Friday, January 15, 2021

An Informal "Survival Guide" of Awesome Tools and Tips for Teaching, Productivity, and Lifestyle in 2021

Obviously within this past year, educators all over the world have had to make massive adjustmenets in their classrooms. I remember "the day the clock stopped" (March 13, 2020) like it was yesterday, though it actually happened 10 months ago. 

The purpose of this post is to share some really cool gadgets, apps, books, classroom planning tips, and lifestyle tips I have learned during this uncharted and unique time. This year, I have two classes of math and science-- an entirely face-to-face class in the morning and then a hybrid class in the afternoon where 15 students are online and 17 students are in person. 

Below you will see various categories incorporating a wide range of resources and tips. If you find this post useful, I highly encourage you to share or comment! 

Things I have learned in general:

1. My lessons are better organized than they have ever been in 17 years of teaching. I replicate every single lesson in printable form and keep them in folders on my computer. The absolute best part is having PDF files of every single page of notes I have taken in math and science this year, which I captured using the Scanner App on my iPhone. 

2. Hands-on learning is still a possibility when students are learning from home. Also, delving into hands-on activities in the classroom is still doable during a world pandemic. 

3. Although I have always been kind of an "overplanner", I always have a back-up plan, finding resources that take each lesson to the next level so students stay engaged after they have completed their assignments. See more in the "Classroom Planning" section. 

4. Taking time for ourselves is what ultimately provides our fuel for every single week! The bottom category (lifestyle) is the longest in this post, but also the one I consider most critical. 

Productivity Tools (Tech-related and non-tech-related)  

  • Scanner App: PDF Document Scan: I know, it's just a scanner app, but this has certainly been a tremendous game-changer in my classroom this year. It is also the most user-friendly app I have used for this purpose. While I am logged in to Microsoft Teams with my students, I can take photos of our notes and make them accessible for anyone who may need some extra time to write them out. You can save your images as .pdfs or .jpgs, and there is a super-easy cropping tool that makes the process of getting things in my online students' hands absolutely stress-free. 
  • PDF Annotator: I downloaded this to my personal laptop during quarantine at the end of last year. I did not have my Elmo for part of the time, and I needed a program where I could work out math problems with my students. It also served as an extraordinary "digital white board" during our Zoom meetings. In many ways, this has served as a game-changer for me as well because I can crop .pdf files, easily share images of digitally annotated notes for my students, and much more. I pay for this monthly, but I use it very often. Truly, I consider this one of the best purchases I have ever made. 
Check here to find out more:

  • Adobe Suite: Though I have been acclimated with Adobe products since 2001, I cannot recommend Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Premiere Pro 2020 to educators enough! 
  • Gooseneck Cell Phone Holder: Towards the beginning of quarantine last year, I purchased this product from Amazon. My former teaching partner had purchased one, and I was curious about it. The purchase was after I made human body unit videos on how to sketch the heart and lungs, but it helped me film math tutorials, a few personal stop motion videos, and a few science demonstrations. The flexibility is what certainly won me over! 
  • Image Mate: I use Elmo Image Mate every single day. I use the downloaded version, not the web-based one. Although it tends to freeze almost daily for a few seconds, I obviously could not teach my distance learners without it installed on my computer. I also use it from time to time in my entirely face-to-face first period class because I can check out information on one screen and share the notes I am taking on another. 
  • Varying up my choice of teacher journal: For science class this year, I decided to start using a sketch book from Michaels for my teacher journal. Starting next year, I am going to ask all my students to bring in an 8.5 x 11" blank sketchbook, because every new page of notes offers up a fresh, entirely blank "canvas" with higher quality paper than notebook paper. I vary up my markers, colored pencils, and pens, and most do not bleed through. 
  • Khan Academy and IXL: Having opportunities to practice outside of class while keeping the assignments paperless on my end is AWESOME! This month, I am seeing which of my students practice various math concepts for at least 200 minutes on their own. They have been advised to choose upcoming topics or previous ones where they felt they needed more practice.
  • The "Old Stand-Bys"-- BrainPOP and Kahoot: These have been absolute blessings this year because students can still engage in real-time review activities. I have used them for many years, and students have always gotten really excited! Here are some other real-time reviews I have heard others rave about that I may also try before the end of this year...
- Flippity (Which includes online Bingo!):
- A whole lot more in a list compiled by the authors of Ditch That Textbook!
  • Flipgrid: Though I have not utilized it as much as I originally intended this year, using Flipgrid has been another game-changer. Every year since 2014, my fifth graders have presented "science museums" at the beginning of the school year, where they bring in at least five items that pertain to at least five different areas of science (like, for instance, electricity, astronomy, physics, human body, and geology). This year, my distance learning students and in-person students made videos of themselves presenting their items, and they easily got to watch as many presentations as they desired. It was also wonderful for my distance learning students when they carried out their egg drop engineering challenge back in September. 

