learning journal. 

The one feature I’m most excited about is the ability to easily share student work by printing a QR code to display in the hallway. This gives the old bulletin board concept of everyone having the EXACT same looking product a much needed 2.0 makeover. You can read more about using Seesaw QR codes here.

I’ve created a presentation to help get you started with sharing your class “smarts”. 

Summer Learning Series: The First Days of School

Kelly Hilton (@KellyiHilton) created this amazing collection of ideas on how your students can introduce themselves and connect with each other during the first few days (or weeks) of school. She incorporates several of the same technology tools you will be using throughout the year to support instruction. Because many of the ideas involve collaboration with others, this is the perfect opportunity to establish your digital citizenship expectations for the year. By providing authentic experiences such as these, students will be engaged and excited to be in your classroom. Click here to view the interactive book.

Summer Learning Series: Smashboard Edu

Real world problem solving has often been an area of implementation where I have struggled. There’s a lot of problems out there, but which ones are the most appropriate and relevant for elementary age students? And, (the more difficult question to answer) exactly how do I go about facilitating a lesson that ensures student success? What questions do I ask that will help guide THEM to finding the solution and addresses all of the curriculum learning objectives?

I was thrilled when I came across Smashboard Edu via Dee Lanier on Twitter. According to Lanier, 

“Smashboard Edu is a gamified learning process that leads learners through the design-thinking process, involves app-smashing, collaborative goal-setting, and iteration. The main objective is to create a unique product that solves a relevant, real-world problem.”

The process is what I found so helpful. He lays it out in this very easy to follow Google Presentation that can be adapted to fit any subject area.

You can read more about how to play here. He also has a list of 107 apps students can use to explain their solution here. Below are additional resources you might find useful when coming up with a topic for your Smashboard Edu activity.

Summer Learning Series: Flipgrid is FREE, Y’all!

During this transformative time in education when curriculum content and tools are now online and most often require paid subscriptions, Flipgrid decided to go the opposite route and provide all of their premium features FREE for all educators! Matt Miller from Ditch That Textbook explains in the video below:

This powerful tool that amplifies student voice has been around for a while, therefore multiple resources on how to use the platform are all over the place. I’ve created a list below of some of my favorites to help get you started. Now, there’s no excuse not to have this tech tool in your pocket for fall.

By the way, Flipgrid and Microsoft aren’t the only ones trying to help out struggling teachers paying out of pocket. Alice Keeler has started her own movement by teaming up with PledgeCents to find funding for classrooms, Ed Tech and PD. Read more about it here.

Summer Learning Series: #NotAtISTE18

Nope. I’m not at The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Conference being held on June 24-27 in Chicago. Instead, I’m sitting on my couch gathering up all of the great resources educators and participants are sharing in case you couldn’t attend either. So here goes:

Of course, the easiest way to participate virtually is to follow the hashtags below on Twitter:

  1. #ISTE18
  2. #NotAtISTE
  3. #NotAtISTE18
  4. #PresentersOfISTE

Summer Learning Series: Thinglink Teacher Challenge 2018


For the past 5 years, Thinglink has facilitated a summer teacher challenge in order to provide teachers an opportunity to learn how to create immersive stories and digital learning adventures using their platform. The challenge consists of 7 activities with built in tutorials to be completed at your own pace. Even though I was an early adopter of Thinglink (and pretty much thought I know everything), I always walked away from these summer challenges with new knowledge and ideas for implementation.

We are currently 2 weeks into the challenge, but it’s not too late to register and catch up. This is a self-paced professional development in which participants progress through the lessons on their own schedule. Click here for more information about the Thinglink Teacher Challenge

I was honored to be asked to share a 360 immersive story during the webinar kickoff. You can view the archived webinar here. You just need to sign in using your email address for the video to play. Here is the image I shared:

The 360 image itself was already in the Thinglink Library, so I just used the handy clone feature so I could create my own immersive story. This 5th grade lesson is made up of a variety of multimedia content from various websites like Scholastic, Discovery Education, and YouTube to explain the process of Immigration through Ellis Island.

I used numbered icons because the order in which the students interact with the tags is important. Each tag builds on the knowledge learned in the previous tag to provide a in depth and immersive experience. My favorite new feature within the interface is the ability to add a label to your tags. I like to use verbs so that when the student hovers over the number, it tells them what they are about to do.

The first tag is just a simple engage activity where students watch a youtube video of a young boy interviewing his grandfather about his family’s immigration history. And of course, the beauty of thinglink is that it allows you to bring the content directly to your students through embedding.

Scattered throughout the 360 image are some sound icons that contain audio from actual immigrants sharing their first hand experiences. I just played the tracks on my computer and used the Thinglink app to record the embedded audio. This adds more authenticity to the story when they can hear their actual voices.

The 2nd numbered tag is the explore section where students interact with the Ellis Island virtual tour from Scholastic. This was the site that inspired the idea for the lesson. I had been using their Thanksgiving virtual tour for years and got really excited when this one came out. Students click through each stop to read, explore photos, view videos, and listen to audio which makes the entire tour feel like they’ve traveled back in time to experience the process.

The 3rd tag is a video from Discovery Education that explains what life was like for the immigrants once they left the Island and started their new life in this country. (Subscription required)

The 4th tag is another component from Scholastic that contains several charts and graphs breaking down the numbers and regions. I like this one because it goes beyond the 19th century into today so they can see that immigration still is happening, although the process is very different.

They next activity is where they apply their newly acquired knowledge to create their own Thinglink app smash using Google Earth on the iPad. This Google Slide contains directions and resources to help them answer the essential questions. The 6th tag is where they share their project on a Padlet wall for peers to view and provide feedback.

The final tag includes directions for a reflection activity where they have to compare and contrast the immigration process from the early 1900s to today.

I used both the web version of Thinglink and the Thinglink app to build the lesson. During the teacher challenge, you will learn how easy it is to navigate the interface and see tons of examples of how Thinglink can support curriculum concepts.