Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Teaching Dictionary Skills with Google Slides

Hi there!

So, I'm going to state the obvious. I've abandoned my poor blog for a while. I know I don't have to tell y'all this, but life gets busy. I'm committed to sharing more on here, though, especially as my new teammate is a rockstar Blogger. Check him out here, especially if you are a math person or new teacher (or have a slight minion obsession, ha!).

I wanted to share with y'all a collaborative, techy lesson that my kiddos did last week. I wanted a cumulative activity for students to demonstrate all their dictionary skills that we've been learning (pronunciation, syllabication, guide words, multiple meaning words). In addition to that, I wanted to use technology, because what better way to engage learners and encourage creativity? I also LOVE the no paper aspect as our copiers can be persnickety at times. ;)
We started the week by simply learning about the skills. I utilized some Nearpod lessons I created to teach kiddos syllabification and pronunciation, practice identifying which words would belong on a page with certain guide words, races between classmates to find words in the good ol' fashioned dictionary itself.... etc.
Next, it was time to bring it all together. I was inspired by this article by Alice Keeler on how to differentiate using Google Classroom. Now, I'm not THAT advanced at this point (ha!), so I did not use the spreadsheet, however I used the inspiration behind it. I grouped kiddos ahead of time (and was able to determine which level of difficulty of word to assign them, yay differentiation!). She also wrote this article on how to manage collaborative Google Slides. I loved the balance of ownership of one's own slide and collaboration among all the slides at the same time!

I instructed the kiddos to open up Google Classroom. We read through the instructions together, and I had each kiddo click on the Google Slides presentation that listed his/her name. From there, the kiddos used a good old fashioned dictionary to find the necessary information about their assigned word. After all the information was input, students were free to let their creative juices flow using fonts, backgrounds, images, etc. Once everyone in the group was done with their slides, the students worked together to alphabetize the slides. Each kiddo took a screenshot of his/her finished slide to turn in on Classroom. Finally, we shared the presentations whole class!
The lesson went swimmingly. The kiddos were 100% engaged and putting their skills to use without even noticing that they were working. I loved how my students were working together, but each kiddo was still responsible for his/her slide. Moving forward, you can bet I'll do more collaborative Google Slides!

Do you use Google Classroom to differentiate or Google Slides to create projects? I'd love to hear more ideas about how to use it in the classroom.

Only 8 school days left til the break!! We got this.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Streamlining Parent Communication Using Google Products

Hi there!!

One week left until the big first day for me, and I've been working like crazy in my room. In addition to making sure my borders are straight and rearranging my furniture 56 times, I've been working on setting up parent communication this year and wanted to share with y'all how we do things with our team. Hopefully it gives you an idea or two. :) We started streamlining our communication this way last year and LOVE how it turned out... but more importantly, our parents and students did too!
One of my core beliefs about education is that educators and parents should work as a team for the best interest of the kiddos. Side note: If you missed out on my Beliefs to Actions blog hop (where this idea came from), check it out here-- a lot of amazing educators had amazing things to say.

Now, it's one thing to believe it. It's another thing to put it into action. My thought is that clear, easily accessible communication is the means of achieving this partnership between educator and parents. My (fabulous, wonderful, hard working, innovative) 4th grade team and I, along with ideas and help along the way, have established a way to streamline our parent communication in a time efficient, yet informative way. And... we did it all with Google.

Ahhh... Google. Even saying the word brings a smile to my face. Remember when it was "just" a search engine? Those days are over. Google is now taking over many worlds, education and business included. Funny story, our school has been using Google products often, especially after adopting the 1:X program (one piece of technology to every 4th grader and up). What's funny is my boyfriend, an accountant at a Big 4 accounting firm, just now had all his work products moved over to Google. Guess my school had the leg up on that one. :P  What better way to educate kiddos than to use technology they may be using in the workforce?

To best communicate with parents, my team and I utilized:

  • Google Sites
  • Google Calendar
  • Google Docs
And let me show you how. :) 

First and foremost is our Google Site. Our site is the "go-to" for all important information. Students create an app out of the website on their iPads, and we encourage parents to bookmark it. As you can see in the screenshot below, we have one site for all of our grade (we are departmentalized 3 ways- ELA, Math & Science/SS). The home page includes important information, as well as the Google Calendar which I will address later. Along the side, you can see each teacher's individual page, as well as important other information. 
 On each teacher's individual page, we share the weekly concepts that we cover, helpful links, and even resources to practice or enrich at home. The FABULOUS thing about Google Sites is because all 4 members of our team can be owners of the site, we can all go in and update the site on our own, and it automatically updates everywhere. It is also helpful to parents as it is a one stop shop for all the 4th grade information.