Furthermore, this image is from Flipgrid: 

Classroom Planning: 

One thing that has been challenging during this time is still delivering high-quality, engaging lessons that do not just rely on note-taking skills, solving problems, conducting research, and printed information. 

These ideas below have worked especially well to bring science and math concepts to life this year... 

  • Escape Rooms: I have incorporated escape rooms in my classroom for the past four school years, and especially during this time, they are wonderful for students to engage in from multiple settings. I have designed many of my own, but a few I use from TpT for math and science are from Educational Emporium, Digital Escape Rooms, The Great Classroom Escape, and Escape Room EDU. I also always peruse free resources online. 
  • Virtual Field Trips: Last year, I shared quite a few virtual field trip ideas for my students and made it available for educator friends to check out as well. I recommended immersive adventures like Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and a fully visual tour of the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. Just today, I introduced my students to the wondrous adventures below for our astronomy unit, which works wonders for our distance learning students. 

  • Choice Assignments: I am a huge advocate of kinesthetic learning opportunities in the classroom. In the past, we launched our marble roller coasters, constructed our rubber band propelled vehicles, and completed many of our engineering challenges without a second thought. I even have a makerspace in my classroom! Yet in these unprecedented times, I had to make a lot of changes. I still do every single one of those lessons in my face-to-face setting, but I have learned to offer more choices for my online learners because not everyone is able to run out to Lowe's to purchase items to construct a pumpkin catapult (like one of my extraordinary online learners did this past November). I have seen some students implement unique and creative ideas to review various standards this year through sketching informative comics, designing "magazine covers", writing songs about scientific vocabulary, authoring inforamational children's books, and editing videos of themselves carrying out numerous demonstrations. On a more simplistic note, we have done things like "Three Truths and One Lie" with science-based content. Our next choice assignment will focus on rocketry, which will be extremely cool because some may choose to make a little film canister rocket while others may launch with a bottle rocket launcher or even perhaps something a little more advanced. Others may instead desire to peruse a virtual lab that covers many of the same skills. 
  • Cross-Curricular Writing: Cross-curricular writing is as fun as ever! For the past few days, my students have written short descriptions about one of the planets from the perspective of a tour guide! As I already mentioned, we have also delved into comics before, and we also enjoyed making guides about electricity concepts last month. 
  • Helping Others: This is not necessarily a part of planning, per se, but we are finding new ways to help others in 2021. Last month, a few of my students donated items for a local cat shelter, and I will still be seeking more donations so we have even more to give. Aside from that, students from both settings got involved with the Salvation Army Angel Tree and may soon get involved with outdoor gardening/restoration on our school grounds. 
  • Intentionally finding time to chill: Since last month, I have been playing more music in our classroom, especially in the morning! Instrumental music is beautiful and helps me to breathe before a busy day as well. 


