Thursday, December 26, 2019

New Year's Goal - Positivity

I've been playing with grateful and gratitude apps the last month. It is one of my goals in 2020 is to focus more on being positive and I wasn't sure exactly how I wanted to go about it.

This past year has been a little rough in terms of watching the news, budget cuts at work, gaining weight, getting older and I've been focused a little too much on the negative.

At first I thought I might want to just share my grateful thoughts on Facebook but I didn't want to annoy anyone with my posts (you know the ones that start in November and lead up to Thanksgiving Day and we get it...YOU. ARE. THANKFUL not to mention FB posts are super hard to sort).

Anyway I thought of a employing a "happiness jar" but I didn't want my husband to ask me "What is that?" and me having to explain. This is more of a "me" thing than a "him" thing I am not sure he has every been "unhappy" so he wouldn't understand (I am assuming that is a guy thing and leave it at that...or at least a "my guy" thing).

Photo Credit -

I then started thinking about adding notes to my phone's Notes App but I am terrible at keeping those up. I still shop with paper lists (and I have tried to go to digital just annoys me I have to log in after every aisle).

That got me thinking about apps and so I started trying some out. I wanted a free or cheap app that was easy to use and that I could look back on whenever I started feeling a little down. 

A lot of them are initially free but then require "in app purchases". I narrowed it down to two apps - Gratitude Happiness Journal and the Grateful a Gratitude Journal App

The Gratitude Happiness Journal app had a lot on its "free" side but to upgrade there is a monthly charge and I am strongly against assuming a monthly charge. I could have lived with the "free" side but if I ultimately wanted to add more pictures, more posts, or export my journal than I would have to upgrade. If you are not interested in those features then the free version is pretty robust. 

The Grateful app was limited on its "free" side (15 journal entries) but to upgrade there was a one time $5 charge (which is easier to take then a monthly charge). It was super simple to use, included the abilities to add more pictures, more posts, and to export. It is also "no frills" (I don't need a daily affirmation the other app offered). I wasn't too excited about how the data backs up. I looked at the back up in my Dropbox and exported as a PDF and the company could certainly improve both but I could live with it. So I ultimately went with that app.

I've been posting once a day (usually with a picture) since December 10th just to get myself into the habit so that I am "official" ready to be more positive in 2020. 

So if you are like me...trying to focus more on the positive in the New Year you might consider testing out some of the available apps before 01/01.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Sketchnoting - 12 Days Challenge

Last year (2018) I randomly ran across a 12 Days of Twitter Challenge about the same time I was getting into Sketchnoting. One of the teachers/tech coaches I follow Wanda Terral, an early sketchnote adopter, challenged folks to sketchnote their responses to the challenge. I was trying to sketchnote digitally and so I took on the challenge. Sadly I did not complete it. Sketchnoting digitally took up a lot more time then just paper and pencil.  I was using Kami as my online sketchpad...even though it isn't its intended had all the tools I needed for use on my tablet. 

Fast forward to December this year (2019) and the challenge came up on my Twitter feed again. The challenges seem to be run by different folks on Twitter but more or less have the same components. 

This year I decided to use paper and pencil and sketch out simple vs. elaborate responses. I did it while watching TV at night with my husband and moved days ahead with my responses. I posted them to Twitter on the correct day but I was ahead as far as sketchnoting. 

I'm happy to report I was able to complete all twelve days of the challenge (see first picture). Sketchnoting wasn't required to do the challenge it was more of a way to keep my skills (such as they are) up. 

My biggest complaint is that the hashtag seems to differ so I was never sure if I was hashtagging #12DaysofTwitter or I simply used both in my posts. 

I liked that I logged into Twitter each day and got some great ideas. Twitter is full of them...I just rarely have the time to scroll and post so the challenge forced me into it. 