At the bottom of the picture above, and in a closer look below, we have a Google Calendar embedded into the home page on our site. Y'all.. this feature is SO COOL. Again, the calendar is"owned" by each teacher in 4th grade. Each day, the teacher edits the Google Calendar (easy process, all ready to go with your Google account) with the homework. Afterwards, the homework AUTOMATICALLY UPDATES ON THE SITE! No more questions about homework for the students or parents- it doesn't get much clearer than that! 
As you can see on our planner, we have the title everyday as PLANNER, so that every homework assignment doesn't fill up the daily boxes. In the details, we copy and paste every subject, then each teacher fills in the homework after his/her name. 

**If creating and embedding a Google Calendar into a Google Site is something y'all are interested, I would be happy to do a how-to! Just let me know in the comments below!**

Finally, we have good ole Google Docs. We utilize Google Docs for our weekly email purposes. At the beginning of each week, we create a copy of the weekly email form (making sure it is still shared with the whole team), rename it for that week, then start editing it as information and important dates come out over the week. Each teacher also fills in the concepts and upcoming activities in the columns under his/her subject. On the same day of each week, we all send out a link to the Google Doc so parents can access it. Of course, when we send the link it is in 'View Only' mode! 
Parents responded very well to the streamlined form, as opposed to the verbose, essay format we used before. To see a FABULOUS post about how to create weekly emails that communicate information well, head over to my teammate Whitney (yes, it's her name too!) blog post here! Bonus is we use the blurb that we type in the weekly email and copy and paste that into our website for the week's happenings! 

In short.. We update our Google Calendar daily with homework. Weekly, we create and send through email a Google Doc for a newsletter, as well as update our site. The time spent on these activities is so worth it because it keeps our parents and students informed, while cutting down on confusion and misunderstandings. It's a win win for everyone. :)

Have a GREAT beginning of the school year, all you fabulous educators out there. :) Here is to clear communication, done the easy way!! 

With Love from Texas,

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

*Updated!* INSTRUCTIONS: Beliefs to Actions Blog Hop

Hi there!!

First off, I'd like to say WOW. I have had a huge outpouring of support about this blog hop. It says a lot about our profession that so many educators are so passionate about what they do that they will dedicate the time and effort to reflect on their beliefs and write about it. I'm proud to be a part of this. :) 

Secondly, if you are unable to participate in this blog hop, please email me ASAP! I will need to make adjustments so there is not a dead end in our loop. Thank you for your help with this! :) 

Now, let's get to business. Here is what you need to know for the blog hop:

The main purpose of your post is to list your education beliefs. You may do so however you please.. writing them down, using a template I created (https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0BxSwYMKRMkIifkxIb2wtbDM0Y2szdkdLQndxbm1oOTFJME1DNGNPWjVLZldkRTJ6ZndaVXM&usp=sharing), or creating your own!! You may add to the post as you see fit, possibly discussing how you came upon these beliefs, how these beliefs will drive the upcoming school year, how your beliefs align with your teammates/school/district, etc. Completely and totally up to you! 

At the bottom of your blog post, you MUST link up to the person after you on the spreadsheet (see instructions and spreadsheet below).  I encourage you to make the 'link up' portion stand out by adding color, highlighting or SOMETHING to encourage your reader to continue through the hop and discover all you amazing educators!

Insert the attached image somewhere on your blog to have continuity across the blog hop. Use this image on social media to spread the word, too!!  

See my blog for an example of how it should look if you have any questions. :)  http://withlovefromtexasblog.blogspot.com/2015/07/i-challenge-you-turn-your-beliefs-into.html 

Click this link to see a spreadsheet listing all the contributors to the hop. https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1PtqPEyVaKNeDsqU2YFFal3R3OFGUhwmHH_bUNRszajQ/edit?usp=sharing 
*Please email me if there are issues with this file to let me know!

The spreadsheet is numbered, and it will indicate to you who you will link up to at the end of your post. The person with the number before you will link up to you, and the person with the number after yours will be who YOU link up to at the bottom of your post. 

Also, remember you are commenting on the person before you and the two people after you once the blogs are published! That is THREE comments total. Share some love. :) 

**VERY IMPORTANT**: Your blog post must be published by this Friday, 7/31! Post your three comments (on the post before yours, as well as the two after yours) by Sunday, 8/2!

