Category Archives: Student Products

Powtoon for Educators

I had to search my own blog to find the last time I posted about Powtoon.  It was two years ago!  They have come a long way since then!

Powtoon is a fun way to present, allowing you all kinds of dynamic tools that will keep your viewers engaged.

The company recently launched a major campaign for educators offering free classroom accounts.  These accounts are usually $96/year, and you can add 60 students to your account!  The offer expires on October 31, 2014 – so be sure to activate yours soon!

Powtoon Educator Offer

A lot of resources have been added to the Powtoon library since the last time I reviewed it.  For example, when you go to your Dashboard, and choose to create, you will find that there are many templates that you can use .  These templates are fun; there’s even a “Teacher Intro” one!  I took that one, made a couple of minor changes, and had the one embedded below finished in under 5 minutes.

With all of my talk about creativity this week, Powtoon certainly fits the theme.  Imagine what your students could do with this great tool!

International Dot Day 2014

Yesterday’s post was about making mistakes.  A lot of our students are afraid to try anything because they think they will do it “wrong.” But there are lots of activities that don’t have a right or wrong way to do them.  Sometimes creativity and having fun are important parts of learning, too.

If you are looking for an easy, engaging way to get this message across to your students, try participating in International Dot Day on September 15th, 2014.  Read the fabulous book, The Dot, by Peter Reynolds.  Try one of the fun suggested classroom activities in the Educator’s Handbook.  Connect with someone using Skype in the Classroom. Or try the augmented reality app, ColAR, with the free Dot Day sheet.  Check out this Pinterest board or this one.  And don’t forget to check out the Celebri-dots here!

image from: http://www.coloruswell.com/?p=217
image from: http://www.coloruswell.com/?p=217

You Don’t Have to Be a Genius

Since many people are returning to school during the next couple of weeks, I thought I would re-visit and share some of last year’s more successful projects in case you want to try one.  Monday’s post was on the surprise “You Matter” videos that I asked parents to make for their children last year. On Tuesday, I wrote about the Global Cardboard Challenge. Wednesday’s post was about bringing a Maker Studio to your students.

Before I get deep into this post, I want to emphasize that I am not, by any means, an expert on this topic.  If you look at the bottom of my Genius Hour Resources page, you will find many other far more qualified people to give advice.

Let’s start with the name.  You don’t have to call it Genius Hour. Some call it Passion Time, Wonder Time, or 20% Time.  Don’t get hung up on what it’s called – although you may find more resources on the web by searching for those titles.

image from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mrsdkrebs/8485655331/
image from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mrsdkrebs/8485655331/

Also, don’t obsess over the time; it doesn’t have to be an hour or 20% of your total time with your students.  It can be more.  It can be less.

Some teachers worry about the freedom or the departure from the curriculum.  It doesn’t have to be a free-for-all.  You can have guidelines, even particular generalized topics.  For example, if you are studying landforms in science, one student might choose to investigate Pompeii and another might try to design a new vehicle for exploring the interior of volcanoes.

Other teachers are concerned that their students will choose topics that the teacher doesn’t know very much about.  From personal experience, I can tell you that this is actually a gift.  It’s in our nature to help kids too much, but when we can’t, they learn the value of struggling.

The point is to give your students time to pursue something that is of deep interest to them.  It’s about choice and flexibility.  It’s about voice and creativity.  And, it’s about making things relevant for your students so they want to learn and find it meaningful.  Along the way, students learn valuable lessons about research and problem-solving. They learn about grit and the importance of communication.

You can see from the entries in this LiveBinder maintained by Joy Kirr that Genius Hour can happen in any grade level from Kinder-12th, and that there are many ways to do it.

My best advice is to model it and scaffold it.  You will tear your hair out if you just open up by saying, “I want you to pick something you want to learn about and come up with a presentation for the class.” Students usually have no experience with this kind of freedom, and some will have meltdowns just trying to select a topic.  Take a look at my resources and see what would work best for your situation.

It’s What You Make of It

Since many people are returning to school during the next couple of weeks, I thought I would re-visit and share some of last year’s more successful projects in case you want to try one.  Monday’s post was on the surprise “You Matter” videos that I asked parents to make for their children last year. On Tuesday, I wrote about the Global Cardboard Challenge.

Almost exactly a year ago, I predicted the trends in education for the 2013-2014 school year.  I was re-reading that post today, and laughed at my addition of maker studios almost as an afterthought at the end of my post.  Anyone who has been reading education blogs and magazines will know that maker studios are becoming a huge trend, and that they are not limited to schools.

The-Maker-Movement

The truth is that many people are recognizing that there is a hunger in our youth to create and that the process of making is a deeper learning experience than regurgitating facts from a lecture.

There is not one right way to bring a maker studio into your school. Many schools are integrating them into their libraries or obsolete computer labs.  Some are incorporating the design process into their entire curriculum.  But, just like the Global Cardboard Challenge, you can still make a huge difference by starting small.