I know this section does not directly relate to my classroom, but... I have learned in these past ten months there is FAR more to our lives as educators than just being in the classroom. It is critically important to relax and balance. 
  • Being out in nature: Gardening and going on nature walks IMMENSELY brightened my life in 2020, and I cannot wait to see where walking brings me in 2021! From Kanapaha Botanical Gardens in Gainesville to about ten other walking trails in Florida, as well as a few different paths in Georgia and North Carolina, I have absolutely loved breathing in fresh air and taking the time to truly decompress in total serenity. 

  • Ah... Nutrients: I love the So Good, So You probiotic shots from my grocery store (Publix) as well as Arden's Garden and Koia beverages. I also love the opportunities when I am able to shop at organic grocery stores-- my absolute favorites are Greenwise Market and Earth Fare. Although I do not solely eat organic food, I love trying new recipes and purchasing new items. Below is a photo from one of my shopping trips at Greenwise as well as a second one of when I made sweet potato hash egg muffin cups

  • Yoga with Adriene: I have an issue with my right foot, but I delved into daily yoga routines for more than two months in 2020. As many know, Adriene's videos, resources, and expertise are available for everyone! 
  • The "headache bag": I have gotten migraines on and off since I was 13 years old in the eighth grade. I remember having a fairly substantial discussion with my mom about them. In my classroom, I keep a bag with Excedrin, headache relief roll-on peppermint essential oil, eye drops, lavender essential oil, and something arnica-related, though I cannot exactly remember what it is right now. The contents of the bag definitely helps soothe me and gets me on the right track-- much faster than I would have without it.
  • Resources for reflection with my faith: Here and there, my faith will be mentioned in a small reference on this blog, and it totally applies here. One incredible book I purchased this year (in January 2021) is the Prayer Journal for Women. This resource provides a verse to reflect on as well as ample space to write out reflections and prayer requests for all 52 weeks of the year. I also love Candace Cameron Bure's books, verse cards, and devotionals. 
  • Fitbit: Although I have not used my new Fitbit as much as I have desired, I absolutely love having something that helps me see if I am receiving adequate sleep or not. Also, I have never been a huge advocate of counting the steps I take, but when I have worn it for a few days, I have been amazed that I move as much as I do! 
  • The Right Blanket: I recently replaced my blanket with a sherpa weighted blanket, which can be found at the Buzio store on Amazon. 
  • Coffee and Tea: I love iced coffees-- especially Stok as well as a variety of organic coffees. Yet beyond that, I went on a limb this year and purchased "Mission Chill" tea from Zadiko Tea Co. (which was started by Zach from the Try Guys). 
  • Affirmations and Gratitude: I also write self-affirmations and sometimes write down what I am grateful for on small Post-Its that I keep in a jar. This year has been different, to say the least, but when I look back and see all my positive statements of kindness and reflections, it helps me realize that there have been MANY bright and wondrous moments that have occurred over this past year. 

Beyond all the positives, I certainly miss using my Oculus Rift with my students, going on overnight field trips with my Technology Club, and preparing for numerous big events, but if I keep focusing on the silver lining and balance in my life, everything will eventually fall into place again. I encourage you to focus on what you love, and if you want to share something that has really brightened your life this past year (either at school or outside at school), I would love to hear from you! I hope you have a wonderful weekend! 

Re-Establishing the Online Realm of My Educational Journey...

Recently, I felt an immense calling in my heart to officially re-establish my weblog. I have not consistently blogged for about 6-7 years, so bear with me while I am re-embarking on this journey. 

I have been an upper elementary teacher since 2004, which means I am in my second half of my seventeenth year of teaching. I devoted 9 years to teaching fourth grade, and I am currently in my 8th year of teaching 5th grade gifted students.

Back in my second year of teaching, I debuted a website to the public that I never realized was going to become pretty big, and it led to a phenomenal opportunity where I learned about blogging. From around 2009 to 2014, I absolutely loved blogging about my classroom adventures and teaching philosophies. I uploaded quite a few resources and became very active in some online educational communities. Eventually, when I established the grades 5-8 Technology Club at my school, I felt called to write about "maker gadgets" as well. 