Thank you so much for being such a wonderful group to work with! I am having a blast organizing this, and I hope it is a great experience for you, as well. Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns.  

Thank you:)


Lizzie Clarke, a contributor for the hop, had a great suggestion. She thought it would be best if on the link-up, we included the exact link to the blog post instead of the blog site itself. This way, the post will not get lost in the shuffle (especially if you are a frequent blogger)! 

This is completely optional. If you do not blog often and know you won't have another post for a little while, it is fine that you leave your blog site link in place. However, if you think you may be blogging soon after you post the Beliefs to Actions post, you may want to do this!! 

If you are on BLOGGER:
See the attached PDF for instructions on how to access the permalink to your post. You can edit the spreadsheet with the permalink even if you are not done with the post itself!

If you are on WORDPRESS: 

Here is the link to the spreadsheet again (now editable!) so that you may change your link if you choose to do so. :) 

I ask that EVERYONE double check on Friday to make sure they linked up to the correct link for the person following you. If you were a go-getter and wrote your post early, you may need to go back and edit it if the person after you chose to change his/her link! 

​Thank you so much for your cooperation with this!! I'm sorry for the extra work it caused. :p

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

BLOG HOP CHALLENGE: Turning Beliefs into Actions

Eeek! Forgive me if I sound like a giddy, overly excited teacher, but that's what I am right now! I recently posted a blog about my experience of writing down my beliefs to turn them into a compass for my actions (see the blog post here). My sweet friend and fabulous educator Monica MeGown from Mrs. MeGown's Second Grade Safari encouraged me to spread the message by encouraging others to partake in the challenge via a Blog Hop.

Emotions I typically feel nearing the beginning of the year: excitement, stress, happiness, stress, giddiness, and... stress. Is anyone with me? There is just SO MUCH to be done! What better way to start off the year by reminding yourself of your purpose?? If you are able to answer the WHY behind organizing your classroom library (again), triple checking that your borders are straight, and designing the first week of school activities, it takes away the stress and replaces it with JOY. Because those books are for eager eyes and opened hearts ready to take on adventures, those borders are stapled down to showcase proud student work, and the first week activities establish a safe, fun, and loving environment for the year. 

So, friends, I pose a challenge to you. What are your education beliefs? What do you feel strongly about? What spins around in your head as you lie in bed at night? Take your time, don't be afraid to use your eraser, and open your mind to the WHY of what you do.


1. Help spread the word by sharing the social media button (located on FB and above)

Signing up is now closed. Anyone who signs up past this point will unfortunately not be able to participate, as I need to organize the hop. Thank you to those 40+ educators who have done so!! 

2. BY SUNDAY 7/26: Fill out this Google Form to let me know that you are participating in the Blog Hop
**I will send out an email by Wednesday 7/29 detailing the Blog hop (who will link to you & who you will link to). I will also send out a graphic to advertise the Blog Hop so others who aren't participating can read.**

3. Advertise the event by posting the social media button that I will send out on Wednesday! This will generate interest and excite others about what we are doing.

4. BY FRIDAY 7/31: Consider and jot down your education beliefs. Once done, write a blog post about your beliefs. Possible channels your post could take: How did this activity help you as an educator? How will this shape your upcoming year? Why do you think your beliefs are what they are- what shaped them? Did you learn anything about yourself while doing this? You could create a graphic detailing your beliefs, borrow one of my templates, or simply write a post! Whatever works best. Be sure at the end of your post that you link to the next educator in the loop! Click HERE to see my templates. Feel free to save PNG, upload it to ppt and edit it to make it your own.

5. SHOW SOME LOVE BY SUNDAY 8/2: At the risk of sounding too much like a teacher... feedback is a great tool, right?! Leave a comment on the educator's post before you, as well as the two educators after you. This will be 3 comments total, and it will also generate a lot of views for your own blog!! Comments create smiles. :)

OFFICIAL HASHTAGS: #imaBELIEVER #actions2beliefs

I am SO excited to see what drives everyone!! Different ideas and opinions bring such insight. I am honored to be hosting this Blog Hop. Thank y'all for being such a support. :)

Please, please email me at whitneyalexanderson@gmail.com if you have any questions or comments.

