5 Favorite Technology Tools and Trends of 2016

Thursday, December 29, 2016 7 comments
Hey all and happy almost New Year!  I feel like I am always apologizing for not writing but this time I have some really good excuse!  After 19 years of classroom teaching I have moved out of the classroom!  On December 5th I started a new job as a District Technology Integration Specialist!  My new job is sooooooo cool!  I work with 2 other wonderful people and we travel around our very large district (over 15 schools!!!)  helping teachers take technology risks in their classrooms and helping students use technology to increase their learning.  It is amazing!!!!

Everyone keeps asking me if I miss being with kids everyday but the wonderful thing about my job is I am with them.  I have already spent time helping newcomer ELL students create Google presentations on their home countries and cultures and the other day I spent the entire day teaching 3rd and 4th graders at my son's and daughter's school how to use Google Classroom.  My son was soooo proud of me!

Sooooooo, since it is the end of the year, I would like to focus on my 5 favorite technology tools and trends of 2016.

1) Virtual Reality
I've gushed about it before but I absolutely looooove the infancy of virtual reality in the classroom!  There aren't even a ton of things out there right now so I can't even imagine how much this is going to grow.
My kiddos absolutely love Google Cardboard, Google Street View, and especially Google Expeditions!

We had Google into my school and it was such an amazing experience.  If you haven't tried it yet, you have to!!!
 Using Google Street View you can travel to a ton of place all over the world.  If you have a tablet, a phone, and some VR cardboard or googles, you might want to use the Google Expeditions app.  This allows you to help your students take tours.  Here is a link to all the Expedition tours that are currently offered: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1uwWvAzAiQDueKXkxvqF6rS84oae2AU7eD8bhxzJ9SdY/edit#gid=0

If you would like some ideas on how to use this in your classroom, join this amazing group on Google Plus: https://plus.google.com/communities/103070326999809122127

2)  Connecting Classrooms
I have always been a fan of book buddies, mentors, and peer tutors.  Before the dawn of Skype and Google Hangouts this connections were limited to our own schools.  If you haven't tried connecting to a class, please do it in 2017.  As an educator, I found it so empowering.
You don't have to connect over anything huge.  You might share poetry with another third grade class, or you might talk about the characters in Maniac Magee.
One of the fun ways to connect is to conduct a Mystery Google Hangouts.  We love using our critical thinking and geography schools in such a real world way and we really love making connections with our students across the country! Click here to check out how to do this in your classroom!
If you are looking for easy ways to connect to other classrooms, click here!

3) Virtual Field Trips
Ok!  I have not been quiet about this at all!  I am OBSESSED with virtual field trips!  I work in a small urban district where a majority of my kids would be considered to live in the poverty level.  We do not have enough money to get out of our classrooms and give the kiddos experiences.  The thing is, my kids need these experiences the most.  They need to see what the world has to offer them!  I have thrown myself into this new passion with a vengeance!!!
So far, I have taken students from 2nd - 8th grade on a trip to Plymouth Plantation, Angkor Wat in Cambodia, and Komodo National Park.  My students have learned about different cultures by having a live conversation with a fabulous woman from South Africa.
My favorite places to go for virtual field trips is Learn Around the World and Microsoft Educators Network.  To help you all out, though, I am in the process of making a database of tons of free field trips you can take your students on. Click here to look at my growing list of over 300 opportunities for your students to connect with places and experts for FREE! 

Here is an example of one of our field trips!

4)  Google Sites
About two months ago, I had a colleague ask me what a teacher should use to help kids create a website for class.  I showed them Wix and Weebly and they asked what I thought about Google Sites. Bleh!  Google Sites was clunky, ugly, and not very intuitive.  I hated that it wasn't integrated with the rest of my GSuite platform.
Weirdly enough, two weeks after this conversation Google totally revamped the entire platform and it is AMAZING!  Sites can be created off of your Google Drive account, the drag and drop is ridiculously easy, and the formatting is so simple!  Click here and check out a website I'm still working on.