Last year, I realized that an empty classroom next door could be transformed into a maker studio.  I applied for a grant from our school’s PTA.  My GT classes named the room B.O.S.S. HQ (Building of Super Stuff Headquarters) and it basically became a testing ground for all of the new materials we purchased.  You may not have the luxury of an empty room, but a station in your classroom would work just as well.

Some of the items we purchased for our space were:

We also had a green screen that had been given to the school.

I didn’t know how to use any of the above until my students helped me figure them out.  Last year was really just time for us all to explore.

This year, I am starting an after-school Maker Club to involve more students than the ones in GT.  One thing I learned from last year is that I need to narrow my focus.  So, the Maker Club will have 4 main themes this year: Cardboard Challenge, Video Creation, Programming, and Electric Circuits.

In addition, the GT students who were exposed to materials last year will be challenged to find ways to incorporate them in our Cardboard Challenge and other projects throughout this year.

Eventually, I want B.O.S.S. HQ to be accessed by all students in the school, but I’m still working out the kinks on that.

My advice to a teacher just beginning would be the following:

  • Read Invent to Learn by Gary Stager and Sylvia Libow Martinez
  • Try the Global Cardboard Challenge
  • Add a station to your classroom that involves creating.  Little Bits are great, and the company offers educator discounts. Chibitronics and MaKey MaKey are also relatively inexpensive ways to start.
  • Make the mantra, “Think, Make, Improve” (from Invent to Learn) part of your classroom theme.
  • Celebrate the “growth mindset” so that students understand they will learn even when things don’t go as planned.  Rosie Revere, Engineer is a great book to reinforce this.
  • When you are ready to “go bigger”, enlist the help of the community.  You can find experts who can teach your students different skills, people who are willing to donate supplies (Donors Choose is great for this), and you might want to visit maker spaces and maker faires in your area for ideas on the type of inventory and organization you need.

If you search for “maker” on my blog, you will find many other posts I’ve done regarding this topic.  You can also visit my Pinterest board of Maker Resources here.  Two of my favorite online resources are Make magazine and Design Squad.  The online Maker Camp from Google and Make also has lots of ideas.

Global Cardboard Challenge 2014

Since many people are returning to school during the next couple of weeks, I thought I would re-visit and share some of last year’s more successful projects in case you want to try one.  Yesterday’s post was on the surprise “You Matter” videos that I asked parents to make for their children last year.

Since most standardized tests used to measure “success” in schools today do not assess creativity, this skill tends to be less emphasized than ones that easily translate into multiple choice questions. However, I haven’t met one person who thinks that creativity is frivolous and many articles I’ve read, such as this one, from various news sources seem to indicate that it is a valuable attribute in the 21st century job market.

That being said, it’s sometimes difficult to fit creative activities into the school day.  The Global Cardboard Challenge is the perfect opportunity to revive the imaginations of your students.  First, show them the fabulous Caine’s Arcade videos.  Then, get your students to brainstorm and sketch their own ideas.  Next, give them time and resources to build.  Then, let them critique and improve.  And, finally have them share their creations.

Cardboard Theater (with a scrolling moving picture) created by one of my 3rd graders
Cardboard Theater (with a scrolling moving picture) created by one of my 3rd graders

There is not one right way to do this.  It can be during school, after school, on a weekend.  You can do it big and invite the community, or you can do it small and just involve your class or grade level.  The official date for the 2014 challenge is October 11th, but you can do it any day you want.

Last year, I just had my GT students participate.  I gave them an hour or two each week for about 4 weeks to work on their projects.  (If you want to see students completely engaged with absolutely no interest in even talking you, I promise this is the activity to try!)  Then they designed their own tickets and invited classmates to see their projects during recess.  This year, we’re going bigger.  I will still have my GT students make projects, but I will also have an after school Maker Club.  The GT students will be researching charities and choosing one.  The school will vote on the best projects, and we are teaming up with Main Event to host a “Pop-Up Arcade” of the student projects in their party rooms, charging $1 for the community to play the games.  All money raised will go to the charity my students select.

For more ideas on how to host your own event, you can check out the Organizer Playbook here.  More information is located here.  But remember, you can “think outside the box” and make the event fit what suits you and your students.

What Happened During Summer Vacation

 

image from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/reinvented/9397115956/
image from: https://www.flickr.com/

Not everyone is obsessed with reading education blogs or following Twitter as I am – especially over the summer.  I’ve noticed this blog’s stats have started growing since the beginning of August, which probably means educators are starting to return to work and might be looking for resources.  For today’s post I thought I would do a short round-up of some of the changes and updates that my readers may have missed over the summer.  This is, by no means, an exhaustive list.  It’s just something I brainstormed in the doctor’s waiting room the other day ;)

Socrative – My favorite student response system has now switched completely over to the 2.0 version (and I like it). Here is info on the switch.

Tellagami – The free app is virtually useless now, as there is no longer customization of characters or Text-To-Speech.  For those, you need to purchase the Edu version for $4.99.  You can read more about my disappointment in this change here.

Google Drive – There is a new interface that might take a little getting used to.  Here is one article that points out some of the new features. Here is a Google Drive Cheat Sheet.