This got me thinking about all the students I have taught sketchnoting to. I thought it might be fun to come up with an "early finishers" activity for students to sketchnote twelve things. It doesn't necessarily have to be Christmas-y either. Some of the things that made it on my list:

- Sketchnote your favorite book and why it is
- What is your favorite thing to eat during the holidays and why
- What do you hope to do over the break
- Tell us about yourself in a sketchnote

I would probably have a prize for students who completed all twelve at the end of the challenge and would make a fun December display in the hall. 

So stay tuned to this space next year to see if I am able to get the idea off the ground. 🤔

Monday, December 23, 2019

Radio Programs in the Classroom - Using Audacity

The other day I worked with a 5th grade class teaching them how to use Audacity (free, open source, audio software). They had to recite the shortened poem, "Twas the Night Before Christmas" and add in eight sound effects (that I curated for them). The project was leading up to a larger one after the break where students will be making WW2 era radio broadcasts in their Social Studies class. 

Finished student poem project - Tyler's Recording

Audacity is available in our district software center for students to download. It looks intimidating to use but there are really only a few things that students needed to learn how to do (I made the cheat sheets above so they could have some reference materials to refer back to). My goals for the students were to teach them how to:

- Record an audio track
- Delete an audio track
- Split and move audio tracks
- Trim audio tracks
- Import audio tracks
- Fade In and Out
- Reduce the volume
- Know the difference between inserting and layering a sound effect
- Save their working project
- Save their final project (as a WAV file)
- Upload to a Google Classroom assignment

I am by no means an Audacity expert so I watched several YouTube videos prior to the lesson. In the past I have used Audacity to split and merge music tracks and that was pretty much the extent of my experience with the software. 

The introduction lesson was done in two 5th grade gifted and talented classes the week of Christmas break in her 2 hour ELA blocks. The teacher is very tech savvy and was interested in having her students learn the tool for future recordings. She said, after the project, that she was going to add the introductory lesson to her December lesson plans each year going forward (so that made me happy!).  

For our whole group lesson we all did the same simple recording adding in four sound effects (which I got from the Discovery Education sound effects library and curated into a file, sharing the file with students). Our district has a subscription to Discovery Education and I would say their sound effects are often overlooked in their audio library. They have a lot but it is by no means the most comprehensive effects library (for instance I couldn't find a sound effect for paper ripping) but all the students have access to it and they are easily downloadable to student tablets, which I needed. We block a lot of audio sites in our district (I'll list a couple of sound effects sites to try at the end of this post).

The simple recording was a short announcement of a grant with their teachers as the surprise winners. The sound effects were as follows:

- Intro music
- Envelope ripping (got from the YouTube audio library)
- Crowd gasp
- Crowd cheer

Once we completed the recording (took about 1 hour) the students had the second hour to work independently on their poem recording. 

In Google Classroom I put a link to their sound effects in Discovery Education (you can add outside resources to your file library in DE and still share) and I had pre-printed the poem with what sound effects went where (see picture below). 

Student had to download the sound effects first (it helped to delete the sound effects from the first group project so they weren't confused). Then they had to record their poem (it helped to have them pause the recording between stanzas to keep the pacing...those who didn't made a lot of mistakes and spoke too quickly). Once they were done recording they saved everything and started to insert and/or overlap the sound effects, ALWAYS saving between changes. We learned, after the first group, that overlapping the sound effects on to the readings worked better then inserting them between stanzas...which led to learning how to adjust the volume of the sound effects so they didn't drown out the main voice. 

The students were happily engaged for two solid hours and learned a lot of skills that will help them with future recordings (poems, podcasts, mock radio broadcasts). 

If you are interested in doing this with children I would definitely check out the following sound effect libraries on a student device to see what may or may not be blocked (if you want students to find their own sound effects). Look for sites that don't require students to make an account. If you are finding the effects for students you can curate sound effects in a Google Drive folder if you don't have access to Discovery Education.