5) Fun Data Collection
When it comes to formative assessment, things keep getting more fun!  If you are looking for an engaging way to assess kids there are tons of great things out there right now.  Some of my favorites are Kahoot, Quizzizz, and Plickers.  Students love all these tools and have no idea they are even being assessed.  During one of my virtual field trips, my students took a final assessment with over 400 other students across the U.S. and even a class in Mexico.  How cool is that?

So... what were your favorite tech trends, apps, or websites of 2016?  Let me know in the comments and feel free to contact me if you would like to be a guest blogger about something techy you've been using in your classroom!

I took my students to South Africa and we never left the classroom: How to make global connections!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016 No comments
Have your students connect with people all over the world and broaden their horizons. #virtualfieldtrip #skype #flattenmyclassroom #middleschool

I can't believe the school year has been in full swing for over a month and I haven't had the opportunity to blog yet.  Life has been CRAZY!

First, I have an awesome and amazing student teacher that started the year with me and will end his internship in the late fall.  It has been a wonderful experience mentoring a new teacher and helping him find his style.  What I love most is that he loooooooves to ENGAGE the kids.  It's a win!

So? What cools things have I been doing in my classroom!  I'm still on a roll when it comes to flattening my classroom.  This means that I am trying to push down the walls and connect my amazing kiddos with the big wide world.  On of the things that has been helping me with this is Learn Around the World!
Image result for learn around the world

This website and service is amazing! It is run by Brandon Hall and he does all the work for you!  He makes connections with people all throughout the world and then hosts talks with people and shows us footage from their trips.  He does a couple of different types of shows:

The Geo Show Junior for grades K-4

The Geo Show for grades 5-8

Meet a Local for grades K-8

My kiddos and I did a Meet a Local and got to learn all about South Africa from an amazing young woman named Michelle!

Michelle told us all about South African lifestyle, food, animals, and family life.  She spent some time teaching them South African slang and Afrikaans!  My kiddos joined with two second grade classes across the country to ask Michelle questions about South Africa.  At the end of the experience (which was the quickest hour ever!!!) Brandon had the kids play a Kahoot! based on the information given in the talk.
This experience was sooooo easy!  I had to download some webinar software, click on it at the given time, and for the next hour I got to sit back and watch my kids learn, interact, communicate, and think critically!

Salem Witch Trials Interactive

Sunday, October 2, 2016 No comments
It has been soooooo long so I've talked to you all and I have so much to share.  Right now, though, this Mama is preparing for a school week so the lunches and laundry are calling.  I was able to carve out some creation time and made this super fun Salem Witch Trials Game and Simulation! Head on over to my store and check it out!

It's the most wonderful time every four years!!! ~ Election Resources Video 1

Sunday, August 14, 2016 No comments
Help your students navigate the time up till the presidential election by using the website 538. #presidentialelections  #elections #electionlessonplans #middleschool

It is Christmas for social studies teachers..... the presidential election!  This is my absolute favorite topic to teach and my favorite time to teach it!  This year's election is interesting, to say the least but I have found a ton of great resources to use in my classroom.  I'm going to be making a couple of videos to find some of the resources I will be using and I'll also provide some free products to use in conjunction.
My first video is on the website fivethirtyeight.com.  I help you navigate the website and see how it would be useful in a classroom.

If you are interested in some paid resources, head on over to my Teachers Pay Teachers store and check out these two resources:


Stay tuned for some free resources to use with the 538 website!!!

2016 General Election Bulletin Board

Saturday, July 30, 2016 No comments
This bulletin board is a companion to my Race to the White House Station Activity.  It is 50% off till midnight Sunday the 31st. Click here and enjoy!

Back to School Giveaway!!!

Back to School is coming!!!! Because I have amazing customers and followers, I'm running a contest to receive a $10 gift certificate to Teachers Pay Teachers and your choice of one of my products (priced under $10). Fill out the Google Form below and I'll be picking a winner tomorrow night at 10!!!! Good luck!