Yet after a while, I stepped away from all of those things and learned a great deal about myself. It was kind of harrowing because being online was always a part of my "identity" as a teacher, but I had to step away for a while and grow even more as an educator. I had to think about the path I wanted to forge and more meaningful ways to connect with my PLN. 

I have encountered a lot of experiences along the way. Most importantly, I learned about self-esteem, and self-worth. I have traveled to quite a few states, and while I visited many wondrous places around our nation, I thought about how each and every single one related to wondrous and engaging learning opportunities Additionally, I learned a lot about myself during quarantine because it was the first time I had the opportunity to slow down for quite a few years. I re-organized many parts of my life, learned to appreciate nature in a whole new way, delved into gardening for the first time, and became more experimental with cooking. Last, I have been writing a book since 2018 that I hope to publish in this next year. It is intended for the middle/high school audience, and it taps again into self-esteem as well as self-worth. I had to come to terms with my perfectionism, the sometimes outlandish expectations I hold for myself, and my mind, which seriously wants to accomplish 976,278 things in my lifetime. I have learned to take deeper breaths and extend more grace toward myself. 

We are all at different stages with different aspects of our lives, and I feel I am at a confident, strong, energized, passionate place to blog again. 

Here are some passions I am ecstatic to focus on as I re-establish this blog...

  • Ways to inspire and enrich gifted students at any age
  • Being a gifted adult and what it's like to be gifted in general, because it's truly important to take a stand for the gifted youth of our world
  • Cross-curricular, creative writing lessons
  • Ways to teach writing that focus on pertinent standards but does not feel like test prep
  • Ways to incorporate passions and multiple intelligences in your lessons
  • Affirming your character, passions, and journey-- believing in your self-worth (for kids AND adults) 
  • Books that have inspired me 
  • STEAM (Science, Tech, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics-- because that's my life, every single day) 
  • And, everyone's favorite-- teaching in 2021, because it's very different. I teach two periods, one of which is fully face-to-face and the other is hybrid. I have a fairly equivalent amount of students in my second class logging in digitally daily as well as sitting in my classroom. I may write about teaching science during this era, too, because it is a very different adventure. 
So, I feel like I have shared some great things with you, and I am excited to get to know some new people as well as re-connect with others. Thank you so much for visiting! 

Twitter: love5thgrade

Monday, December 1, 2014

"Minded" Activities-- Enrichment Box Idea

In September 2010, I met a woman at the bookstore. At first, she was mumbling to herself about something, and I had no idea whether she was talking to me or not. There was a professor, we believed, talking a few aisles down about testing- the SAT, FCAT… things teachers absolutely, positively don’t want to hear about on long weekends.

Eventually, this teacher and I got to talking, finally when I turned around and realized she was saying something about the person who was rambling about testing. I told her I was a teacher and how the long weekend was not a time to discuss these kinds of topics. We both laughed, and then I discovered she taught art in our district at one of the K-8 schools.

I told her about a vision I had for my students when they were done with their classwork. Too many teachers tell their kids they have around five options: silent reading, finishing work from before, studying, computer time, and perhaps doing some type of activity from a file or a Sudoku puzzle. Yet for me, those options seem too typical and I want kids to realize the world is a vast, intriguing place where opportunities abound.

I had a vision where students focus on multiple intelligences, to extents, in a variety of categories: Math-Minded, Science-Minded, History-Minded, Literary-Minded, Technology-Minded, Music-Minded, Travel-Minded, Art-Minded, and World-Minded. Thinking about what these categories made me think about what got me extremely excited and thinking that I would have embraced opportunities like these when I was a 9- and 10-year old fourth grade student.