With Love from Texas,

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

I Challenge You: Turn Your Beliefs into ACTIONS

Hi there! I hope my fellow Texan friends are staying cool in this weather. If you are escaping the heat.. well then.. I'm jealous. :) This past Sunday, I attended a church service. The preacher's message was on that really stuck with me. He asked if we know what we believe in. And if so, do we really live by those beliefs? Sure, it seems simple enough. Without analyzing, you could easily say yes! But if you take the time to really truly look inside and evaluate yourself.. do you really? 
It got me thinking... I have my beliefs about religion, family, and life in general. But I have never written them down. After doing that, I was on a roll. Because education is another integral part of my life. I could apply this to my profession, as well!

After days of erasing, crumpling paper, and jotting down notes, I *think* I have my education beliefs covered. There are so many things I could say, but everything boils down to these 8 statements for me.
The experience was one that really helped me grow as an educator. I gave myself time to really reflect and decide what was most important to me. Writing it down just solidified my thoughts. 

What about you? Do you have your beliefs? Most importantly, are they written down? Because now that I did, I have a reference. Anytime there is a sticky situation, or I am feeling frustrated, or I am unsure of how to handle a situation, I will come back and read my 8 statements. These give me purpose, and they drive my action. 

The Purpose Driven Life is a popular book with a widespread audience. I challenge you to take the message, but funnel it to our profession. Teach with a purpose. Use your statements to drive, encourage and help you through the fulfilling, emotional, gratifying, overwhelming, happy profession we call teaching. 

I encourage you to write your own beliefs. Please share a link to your Blog, or the beliefs themselves, in the comments below. Let us teach purposefully!

Continue on with the Beliefs to Actions blog hop by visiting my friend Racheal Burden (also known as 180 Days to Happy) by clicking here!! 

With Love from Texas,

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Biggest Summer Revelation- COMMUNITY

Hi there, friends!

Well, we are into the dog days of summer. Mine has been selfishly filled with books upon books, my goal of living a healthier lifestyle involving Camp Gladiator (check it out here-- awesome outdoor group workout!), and MOVING.. not far just half an hour away! :) 

What has it not been filled with? Well.... I hate to admit it, but not a whole lot regarding school. Sure, I've attended two AMAZING workshops via my district- one involving instructional technology and one involving teaching nonfiction literature. I've also participated in a book chat about the book A Whole New Mind (an incredibly interesting read regarding education and the workforce in this new world geared towards right brained thinkers). However, I haven't engaged in what I feel is the most IMPORTANT type of learning... self guided. 

Well, friends, I am back on the horse. Summer is a fabulous time for relaxing and rejuvenating. Now that that part is done, I'm ready to rock n' roll. Through this, I came to realize something... In summer, with the absence of students, deadlines, and projects, my professional learning community is what keeps me going. They are the ones who encouraged me to get out there and try/learn something new!! 
I want to extend a HUGE thank you to my dear friend Whitney Parlin over at At Whit's End. She never ceases to amaze me.. I don't know how she does all that she does, I think she has more hours in the day than everyone else. Whitney, or WP as we call her on our 4th grade team because both our mommas like the same name, is a driving force in my professional development. She will text me links to great Blog posts, call me spontaneously to try to go to the TPT conference, and message me on Facebook about all the biggest and best coming out in the world of education and technology. I hope to instill the passion in others that she does in me. :)

I also have sweet Lila from The Polka Dotted Pencil to thank! Lila and I both began our teaching career at the same time. She also started her Blogging and TPT adventures around the same time as me. (Sidenote: If you haven't read or seen any of Lila's stuff, go fix that right now. She is such a creative, inspiring teacher with her fun outlook and positive attitude!) I have looked to her for the past 3 years for companionship, collaboration and as a thinking board. Over this summer, I have seen her working tirelessly through social media to share her learning and delve into the education world. She infuses my education world with so.much.fun.

These two ladies are two of so so many in my world. I simply cannot list all the good that all the people around me have done. It's my hope that this post introduces you to two educators who are near and dear to my heart. If you already know them, then lucky you! ;) I also hope it encourages you to surround yourself by educators who won't take complacency for an answer. These ladies have driven me to improve myself. Everyone should have a support system like that. :)

For those who want to build their community, I advise you to check out:

  • TWITTER-- Watch or participate in a Twitter chat and follow inspiring people! Here is a great resource that lists every education chat. Make it a goal to follow one this week :)
  • GOOGLE PLUS-- This is a new one for me, but I've spoken with many educators who love the connections and collaboration made possible through Google Plus communities. Click here to find the Educators of Google Plus page. 
  • INSTAGRAM-- Follow and post pictures sharing your learning! Popular educator hashtags for Instagram include: #teachersfollowteachers #teachersofinstagram #iteachtoo #iteach(fill in grade) 

I would LOVE to be a part of your Professional Learning Community (PLC) as well! Please follow me on Twitter @Ms_Alexanderson and on here. I would love to interact and learn with you. 