Free Play Music (chose the educational license need to make an account so more for teachers)
Free Sound Effects (they have a pro version so if you see pricing move back to the "free" area)

If you have any other sites you recommend, please let me know in the comments or tag me on Twitter @atechcoachlife.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

12 Days Before Christmas Break (BONUS ACTIVITY) - Holiday Emoji Book Trailers w/ Flipgrid

Sorry for the overload of holiday ideas. We have one more week of school here in South Carolina (which involved a hurricane makeup day) and teachers are looking for creative ways to keep students engaged.

This idea of making emoji book trailers came from working with staff at Whale Branch Elementary School. Their Literacy Coach wanted to have every teacher in the school record a book trailer. The idea was to share one a week (Friday) on the morning news but she needed help planning and recording staff. 

We met up to record our sample trailers and to discus the project and potential pitfalls. Initially I think we were both thinking of recording the teachers using the green screen but for a school wide project that would have been a lot of work. I was also thinking of the teachers who would refuse because they ABSOLUTELY POSITIVELY don't want to be recorded.  That is when Flipgrid popped back on my radar. It fell off my radar last year when Microsoft took it over (mainly because there were so many changes that I simply didn't keep up with it). 

My thought was that Flipgrid will allow teachers to record independently (so no need to drag out my recording equipment and schedule appointments) and I knew that you could download the finished videos so getting them on the news show would be easy. 

Ms. Bates and I settled into make our recordings when I noticed that Flipgrid added an emoji feature (remember I hadn't kept up with changes for an entire year). As soon as I saw the emojis it made me think of those camera shy teachers and I changed our sample trailer scripts into ones that we could use emojis with. We had so much fun creating them that I thought students would too. Here are links to my "Best Christmas Pageant Ever" trailer and Mrs. Bates "The Relatives Came" book trailer.

I tried it out with a group of fourth graders and they enjoyed the activity but they never got a chance to make their own. As a group we created one for "Bear Stays Up for Christmas" (click the title to see one of the completed videos). We ended up with a synopsis of the book versus a trailer. They all recorded the same video (my plan is to go back and see how they would do on their own). 

If you do this activity I would suggest two ELA blocks (those are typically longer blocks of time). On the first day I would show them a sample (ask them what they notice), go over the available emojis to discuss meaning, read a book, work out a script and pick emojis whole group. Have them record it (which will give them practice with the tools and recording). I gave students the Flipgrid link and copied the script into Google Classroom so they would have what they needed for the activity. Flipgrid has a great notes feature where they could paste the script so they could read from it (sort of like an on screen teleprompter that doesn't scroll). 

On the second day the students would pick a holiday picture book (or any book really) read it and create an emoji script. Once the script was approved by the teacher they could record. 

One thing I should have stressed to students is the need to hold still while recording with the emoji over their face. One child complained that their emoji kept moving when in fact he was the one doing all the moving. 🤣

If you try it with students I would love to see their videos. Feel free to link anything in the comments or tag me on Twitter @atechcoachlife

12 Days Before Christmas Break (BONUS ACTIVITY) - Design a Snowflake

This AWESOME idea came from Abby Schiferl on Twitter. She had her students design snowflakes using Google Drawings, which in itself is fun but she brought in her Silhouette machine and used it to cut out their designs (which I though was pretty cool). She works in a computer lab but this could easily translate into the classroom.

I reached out to her on Twitter and asked how they designed the snowflakes in Drawings and she sent me a link to a YouTube video they used as the inspiration for this project.

I tried designing it this morning (see picture above). It was fairly easy, although I had to restart it several times because I messed up the final closing of the shape. I would tell students that they will mess up...but to me that is part of the process.

Purposely I used my mouse track pad instead of an actual mouse to rate the difficulty level for students (who don't have external mouses) and it wasn't too bad. Definitely doable.

I loved the Silhouette aspect of being able to take home a tangible product they designed. I personally don't have a Silhouette or Cricut machine but I a meeting up with a teacher friend later today to have her cut out my design above. She has a personal machine but she bought one after using the schools Cricut machine (which would make a great grant proposal).

Making the snowflake didn't take that much time so you might want to have students make a few snowflakes and then pair it with this Google Slides animation idea (check out the comment about changing the size of the falling snow).