In 2010, I didn't go much into developing the ideas at my weblog, but now I have decided to add what could be incorporated--

- Provide your students with brain teasers, puzzles, challenges, and games that encourage them to think on a deeper level about math. I highly recommend Puzzle Play from AIMS and The Book of Perfectly Perilous Math. Survival Math also offers a plethora of mini-project challenges. To download the math-minded activities I developed, see the file at my Teachers Pay Teachers store.
- Delve into architecture by designing the house of your dreams. Use graph paper (where one centimeter equals one foot), and then find the area of each room.
- Plan a week-long adventure to a theme park like Walt Disney World or Disneyland. Determine who in your family and which friends would partake in this adventure. When would you go? How would you get there; would you need airfare? How much would it cost for all of you to go? What would be the most economical deal for your family to visit all the parks? Which hotel would you stay in, and how much would it cost?
- Design your own restaurant menu, "order" from it, and then have your classmates "order" from your menu as well. Don't forget to "tip your waiter or waitress" when ordering.
- Practice spelling or vocabulary words using math where A=1, B=2, C=3, and so on.

- Can you design a phenomenal roller coaster ride? Remember, there is science behind roller coasters—potential and kinetic energy as well as gravity and momentum. Design a ride with an incredible theme. On your paper, write a description that is at least ten sentences long. Bring your reader through the adventure.
- Go on the computer and research various science experiments you and your classmates can complete. Do it for the current science unit or ask your teacher what the upcoming units are.
- Design a science game, flap book, or brochure for a current topic you are exploring in science class.
- Complete virtual science labs online.
- Write a podcast (radio show with a script) reviewing concepts you have learned in science class over the course of this year.
- Learn about identifying minerals by their physical properties, which primarily are color, luster, cleavage, fracture, and streak.
- Use a microscope to analyze slides you have either collected on your own or slides your teacher has provided to analyze the cells that make up various everyday items and organisms.

- Research a historical site within your state or nation. What can people learn about by visiting this place? Why should people visit this place?
- Choose an attraction anywhere around the world to showcase-- for example, the Coliseum in Rome or the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C. It can still be standing or could have once been standing. Write a description showcasing some of the most phenomenal aspects of the place you chose.
- Choose a person or an event in history that fascinates you and research it using the Internet and literature provided in our classroom as well as our school's library. Write a podcast using information you found about the topic.
- Choose an exhibit from any history museum around the world to showcase. Sketch it out, and write a detailed description. You may even make a brochure about the exhibit.

- Begin writing a short story that goes in conjunction with a favorite book you have read (examples-- Divergent, The Hunger Games, Harry Potter). Perhaps focus on a story written from the perspective of a minor character or explore a situation the author did not write in-depth about.
- Write a book recommendation on an index card to post on a class Book Recommendation board. It needs to look like the others that are up there from last year’s class. Each book recommendation needs: Your name, the title of the book, the author, the number of stars you give it (up to 5- 5 being the best), and a summary of what happens. You can write on the back of the card as well. You can earn a point for a great recommendation. HINT: Read the recommendations in this folder so you know what is expected of you.
- Look at a printed-out menu provided for you in this Minded crate. On an index card, which is provided, come up with a delicious dish of your own- an entrĂ©e, appetizer, or dessert. Try to use as many food words as possible (for example: delectable (means delicious), drenched in chocolate, and baked to perfection). There is a food vocabulary sheet along with this task that can get your mind thinking. A wonderful dish can help you to earn a point. From there, tape your description in the “cookbook” to share with others.
(Some menus provided online as a .pdf are-- Buffalo Wild Wings, The Pop Shop, Skyline Chili, Einstein Bros. Bagels, Steak and Shake, Papa Murphy's, and the Chicago Pizza Authority.)
- Design a video game. You must write about five of the levels in your game. Perhaps make a strategy cheat guide for your game with your mini book that includes a page or a few pages about the characters, then the weapons/tools, and the levels. Make your video game original from other games you have seen or played. 
- Design a comic book or graphic novel. Include sketches and words for people to follow along with your story as well. It can be a story or explain something like something you have learned in science. The Graphic Library Max Axiom series is an example. 
- An Actor's Interpretation: Write either a monologue or short script focusing on a pivotal excerpt of a chapter book you have read. You may record it as a podcast if you desire afterward. 
- Theatrical Trailer: Make a theatrical trailer of a chapter book you have read, promoting it as a "movie". 
- If You Were the Protagonist: If you were the protagonist in a specific chapter book, how would you handle one of the most plot-changing situations? Describe in your response which book and character you are referring to as well as the actions the character took. 