With Love from Texas,

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Adding Engagement to Responses

Hi there!

I've seen all over the Bloggersphere that teachers everywhere are slacking on their Blogs. That makes me feel a TAD less guilty, as I put myself right in that category. ;) We have a mere 4 weeks (4 WEEKS!) until the end of the year. With summer fever on the rise and running rampant in my classroom, I find my kiddos hard to engage. The antidote? Activities that can't help but enthrall learners.
I designed a lesson around a reading to introduce my kiddos with having a critical eye regarding movies and the media. To continue the theme through the lesson, I wanted to have a media inspired response to the reading. My answer to that was a Twitter inspired response!

To introduce the lesson, I showed the kiddos my own Twitter page. We discussed hash tags and what makes a good tweet. Then, the students were instructed to compose their own tweet about something they learned in their reading. I reviewed the tweets, and the next day the kiddos decorated them. To make it interactive and add some technology, the students then recorded themselves reading their tweet. I will create QR codes to put next to the tweets in the hallway so passersby can enjoy the tweet direct from the author. :) I'll post the finished bulletin board once it's all said and done.

You can use my short response format for FREE from my TPT store. Click here to access it. :) Feedback, as always, is so appreciated from this TPT newcomer.

With Love from Texas through this final stretch,

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

STAAR Math and Reading Vocabulary-- free resource

Fellow 4th grade ELA teachers, I'm sure we can breathe a collective sigh of relief now that Writing STAAR is behind us. But now, we have Reading and Math on the horizon! 

My friend Whitney Parlin from At Whit's End and I teamed up to create review vocabulary on Quizlet. Please click HERE to see her in depth blog post about it!! Hopefully this resource is helpful to you!

Enjoy the long weekend.  :)

Sunday, March 22, 2015

What PERCENTAGE is your class?

What PERCENTAGE is your class? No, I'm not talking about what ability level your class ranks in relation to your school, district, or the nation. I'm talking about what PERCENTAGE of your class is engaged in learning.

I've heard, along my way somewhere, a question that really struck  me. I believe it was at a Kagan training, so I'll give it my credit. :)

At any point in time, take a status check on the children in your classroom. What percent of your kiddos are engaged? 

Wow. What a statement. I love the way it simplifies the goal of active versus passive learning. Think about it- every student watching a movie? Maybe they are interested, but 0% engaged. Listening to a lecture? Maybe taking notes, but are they actively engaged? Nope. Completing a dictionary scavenger hunt with partners? NOW we have a 100% engaged!

What I've found is difficult to accommodate percentage wise is presenting students with new information. Engagement is easy to design with exploratory and skill building activities. However, taking notes or 'sit and get' do not encourage that. How can we, as educators, do this?

I asked myself this question as my kiddos and I were doing a SmartBoard activity. We had just learned about dictionary skills, and this was the second lesson. Questions were geared toward sorting words under guide words, alphabetizing, etc. As I had students come up to the board to answer the questions, I asked myself the question, "What percent of my class is engaged right now?" Sadly, it was about a kid every minute (to come up and answer a question). So about 5%. I asked myself, "How can I make my percentage higher?"

"Okay y'all! I want everyone to take out their iPads. Open up any whiteboard app (Educreations, ShowMe, even PicCollage)."

As each question came up, students input their answer on their own iPad. I walked around the room to check for comprehension. As an added bonus, I was able to have mini conferences with students to discuss a wrong answer and how to get to the correct one. I found my kiddos were also excited to design the page.. some even went to the Internet to find 'fancy' forms of letters to answer the questions. I would have never thought of that in a thousand years. I suppose that is part of the beauty of giving kiddos freedom in showing their understanding. :)

With this small tweak, having each kiddo individually answer questions on their iPads instead of one kiddo coming up to answer questions on the SmartBoard, my percentage was upped by 95%. I will continue strive to up that percentage in my classroom.

How about y'all? What do you do to encourage active learning in the classroom? I'd love to hear some ideas! :)

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Nearpod: A "How To"

Hi there!

This guide will teach you how to create and use Nearpod as an effective tool in the classroom. I am not a certified Nearpod expert, however I've created quite a few presentations, used it in my classroom, and done my research. :) Here we go!


