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K-2 App: Perfect Captions

posted Jul 25, 2016, 9:05 AM by Jenna Cooper   [ updated Jul 25, 2016, 10:36 AM ]


App of the Week: Perfect Captions  

by Angie Teed

The student version of this app is on all K, 1, and 2 student iPads this year.  Students can either take a picture or use a picture from the camera roll.  Then, they are able to caption it.  It’s so easy to use and has so many possibilities!  Have students take a picture of a partner after sharing thoughts about a story.  Then they can caption the picture with a summary of the partner’s thoughts.  Or, have them take a picture of a page in a picture book and caption what characters are thinking.  They can even caption a picture from a non-fiction book with facts they’ve learned about animals, etc.  The possibilities are endless! 

To start, just open the Perfect Captions app.  Click the plus sign at the bottom that says “Photo.”  Then, choose to either take a new photo or import from photo library.


You will see instructions on how to use the app when you open your picture.  If you use one finger, just swipe down and to the right on your picture to open a caption bubble.  To edit the font, background and shape of the bubble, click Edit on the right side of the screen.  When students are done, they can click the done button.  When they go to open that picture from the main Captions page again, they will have the option to Export on the right side of the screen.  They can then email their finished products to you!


K-2 App: Book Creator

posted Jul 25, 2016, 9:03 AM by Jenna Cooper   [ updated Jul 25, 2016, 10:35 AM ]

Book Creator

App of the Week: Book Creator  

by Angie Teed

Students love making their own books on the iPad...and this year they can make as many as they want with Book Creator!  They can draw (using the stylus?!), type text, take pictures, use camera roll pictures, and even add their voice to these books!  When students finish their books, they can export as ePub, PDF or Video!  Sharing the finished product is an important part missing from all other Story-making apps I’ve seen.  How cool would it be to email parents a video of a book their son/daughter made with their son/daughter’s voice?!  


K-2 App: Popplet

posted Jul 25, 2016, 9:01 AM by Jenna Cooper   [ updated Jul 25, 2016, 10:35 AM ]


App of the Week: Popplet Lite  

by Angie Teed

This app is on all K, 1, and 2 student iPads this year and has endless creative possibilities!  Popplet lite is a graphic organizer app.  Students can double tap the screen to add a new text box and then they can either type in it, draw in it, or add a picture from their photo library on it.  If they touch and drag the small gray circles outside of the text box, they can then link to other text boxes.  A really cool feature of this app is that students can then click the “export” button and email a pdf or jpeg of their graphic organizers to you!  (Please note:  Make sure students understand that their whole graphic organizer must fit on the screen before they choose to export.  They can make it smaller by dragging their fingers together while touching the screen.  The app basically takes a screen shot.)  A quick Popplet I did is below!  Students could make a popplet about what they think a word means, a character in a book, a math concept, etc! 

 Popplet 2

Growing STEM

posted Sep 28, 2015, 12:00 PM by Jenna Cooper   [ updated Sep 28, 2015, 12:14 PM ]

This post is brought to you by Martha Andersen, Instructional Coach at Pleasant Grove Elementary School.  

The 4th grade teachers at PGES have begun a year long integration of STEM. The project started with the introduction of the engineering design process, team member roles and responsibilities, an introduction of how to use Google Classroom, and the opportunity to practice using STEM with an activity called Saving Fred.    

As units are taught throughout the Science block this year, STEM activities will be integrated after the unit with the design challenge relating to what has been learned.  We are also pulling in other subject areas as they relate.  At the end of October, the students will have learned about erosion so the STEM challenge will be to build a structure that helps alleviate erosion of different natural materials.  We will relate this to natural materials found in Indiana and their geographic location... i.e. sand dunes of northern Indiana, clay of southern Indiana, etc.  

Google Classroom is an integral aspect of our STEM integration as the teacher will send out a design brief with the challenge, constraints, and information.  Students will complete a presentation using Google Slides to share with the class. Students will also individually
complete a reflection of the STEM process and their role on the team.  