Race for the White House: 2106 Election Station Activity

Thursday, July 28, 2016 7 comments
Yeah! I've finally finished this super fun station activity to help kids learn about the presidential election, Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Tim Kaine, Mike Pence and Presidential Ads.  For the first 24 hours the activity is 50% off.  Head on over here to get it and launch your school year off right!!!

Ancient India and Bloom's Bundle!

Wednesday, July 6, 2016 6 comments
I have finally finished up my Bloom's Taxonomy Task Cards bundle!!!!  First, I finished up the India cards and they are 50% off in my store till midnight tomorrow night!

Second, if you have purchased the full bundle, download again and you will get China and India for free!  The bundle is going to remain 42% off until tomorrow at midnight.  This is an amazing deal!!!  Don't miss out!

Bloom's Taxonomy Task Cards: Ancient China

I have just finished an awesome Ancient China product! It is 50% off today only!  Head on over to my store to pick it up!

Causes of the Civil War: Compromise of 1850

Sunday, May 29, 2016 No comments
Another new item!!!! If you pick this up in the next 24 hours it is 50% off!  That is only $1.50!!! Head on over to check it out!

Life in Sparta and Athens: Group Project and Leveled Readings!!!!

Friday, May 27, 2016 No comments
Hello all!  I just completed a fun and fabulous item!  For the next 24 hours the item will be 50% off!  Check it out here!!!!

Mystery Location Calls - We Can't Get Enough!!!

Friday, May 20, 2016 No comments
Engage your students and enforce geography skills with Mystery Skype Calls. #geography #middleschool #mysteryskype #geographylessons

This year I have absolutely fallen in love with Mystery Location Calls.  If you don't know anything about them, stop right now, head on over to Paul Solarz's blog and read up on how to challenge your students and increase their geographic awareness.

Are you back?  Great!  So I started doing Mystery Location Calls after I had my 8th-grade students memorize their 50 states and I have never seen kids really internalize their states like they did after we did just a couple of practice calls.  They have such a spatial understanding of the country, have increased their independent internet researching skills, and have done a nice job at really learning to work together.

My students are obsessed with them now and want to do them all the time!  The only thing I am struggling with is how to incorporate everyone.  I have 27 kids in each class and even though they each have a job, a good ten kids just sit in the back of the class and fool around.  I was thinking about having a Team A and Team B and teams take turns being the primary jobs for each Location Call.

Do you have any suggestions?  Also, if you would like to connect our classes, hit me up in the comments!!!!

We saved Egypt! A Quest into Gamification

Thursday, May 19, 2016 5 comments
We Saved Egypt Activities: How I Gamified My Middle School Classroom and Loved It! #middleschool #ancientegypt #gamification #egypt #lessonplans

Hey, all!  I am so sorry it has been so long since I wrote.  This semester I got an amazing opportunity to start teaching a graduate class.  I am teaching this fabulous class called, “Creating a Technology-Rich Classroom. It is such a blast to teach but it has definitely taken over my blogging time!
Things have been fabulous in my class lately.  Around the holidays, I delved deeper into my fascination with all things PIRATE (read Dave Burgesses’ Teach Like a Pirate and you will understand!) and read Explore Like a PIRATE: Gamification and Game-Inspired Course Design to Engage, Enrich and Elevate Your Learners.  Michael Matera is an amazing middle school teacher who has entirely gamified his classroom.  In his class students go on quests to learn new topics and solve problems.  I tried to do a Rome Quest last year and was minimally successful.  After reading this I decided to go all in and create a quest for Egypt.

Step 1: I came up with my backstory.  To get the kids hooked you need a reason to “quest”.  I created this video using PowerPoint and iMovie to launch the story.

I set up a locker for each of my classes like this:

Inside each locker was this:

I set all this up before the launch of the activity to build excitement.