First, create the 'bones' of your presentation in Google Slides/Presentation. By bones, I mean the information you want to teach your students (definitions, formulas, concepts, etc.). This serves 2 purposes: it is more user friendly than the Nearpod creation slides, and, due to the limited Nearpod storage, you will always have the 'bones' saved in Google should you need to delete a Nearpod presentation.

After you have the presentation completed, go ahead and save the presentation as a PDF. This keeps the integrity of the file by saving the spacing, pictures, fonts, etc. when transferring it to another program. To do so: File > Download as > PDF document.

Now, it is time to open up Nearpod on your computer! You'll need to set up an account first. Afterwards, sign in. 

Once you are logged in, click 'Create' and then click '+ New Presentation.'

Once you are at that screen, you can see how it says 'draw your files here!' I opened my finder to locate the saved PDF, then dragged it over to the new presentation. The slides automatically upload!

Now is the fun part. Go ahead and delete those first and last 'Nearpod' slides, and add the engaging content. This is what Nearpod is all about! Click 'Add Slide' and select 'Activity.'

You can see here there are 4 free options of activities to add. The activities are very user friendly to create. Your options are: 

1. an open ended question

2. a poll-- This is my favorite to use at the end of a Nearpod presentation to gage how students feel about the concept using a 1-5 scale. It would also be great as a 'hook' at the beginning.

3. A quiz--results show up real time on your iPad or laptop that you are running the Nearpod from. Is everyone missing question 2? Good idea to go back and review that one! After the quiz is submitted, students also see a circle map of their correct percentage and can review the questions, with both their responses and the correct responses shown. You can also add an image to the question to have kiddos respond to that!

4. And finally, my favorite feature, 'Draw It.' This is the most flexible feature as it allows students to highlight, draw and otherwise show their work on either an image or a blank canvas. There are SO MANY options for this! I've included a couple. As students submit their drawings, you can see it real time on your own device. And one of my favorite aspects? You can then share a stellar student example to everyone by sharing it on everyone's screen! 

You can also input YouTube videos! In my experience, the videos lagged due to the strain on the wifi. I found it best to play the video whole group, then go back to the Nearpod presentation afterwards.


Now that you know how to create a stellar Nearpod presentation, you need to know how to use it in the classroom. 

Nearpod can be used on iPads (free app named Nearpod), on laptops (nearpod.com) or even on phones (nearpod.com). Another great benefit is that students do NOT need to create an account to use! The log in for students is similar to Kahoot. Once you start the presentation on your own device, it will generate a 5 letter code. I simply write the code on the board, and the students type the code in the 'Join Session' box. 

When students first sign in, the first slide pops up. Once you slide to the second slide on your device (therefore doing the same on all the other devices), a screen will appear for students to put their names in. This is great because, as you are presenting, you can check on the status of your students by clicking the person button on the upper left hand corner. If Bob's name shows up as red, he is off task and not in Nearpod. I've only had to call out a student once for not being in, after that everyone made sure to stay on task! They were astounded that I knew he wasn't on task. Now, they believe Nearpod gives me 'magic powers.' ;)

As a presenter, the information you gain from the activity slides is great! You see a everyone's responses as they submit the allotted activity. You can also share responses with the whole class by clicking 'Share' when looking at a certain student's response. This is great positive reinforcement, as it keeps kiddos working hard in hopes that their work will be the one to be showcased!! 

Here is the cherry on top of all Nearpod activities. Once the presentation is over, the website saves all the student data for you to see at a later time. It has a group circle map to see the class as a whole, and it also has data for each individual student. To access this information, log in on the website and select reports.

Of course, with any product there will be drawbacks. There are two to speak of for Nearpod. My main complaint is the free version has a limited storage amount (50MB). I've had 4 presentations at one time, but that seems to be the limit. To accommodate for more, I've had to delete older presentations. This is why, at the beginning, I advised you to create the 'bones' of the content in Google Slides. Next year, you'll just have to upload the slides then redo the activities. The second drawback is that, with any free product, there are limitations on what the free account will do. There are a lot of neat aspects of Nearpod (like inserting a Twitter feed) that are only available to premium members. For the time being, I cannot stomach paying $12 a month (or $10 a month billed annually) for the gold membership. There are options for school licenses, however that has to be done through contacting Nearpod.

And there you have it! Hopefully after reading this post, you feel prepared to tackle Nearpod! I'll leave you with some comments my students gave me when I asked for feedback regarding the program:

"I feel like I really learned it."
"We got to do cool stuff with it. We didn't just write stuff down."
"Can we do another one tomorrow?"