We are looking forward to a year of hands-on, higher level thinking and problem solving!

Here are some resources you can use if you'd like to try this with your students:

Using Blabberize for Student Reports

posted Mar 11, 2015, 8:46 AM by Jenna Cooper

My name is Angie Snodgrass, and I teach third grade at Maple Grove Elementary.

One of my favorite technology lessons is to utilize the website with my students.   I learned about this website from my husband, Mark, a few years ago.  Once I saw this, I knew my students would love publishing a research report in this way.

Over the years, I have altered the content of what the students use for this project, but all have the same idea.  I used the website with an animal research report this year.  After students finished the research/ writing project, they selected a picture to use in Blabberize.  Once the image is uploaded, the students outlined the mouth and recorded themselves reading the research report.

The finished product is a talking image that gives all of those wonderful details of the topic. Check out a few student examples of Blabberize projects.

Helpful tips to get started:

  • Items needed:

    • Each student will need to create an account using his/ her school email.  (I did this for my third graders.)

    • I used student desktop computers because the students couldn’t access my file of images from the Chromebooks.  I did have a parent volunteer create the file of images prior to the students’ time on the website.

    • Microphones to plug into the computer- One per student desktop computer.

    • Student instruction sheet (linked here)

  • Model the steps using the instruction sheet.

  • Follow the linked document for step-by-step instructions for students to begin on  (Thanks to Betsy Leavitt for creating this document.)

    • Number 6 will be different based upon your location or the location of where you want the student to get the image.

The students have so much fun with this project.  They are completely engaged with the website.  I do post the students’ completed Blabberize projects on the class webpage so they can view the work of their classmates.  I do hope that you will give this a try!

The Best Teaching in 60 Minutes (Genius Hour)

posted Mar 10, 2015, 4:13 AM by Jenna Cooper   [ updated Mar 12, 2015, 12:24 PM ]

My name is Nancy McDowell and I teach 6th grade Language Arts and Social Studies at Middle School North.

Envision a classroom where students are learning how to code, how wind turbines work, researching how to make a lighting system for under the bed, testing air pollution, or creating a culinary website for future cooks. This can happen in your classroom! For the past two years, I have incorporated Genius Hour in my instruction. It has ultimately changed how I teach today. What is Genius Hour? Genius Hour is a time in the classroom where students explore and learn about their own interests and passions. It started with Google when the company gave their workers 20% of their work week to explore anything they were interested in. As a result, Gmail, Google News, AdSense, Google Talk, and Google Reader were created by employees during their 20% innovation time. In my classroom, I give my students every Friday to work on their projects as long as they are caught up on work from Monday through Thursday. As a middle school teacher, I teach skills, concepts, and standards in various ways, but every lesson will not reach my students' interests. The idea of Genius Hour is for my students to be innovative while authentically engaged in learning an interest. It is a simple concept; give students time to learn something they WANT to learn. Before you dive in, here are 4 tips if you are thinking of incorporating Genius Hour:  

1. Plan and be flexible. This is not free time on the computers or iPads. Genius Hour takes planning, but you will learn the most through trying it out in your classroom. Each year will get better as you learn what works and what doesn't. The following link has a wealth of resources you can download instead of creating everything from scratch - Genius Hour Resources. I have also included a link to my Google Drive with all of my resources. For my first year, I created a timeline of what I would be doing each week. Twitter is fantastic for communicating with other educators and getting ideas or asking questions. Just use #GeniusHour to get in touch with others! Two great people to follow and ask questions directly are: @JoyKirr and @DonWettrick. (Follow me @NancyMcD8) Personally, I bought Don Wettrick's book Pure Genius. It will guide you through the whole idea of how to implement and run Genius Hour. (Don't worry - It is super short and a fast read. I highly recommend it!)  