This would be a great activity to reinforce symmetry and angles.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

12 Days Before Christmas Break (#12) - Personalized Pop Up Cards with Flipgrid

I saw this post on Twitter on how to use Flipgrid to personalize gifts and it got me thinking about how I can use the idea this holiday season.

Flipgrid is a FREE video response system for students (which has a lot of cool features). If you aren't using it definitely check it out (it works with tablets as well as iPads). I would also highly recommend following them on Twitter for ideas and short tutorials.

Have students record a personalized message to a family member on Flipgrid. To add a twist have them use the emoji features to cover their face until the end (my video 👇). This requires that students pre-plan their message on paper (which I liked better than doing a straight recording...but if you are short on time a straight recording would work).

Students can use the "notes" feature to type their message so it doesn't look like they are reading from a piece of paper.

In the teacher admin area of Flipgrid you can print out QR codes to the video and have students glue them into their cards.

I love Robert Sabuda's pop up templates and chose the tree for this activity. There are several other holiday ones but the tree was in his "easy" popup category and I liked that it produced a larger card and lent itself to decorating.

I would plan for two class periods to complete this project. One to plan and record the message and one to make and decorate the card.

If you use this idea I would love to see some finished cards. You can either comment below or tag me on Twitter @atechcoachlife.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

12 Days Before Christmas Break (#11) - Where in the World is Santa?

Try this Where in the World is Santa Going Next geography activity where students have to enter in specific longitude and latitude coordinates in Google Earth to find Santa's next stop (answer key). If you have students who don't celebrate the holiday I created a separate sheet (same activity) just leaving out references to Santa (answer key).
Google Earth has come a long way from being a program you have to download to being able to launch in Google Chrome. Once students get into Google Earth they will need to click on “Launch Earth in Chrome” and it may take a few seconds to load (mine took about 30 seconds). Once they have it loaded they can use the search bar to type, or cut and paste, the coordinates. I found it useful to have students search the school or their address in order to play with the tools before starting the activity.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

12 Days Before Christmas Break (#10) - Reading Filters

Most digital reading options. Newsela, Readworks, Epic, and DOGOnews all have ways to filter content for the holiday season (these are all either free or have free components that would work in the classroom).
Ask students to filter by "Christmas" or "Holiday" to find funny, inspirational, thoughtful, and informational reading pieces specifically geared for this time of year. Students can give you summaries and note any common themes between reading passages, as well as make personal connections.
Pair a holiday article with a summarizing lesson that I modified from the Read, Write, Think website years ago called: Get the Gist: A Summarizing Activity for Any Content Area.
I created a Google Document that you can assign students in Google Classroom (or you can export it as a Word document). You will need to make a copy of it before you assign. Simply click on "file" and "make a copy" or click on "file" "download" and "Word document".
If students will be working in Google to complete this activity you may want to show them how to split their screens so they can see both the article websites and the document on their screen side-by-side. I embedded the graphic below inside the GIST template case they need to refer to it.

12 Days Before Christmas Break (BONUS ACTIVITY) - Best Christmas Pageant Ever

I use to love reading The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson to my students.I forgot about it until a Media Specialist friend told me she is teaching students to sketchnote using the novel and sent me her notes for the first chapter (see below).

It is a timeless classic and one that has a lot of online resources for teachers. There is free 24 page novel guide on TpT ( with discussion questions for every chapter (TIP: Download and save it while it is free. I have found that often TpT free items get moved to paid ones). YouTube has the full length 1983 movie based on the book that students would enjoy as well (

If you have never read the book give it a try this holiday season!