Please let me know if there are any aspects of creating or using Nearpod that I neglected to include! I'd be happy to update this post so it is more helpful! :)

With Love from Texas,

How Nearpod Will Change Your Classroom

I've heard of Nearpod for about 2 years now. However, with all the other wonderful technology tools out there, there was not a reason for me to dedicate my (very precious) classroom time in experimenting with another. No one I knew had used it, and it wasn't making a huge buzz within the community (to my knowledge). If something was THAT significant a teaching tool, wouldn't everyone be using it?

A Nearpod session at the TCEA conference in Austin showed me that I couldn't have been more wrong. 

Essentially, Nearpod is a way to relay information to your students. That doesn't sound very revolutionary, does it? But THERE'S MORE. Nearpod digs deeper into content by allowing students the voice in answering questions, polls and even create drawings through the means of an engaging iPad, phone, or laptop.

Nearpod allows you to control a presentation (similar to Powerpoint) on every child's screen. As you move through the presentation on your iPad or laptop, the screen will change on your students' devices as well. No moving too fast or falling behind!

As you create the presentation for your students, you can insert other slides to assess your students' knowledge and keep that engagement up. Possible activities to include are: open ended questions, MC quizzes, a poll, and (my favorite) draw it which an option for students to highlight, draw and otherwise demonstrate what they learned on a picture.

Traditionally, to teach a new concept, I'll have students take notes. Is it effective? Yes. But does it really excite my students about learning that new concept? I think y'all know the answer to that one.

The first time I used Nearpod in my classroom, my kids were enamored with it. I was introducing the concept of Nonfiction Text Features. Typically, this isn't the subject that has my kiddos begging for more. However, my students were disappointed when the lesson ended. Not only did my students learn important vocabulary terms such as 'topic sentence' and 'subheading,' they were able to highlight them on a paragraph and submit it to me. Not only did my kids discover the difference between a glossary and an index, they answered vocabulary questions which then sent me a real time report so I knew what terms they were still having trouble with. Not only did my kids know why text features are important, they answered a poll at the end to indicate to me how comfortable they were with the new concept.

One final note, Nearpod does not have to be done whole class. Our 4th and 5th grades are 1:1, so I have used it with all my students. However, I spoke with teachers of younger grades. They were excited about the possibilities of Nearpod in guided reading groups, as well as stations. Students can even share a device to work together on a Nearpod. It also works on computers as well as iPads!

This tool works. It has the bones, and it has the technology piece to entice all learners. Take it from a doubter, you want to use this.

Do you want to know how to create and use Nearpod? Click this link to access my post-- a comprehensive guide for Nearpod beginners: Nearpod: A 'How To'

With Love from Texas,

Monday, March 2, 2015

Famous Texans, with a 21st century twist!

Open House and Spring Break and STAAR Writing, OH MY! I don't have to to remind y'all that this is a crazy time of year. 4th grade at our school always does a special something for Open House called the Famous Texan Wax Museum. This year, we wanted to spice things up a bit.

My FABULOUS ELA partner teacher and I were speaking with our principal a couple weeks back. We were discussing how to revamp our very traditional Famous Texan project. If we need to rewind a bit... 4th grade social studies in Texas focuses on SUCH a neat subject- Texas history! In order to give students an ownership in their learning (as well as tie in with biographical reading and research skills), our grade level has a Famous Texan project! The students select a Texan who they would like to "be," from Ann Richards to Willie Nelson. Students then create a poster including a photograph and 10 important facts about that person. Students also dress up as their Texan and present a speech in 1st person from the viewpoint of their Texan. Students present the speeches in class, then later on that week in Open House as a "Wax Museum." It is a BIG 4th grade tradition!

Back to our conversation, all 3 of us love the bones of the Famous Texan project. My principal started throwing out ideas of how to incorporate newly learned technology into showcasing our students' work. She tossed out ideas from ThingLink to Canva to sharing via Google Drive and MORE. We are blessed with a principal who is an idea person. She sees the big picture, and we take it from there and put a plan to the idea. It was, like all successful things, a great group effort. :)

I was hooked on ThingLink. In case you are interested, this is a free app where students can interact with images through comments, links, and videos. (Learn more by clicking here.) Instead of having a Word Doc printed alongside a picture of a Famous Texan, why not make that Famous Texan picture interactive? It is more exciting for the creators as well as the audience.