Google Classroom – I signed up, but still haven’t delved into it.  Here is a good introduction from Edudemic.  And, here is another resource from te@chthought.

Scratch Jr. – For those of you with classroom iPads who might want to teach programming to young students, this free app, released this summer, is a definite must-download.

Made with Code – Speaking of coding resources, Google launched Made with Code over the summer –  a site specifically directed at getting females interested in this field.

Thinglink Video – Sign up here to participate in the Beta version of interactive video creation with Thinglink. Here is a post on ways to use this great new feature in education.

Padlet – Formerly known as Wallwisher (that’s so last year!), this great online tool has now added a new grid option to better organize all of those notes.  Here’s the lowdown from Richard Byrne.  And it has a Chrome extension (I don’t know if that’s new, but I just found out about it).

PixelPress – I originally posted about PixelPress Floors, an app that allows you to draw your own video game, in June.  They now have lesson plans for educators based on the Design Thinking Process.

Kid President – In case you missed it, everyone’s favorite inspirational politician now has a TV show on Hulu! Find out more on this blog post.

Lego Research Institute - I was so excited about this, I tweeted it out last week!  This Lego set, featuring 3 female scientists, is now available for purchase ($19.99).  Unfortunately, they are currently sold-out online- and I can’t find any indication on the website if they intend to restock.

Voxer - This may just be the next new Twitter for educators.  I haven’t tried it yet, but there has been a lot of buzz about it over the summer. This post includes information about this “live messaging app.” According to Pernille Ripp, these are the reasons you should be voxing.  Here are some uses for Voxer in the educational setting.

Why I’m Upset with Tellagami

I’m afraid that this is going to be a venting post.  I try to use this blog to share resources and to, hopefully, inspire.  But one of the resources that I’ve shared quite a bit on this blog has sorely disappointed me, and I feel that I need to express this.

Some people may have the idea that educators are cheap and that we do not like to pay for apps.  The first part is not true, at least in the case of most teachers that I know.  We spend a lot of our own money on resources for our classrooms every year.  However, it is correct that we do not like to pay for apps.  This is not because we balk at spending a dollar or two here and there.  If I could, I would probably spend at least $100 a year on apps for my classroom.  And that doesn’t even include the iTunes gift cards that I receive from parents. But I can’t.  This is mostly because of the following reasons:

  • Many of us do not control what we can purchase for our tablets. In some districts, teachers must propose an app to a committee and wait for approval.  In many, apps are only purchased if they serve the need of many classrooms – so an individual teacher request is usually not honored.
  • The Volume Purchasing Program is not very user-friendly and, as I mentioned in my first bullet, most of us don’t have access to it.
  • We cannot buy in-app purchases on campus.
  • It is very frustrating to spend money on purchasing an app in bulk, and then find out that it either doesn’t work because of school district filtering or it does not serve the needs of our students.
  • I can only use gift cards on my personal iPad  – which I do.  I let my students use it quite a bit because of this, keeping my fingers crossed each time that it doesn’t get dropped or broken since it has my entire life on it.

That being said, I understand that app developers need to make money.  To be honest, I’m not sure how that works.  There are some free apps that I have been using for years, and I picture their developers eating Ramen noodles every night.  However, there are other apps that started out free and then they weren’t.  And then there are the ones that stay free, but force you to update to a version that is missing most of the features you had before – like Tellagami.

I don’t mind that Tellagami decided to add a paid version to its offerings.  They have even been kind enough to provide an Edu version so that we do not have to worry about in-app purchases.  The Edu version looks pretty great – with a couple of features that Tellagami did not have before.

What I mind is that the free version to which I was forced to update because my old free version no longer worked suddenly has 0 of the features that my students loved about it and made it unique.  They enjoyed customizing the character and background, and they really loved the text-to-speech.  You can no longer do this with the free version.

In addition, the change was made over the summer.  Many teachers will return to school with the intention of using Tellagami the way they did last year and may not even discover the changes until they have an entire class of students trying to use the app.

I also mind that I now need to go back to any of my old blog posts from the last year that referred to these free features and revise them to reflect the change.

I mind that a creation tool that had become a favorite and was used on a regular basis in my classroom last year is now suddenly useless.

If anyone would have asked me (and they obviously didn’t), I would have recommended to Tellagami to keep the free version exactly the way it was with a pop-up offering the Edu version.  The Edu version could offer more customization options and, as it does now, the new features of doodling and extra backgrounds.

Because Tellagami allowed me to use the free version for an entire school year, and then took away practically all of the reasons I had for using it, they have lost my loyalty to their product.

UPDATE: Here is a response that Tellagami has posted to address the concerns of educators.  I still maintain that, by retracting many of the features that were available on the free version, they have betrayed those of us who had become accustomed to using the app.

UPDATE #2: I just ran across another blog post by an educator (Meghan Zigmond) who is also disappointed with the changes Tellagami has made.  She pointed out another reason to find fault with the recent switch to a paid app.  It is $4.99 for educators – and there is no discount for volume purchasing.