- Learn how to code. "An Hour of Code" is a wonderful website that offers many options.
- Learn how to shoot and edit a video using software. There is editing software offered on iPads.
- Either start a website, weblog, or both. Learn about all the elements that go into making either or both of these a possibility.
- Does your teacher have technological gadgets like the Makey-Makey, littleBits, the Arduino, or Cubelets? Learn how they work and create something phenomenal using one of the kits.

- Write a song, rap, or chant about something you have learned in class. You can write the lyrics to a familiar song, or you can write to an original tune. The lyrics can rhyme, if you desire, but they don't have to.
- Listen to two different instrumental songs. Sketch out what those songs make you think of. 
- Listen to a song with lyrics. How do the lyrics make you feel? What do they describe? Are there any examples of figurative language in the song? Share some of the lyrics and reflect on their meaning. 
- Locate some songs that have inspirational, motivational lyrics. Write down some of those lyrics and interpret them. 

- Go on the computer and plan a cross-country road trip. How long would it take for you to head on a cross-country trip? Which states would you drive through? Which tourist attractions would you visit?
- Make some kind of display showcasing a city in the nation or world.
- Write a letter to a department of tourism requesting brochures, maps, guidebooks, or whatever they are able to offer for you to learn more about their state or province. Mention which class you are from, the name of your school, and where it is located. Mention whether you have visited there before and if so, what you enjoyed the most. The page should be about one page long, written in your neatest handwriting, and use proper grammar/correct spelling.

- Sketch and label a diagram of how something works.
- Sketch a "mind movie" scene the words from a book you are reading depicted for you.
- Sketch at least one scene depicting an event that took place in your state, province, or country's history.
- Sketch and design an awareness poster for an endangered or extinct species.
- Sketch a symmetrical design.
- Sketch a design using tesselations.
- Sketch a portrait of a prominent historical figure or event.
- Create a comic book about an important event in state, province, national, or world history.
- Sketch a scientific process (the rock cycle, the water cycle, etc.).
- Draw a perspective picture (a hallway, street, railroad, room, street corner, word art, the front of a building with one corner showing, etc.)
- Learn how to sketch an animal or something else in nature. Use a step-by-step tutorial, online or printed out in a book or on a sheet.

World-Minded-- World-Minded is a section of the box dedicated to exploring global issues and helping people. It can also be for debate-related topics.
- There are some phenomenal books out there about helping others-- Three Cups of Tea is about a man and his daughter who have visited children in Afghanistan. The Promise of a Pencil is about a man who traveled out of the country as well. Learn about how people have helped others and perhaps develop your own plan as well. When you're older, do you want to be a humanitarian and travel out of the country to help others in some way? Do you have an idea for using the Internet to help someone from the comfort of your home?
- Explore some debates-- Should students be required to wear uniforms at school? Do you agree with some schools removing soda machines across the country? Should skateboards be allowed on sidewalks? Should school be year-round with more frequent and shorter vacations? What do you think should be done to inform students about bullying-- and help them? Should the minimum driving age be raised? In looking at a controversial topic, write about your stance. 
- Use technology or books to begin learning a new language. 
- Profile a kid (past or current-day) who made a significant impact in his or her community, the nation, or the world. 
- Read about current events going on in your community, nation, and world. 

All the options can realistically be explored. If you would like to incorporate this in your classroom, make sure your students keep up their grades to explore the many options. Students should study hard and take their work seriously. If their work is rushed or not up to the high standards you set for them, you need to reinforce how hard work will lead them to have those privileges. Focusing on the many intelligences is very beneficial for increasing students' confidence and skills.

I don’t want creativity to be something my students embrace on special occasions. I want it to be something they embrace every day.