Sidenote: I strongly believe that the curriculum should drive the classroom and integrate technology as you go. The integrity of this project was always centered on the research and biography aspect. :)

Next came an obstacle, how can I allow students to show-off a digital project in a traditional school hallway setting? My answer- the ever effective, ever lifesaving QR code, posted alongside a picture of the Famous Texan. I don't know how I lived before those things. :) My favorite QR code generator site can be found here.

We split up the project into two days of instruction- one day focused on creating the interactive image on Thinglink, and the other day focused on creating the poster which would be in the hallway.


Students uploaded a picture of their Famous Texan onto the app Thinglink. The app is extremely user friendly, and the kiddos took to it quickly. One they uploaded the image, students added their 10 facts (they had already researched their Famous Texan in conjunction with the library and social studies the week before) by simply clicking on different areas on the picture. Once students typed in all their facts, they saved the Thinglink, opened it in Safari, then copied the link and sent it to me through a Google Form. Later, I created QR codes from the links shared with me.

*I found a neat trick- If kiddos want to edit their Thinglinks, they can update it within their app, save it again, and no new QR code needs to be created!




Students created a Google Doc on their iPads, including their Famous Texan's name and A.K.A. Their Name underneath. Unfortunately, kiddos aren't able to input photos into Google Docs on their iPads. So, they also shared with me the photo of their Famous Texan they used for the project. I compiled the two together using my laptop. The results were so fun and personal!

**Click on the posters above to be directed to the ThinkLink image!**


Students created a poster using the Google Doc print out and their QR codes on scrapbook paper. They presented, dressed in full attire, the next week. Students provided feedback for each peer by submitting a compliment on a Google Form after each presentation. At the end of the day, I provided each kiddo with the compliments that their peers wrote about them. So fun!! This Thursday, at Open House, students will again have the opportunity to present in costume to their family and friends.

How about y'all? What do you do for a research project? Any ideas or apps to share? :)

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Out of my Comfort Zone- Teaching Dramatic Lit.

For those who do not know me, I am a 100%, complete, total book nerd. I'm the type who gets excited about new book releases like others get excited about a midnight movie showing. The last Harry Potter book? It was delivered straight to my house the morning it was released. Every single night, I read before shutting off my lamp and pulling the sheets up. On that note, if anyone has any book recommendations, please add a comment below!

However, I have a confession. I am boxed into the world of fiction. My reading "toolbox" doesn't extend much past a few nonfiction books (speaking of, have y'all read Unbroken? FANTASTIC read.). Therefore, when it comes to teaching my students something OTHER than fiction, it is a step outside my very comfortable reading zone.

When designing plans for teaching  dramatic literature, I took a look at the resources I have. There were quite a few reading passages with multiple choice questions, but I wanted to dive deeper. To create the type of engaging learning that I wanted my kiddos to have, it seemed I would have to create it myself. So I did. :)

This unit includes the A to Z on dramatic literature. Everything is included, minus dramatic literature pieces to use and read together (there are many available online or through your basal reader).

To begin the unit, we all took turns reading a dramatic literature piece from our basal reader. It was so fun seeing their personalities come out! Everyone had a part, and I enjoyed the community culture it created.

The following day, we started with fill in the blank note taking, following along with the vocabulary term slides. I would discuss parts of the dramatic literature we read the previous day so kiddos would see the connection. Students glued notes into their interactive journals.

After that, I wanted my students to have experience identifying the terms they learned. They worked with partners to identify the terms in a different piece of dramatic literature. (Only the front is shown here.)

We reviewed the terms using the sheet from the day before. Students collaborated with their tables to do so. It was great hearing the discussions! Next, students were provided a choice among 3 writing prompts to demonstrate their learning. Again, I was so impressed with how they articulated what they were learning about. 

My students completed a formative assessment so I could evaluate their knowledge of dramatic literature. They blew it out of the water! The assessment could also be paired with a dramatic literature passage and serve as a summative assessment. 

It was an adventure to be sure! I realized, through teaching this unit, that now dramatic literature is one of my favorite reading skills to teach. The kiddos love being exposed to a fresh subject and the collaborative nature of this type of literature. I supplemented my unit with whole group and small group readings of dramatic literature to provide extra exposure. Who knew it was so exciting to act as another character, complete with silly voices and stage directions? :)

If you are interested in my product, head on over to my TPT store by clicking HERE or simply click on the picture below. :) All the activities I wrote about are included.

Happy teaching!

With Love from Texas,