Step 2: I organized all the assignments I wanted them to complete for the unit and assigned XP (experience points) to them based on how much effort they each took.
I created placards that explained the assignments so the kids could complete them independently and at their own pace.

If you look at the assignment sheet you will see a whole area of assignments called sidequests.  Michael Matera does an amazing job outlining them in his book so definitely GO BUY IT!  It is a perfect summer read.
In a nutshell, though a sidequest is an "extra" activity.  These activities do not have to be completed but they do make the quest progress quickly.  For me, these assignments are awesome guided and independent activities that allow your students to delve deeper into topics.  This is a perfect way to differentiate for your high flyers!

Step 3:  I placed the kids onto four teams.  Each team was named after a major Egyptian god.  Each team was assigned one of the locked locks on the locker.  This lock had a three-digit number as a combination.  The object of the game was to solve puzzles to find the numbers to unlock the lock.   This is where things get tricky but this year I got a handle on it with a little help from my internet buddies.

The goal of the game is to earn XP.  As each person earned XP, they moved up the ranks of Egyptian society from slave to pharaoh.  When a team earned an average of 425 XP they got to go on a clue quest and solve a puzzle to learn the first number.  We considered this "clearing gate 1".  This repeated for two more  gates until they had all three numbers and could open their lock.

Last year when I tried this, the amount of scorekeeping and data that was needed to be managed was way too overwhelming.  I spent my year investigating easier ways and I finally stumbled upon a genius that created a spreadsheet for tracking in Google Spreadsheets and Forms.  
With this sheet, I was able to wrangle all the information, project on the board, and let the kids see where they stood!
Students listed by XP earned
Alphabetical list of students, Total XP, Level, and Guild
Full Chart

Total XP earned by each guild

This is what I used to progress guilds to gates.  When their average was 425, they were able to go on their first clue quest to open Gate 1 and receive their first number.

Seriously, this entire spreadsheet saved my life and made this an enjoyable experience!

Step 4: I created the Clue Quests to clear each gate.  These were fun!  If you really love solving puzzles look on over to BreakoutEDU.  It is an amazing resource and community for educators creating fabulous puzzles to challenge their students.  I have large classes, so I decided to incorporate some of the themes into this activity.
Once each group (guild in the spreadsheet) earned an average of 425 XP they received this:

The QR code led to a question, the answer to the question was the password to unlock a website that brought them to their first number.

On the next gate they received this:

Once they solved the puzzle it brought them to an activity in the hallway where their number was hidden.

The last gate involved invisible ink and a UV pen!

The kids absolutely loooooooooved this activity.  I got about 95% completion of all the activities and total buy-in from the kids.  When they opened their locks and earned their day out both classes cheered!  I was able to accommodate for my struggling learners as they approached each activity and I was able to push my high flyers who started to compete with each other to see how many side quests they could do.  I can't wait to do it again and I'm already working on one for my American Revolution unit that focuses on the Culper Spy Ring!

Not enough time and too much to do!

Sunday, March 20, 2016 No comments
Life is soooooo hectic but great right now!  I'm teaching a grad class to help teachers integrate technology in their own classrooms and it is so fun!  It is also very time consuming and I have so much to blog about.  That will have to wait for another time.  I did want to show you all some of the items I made lately.  I am really trying to make my units accessible to all learners so please stop by and take a look whether you need to accommodate for children with learning disabilities, attention difficulties, or English language learners.

Beginnings of Ancient Greece

Declaration of Independence

Ancient Civilization of Mesopotamia WAR! - My kids looooooooved this!

Important Egyptian Pharaohs Interactive Notebook

Beginnings of Mesopotamia: Sumerian Game and Problems Solving - The kids had no idea they were learning when we played this.  They thought it was a big game and surprised themselves at what they actually had retained and understood by the end!

Sorry for the gratuitous plug!  I promise I will be back to chronicling my adventures with middle schoolers soon!