Monday, December 9, 2019

12 Days before Christmas Break (#9) - Holiday Rebus Writing

Have students try and create a holiday Rebus letter this season. A rebus uses pictures and symbols to replace words in a story, or in this case a letter, and the reader has to figure out the meaning (see sample picture above).
We have provided a template of this assignment which includes a slide where you can list the students name and link to their accompanying slide (see the notes section within that slide for directions). This is a great way to keep students on their slide when working on a collaborative document like this.
Since it is collaborate that means everyone gets access to the exact same document. When you are assigning it in Google Classroom make sure you do not select “make a copy” for each student--instead, you need to pick “students can edit” when you make your classroom assignment.
If you try this with students I would love to see their finished letters! Please feel free to share a link in the comments or on my Twitter page @atechcoachlife.
UPDATE: I just tried this in a fourth grade classroom (with the template I provided) and unfortunately they couldn't work in a collaborative document. I think the set up might have been difficult for them. They ended up in other people's slides and deleting slides. So I adjusted the assignment where they worked individually on their own slides (versus everyone in one project), which worked out so much better. As their teacher I could cut and paste their letters into a master document to share at the end. Here are a couple of the student responses.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

12 Days Before Christmas Break (#8) - Holiday Bitmojis

There are a ton of holiday themed Bitmojis which can be used to create holiday cards for your students. To learn how to make a Bitmoji check out my co-worker, Estee Williams, fun instructional video.
If you would like to make a "Have a Joyful Holiday" card, as seen here, I have put together a template with instructions you are free to make a copy of and use. 

Saturday, December 7, 2019

12 Days Before Christmas Break (#7) - Tony Vincent Course

Are you interested in making captivating instructional materials? If so, join Tony Vincent for an online learning experience with his new Classy Creations course!

He will be teaching advanced graphic design techniques and how to apply them to social media posts, logos, badges, printable templates, comics, and animated GIFs.

The course, Classy Creations, runs January 21st through February 24th, 2020. Register by January 6th to save $15.

I have taken both his Classy Graphics and Classy Videos course and loved them both so much so that I am signing up for this new one.

This will make an excellent holiday gift for yourself.

Friday, December 6, 2019

12 Days Before Christmas Break (#6) - Google Drawings Design

Google Drawings is one of the most flexible tools in the G Suite arsenal, but it's also one of the most underutilized! You can use Google Drawings to make your own FREE worksheets & handouts, and students can also use Google Drawings to create posters and infographics (giving you a good alternative to the typical student project tools like Google Slides or PowerPoint).
This Christmas Tree video teaches students how to group objects, rotate, flip, format, use shapes, text box, and color options, as well as search fonts, and hyperlink objects. You can make a copy of the video, or download and then re-upload it into your drive, to assign it to students.
If you like this project check out Tony Vincent's Shapegrams website. He offers over 35 different Google Drawing projects similar to the Christmas tree one for $35/year (with the first three free). I've seen several classrooms use it and the students LOVE it.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

12 Days Before Christmas Break (#5) - Virtual Fireplace

When reading holiday books to students make it fun and cozy by pulling up a crackling fireplace on your interactive whiteboard or panel to display while you read.

You can also use it in conjunction with background music as students work quietly on assigned tasks.

It may seem "cheesy" but its a nice way to get in the holiday mood and to teach children the joy of curling up with a good book on a cold winter's day.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

12 Days Before Christmas Break (#4) - Windows Photo App

Our school has Windows based devices. In the past we have used Microsoft's free software Photostory and Movie Maker Live with students to create videos. Unfortunately Microsoft has discontinued both and replaced them with their new Windows 10 Photos App.

It took me some time to make the switch but I am happy to report that I don't hate it. There are some things I would change but overall it is fairly easy for students to grasp. I like the effects and 3D options and for short videos it is an adequate (and free) app. The video summary above of "Harry the Dirty Dog" will highlight what students can do.

I always liked the time before a holiday break to introduce students to a new tool. It helps to set them up to use the tool independently with future projects.

If you want to try this with students I would recommend making a project yourself so you are familiar with how the tools work.

My suggestion is to introduce a short holiday read aloud and have students work in groups, or it can be done whole group as well, to summarize it in seven sentences (I also impose a word limit of 5-10 words for each sentence). Once they are done they have to find seven pictures online to represent the sentences (which is what we did with the Harry the Dirty Dog example above).

Then walk students through the creation process from adding captions, changing timing, using a theme, using audio, and of course the creative use of those effects and 3D elements.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

12 Days Before Christmas Break (#3) - Novel Effect App

Back in February I wrote a post about an interactive read aloud app. It has quickly become my favorite things to pull up and use with students (I use it with a Bluetooth speaker I have for the classroom).

This holiday season I am suggesting that you try the FREE app Novel Effect to add some fun into your holiday read alouds.

The app plays sound effects as you read certain books, which they have listed in their app. The app operates on voice recognition so as you hit keyword markers certain sound effects and music plays to enhance the story.

Holiday books on their list includes: Twas' the Night Before Christmas, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and many more. You can use the app with either a paper or digital copy of the book. Check out their list of holiday read alouds and stock up from the library and see how your students respond.

Monday, December 2, 2019

12 Days Before Christmas Break (#2) - Secret Santa (on a budget)

We have a lot of schools participate in a Secret Santa gift exchange and our department highlighted eight tech related items that would make good (and inexpensive) tech gifts for our classrooms:

1. Earbuds - We request students bring in their own headphones and earbuds but inevitably we have a few students who "forget" or never had them in the first place. A set of 10 loaner earbud would make an outstanding tech gift for any teacher. You can pair them with numbered sandwich baggies and a box of alcohol swabs to make the gift complete.

2. Batteries - Nothing is worse then having a class set of calculators that go dead when students need them the most. An emergency container of AA batteries in a small plastic container would be appreciated by most teachers.

3. Selfie Stick - I used to have a selfie stick in the classroom in order to get a better group shot of projects, students working, or field trip photos. This ensured my school social media posts looked good (and didn't accidentally cut anyone out). Since I often used those pictures for our year book page it was well worth the (very inexpensive) investment.

4. Goo Gone - No matter how hard I try to police it inevitably a student manages to get stickers or tape on their district issued device. At the end of the year those devices have to be turned in cleaned of any stickers, or labels, so a bottle of Goo Gone is a great purchase.

5. Computer Mouses - Our students use track pads on their devices which make it awkward when doing detailed work. I liked having a few computer mouses on hand to loan out as needed.

6. Panel/Whiteboard Cleaning Kit - Our district recently had an interactive whiteboard refresh and our new panels have to be cleaned a certain way. A panel or whiteboard cleaning kit would make a useful and inexpensive gift for any teacher.

7. Stylus - Much like the computer mouses mentioned in tip #5 stylus also make for a good classroom "loaner" item. Many of them come in larger packs so you could get enough for each student.

8. Bluetooth Speakers - External speakers retail for quite a bit of money but at some dollar stores you can find them for as little as $8. They are handy to have in the classroom to play music or hear timer alarms from your phone.

Always remember, if you can't find what you are looking for in your local dollar stores don't forget to check out their online inventory. Many sites will allow you to ship to local stores for pick up so you don't have to pay shipping and handling.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

12 Days Before Christmas Break (#1) - Eflster

The 12 Days before Christmas Break officially starts for us December 5th here in South Carolina and I thought I would highlight twelve tech tips for the classroom and school leading up to our holiday break (these tips are also mentioned in episode four of our podcast). 

The first tip is to go digital for your school's Secret Santa exchange. Going digital allows you to ditch paper and pencil and organize your participants using the FREE site Elfster. You can send out an email from the site asking interested folks to sign up (remember to give everyone a deadline). Once you have everyone signed up on the site you can have people randomly and non-randomly assigned their secret Santa. Elfster then assigns the participants their match and emails the information individually. Once participants log into their account they can create a wish list so their match can check out what things they like. NOTE - My Elfster emails go to my "clutter" folder so make sure folks know to check that if they haven't received an email.

Our department has been using it for years for our Secret Santa exchange and it is super easy to use. Many of my teammates use it for family and friend exchanges as well.

If you are on your schools Sunshine Committee and want to save a bit of time this year give this site a try!