2. Give students time to think and discuss what their passions and interests are before you begin. When I introduced this project for the first time, my students had no clue what they were passionate or interested in. I was a little shocked. My students have always been spoonfed what they were supposed to learn and how to do it. Genius Hour is the complete opposite. Students must be given time to explore ideas and also talk about them. I had students come up with guiding questions and then we discussed each one of them as a class. Through this process, students give their peers suggestions and feedback about their project proposal. It is essential to plan the time if you want students to find something they are truly passionate and interested in. If you do, they will find something and very rarely ask to change. Check out this Live Binder where teachers are encouraged to share and add questions students have come up. It is great to share with the kids when you introduce Genius Hour!  

3. Have students set goals, track what they accomplish, and blog (if possible). When students set goals and write what they accomplish each work session, it gives them purpose. It will also be easy for you as the teacher to check in with everyone each week. Mini-conferences are essential so you know where each student is in the Genius Hour process. All the links above have resources you can use for tracking and setting goals. (Bonus - These are perfect evidence pieces for your teacher evaluation.) This year I am having my students write blog updates and putting them on Twitter. The kids LOVE it! They think it is so cool their words are out there on the internet and others are reading about their projects. This is a powerful tool and I encourage educators everywhere to use it! (Check out my blog "Teach4Connections" and read the Genius Hour updates from my students for examples.)   

4. Be ready for students to finish at different times. This was the hardest part for me my first year. Since everyone is working on different projects, they will finish at different times. There is a point where you have to set a due date for everyone, but it is okay if some finish ahead of time. Have them share their project to the class and let them choose another topic to start. It's okay if they don't finish the second or third or fourth project. The goal of Genius Hour is for students to learn and be engaged in something they want to learn about.  

The genius of Genius Hour is it is all about the process not the completed projects. The students will be so excited for this time each week and will be fully engaged the entire time. If they aren't, they need to pick a different topic. My students continue to impress me with the topics and projects they are working on. Looking around the room on a Friday and watching students coding, creating websites, making videos, building, experimenting, researching, taking notes, interviewing others, blogging, etc. reminds me why I became a teacher. This is authentic learning and engagement at its finest. Children need opportunities to explore their passions and interests. As educators, we should honor that.  

Happy Connecting,

Nancy McDowell

6th Grade Language Arts & Social Studies

Center Grove Middle School North

Tech Enhanced Questions

posted Mar 9, 2015, 9:51 AM by Jenna Cooper   [ updated Mar 9, 2015, 10:03 AM ]

My name is Carrie Dilley and I teach 5th grade at Maple Grove Elementary.

When I saw the “tech enhanced questions” on the first round of Acuity last fall I panicked.  These questions are HARD.  Not only do you have to know how to solve the problem or answer the question, you have to know how to do the “tech enhanced” part, too!

But when I really stopped to examine the questions, I realized that they were garnering a lot of valuable information--and a lot more information that just a regular multiple choice question!  I decided that this type of question needed to be a part of everyday life in my classroom.  We needed to talk about them, practice them, and maybe even write some of our own.

Each week on my blog I post a new “tech enhanced question” that I write using Google Forms.  Questions are available on Fridays and we go over them on Mondays.  I’m able to see students' answers using the Google Form Responses page that automatically generates when you create a Google Form.  Students who complete the question are given a small reward.  I make this a work-at-home problem because it shows parents the types of things we are working on in class and gives the students the opportunity to talk through these questions with someone who is not me!  They hear me talk a lot and I think exposure to new ways of doing things is a good thing for kids.

So far they’ve been, for the most part, the “checkbox” sort of question.  I think these questions are especially challenging for students.  The basics of this type of question are fairly simple: students are presented with a question or problem and given a list of five or so options to choose from.  There could be one correct answer, there could be two, or three…….I’ve noticed that the more we practice the better they get at answering these types of questions!

Check out my tech enhanced questions here.


Google Sheets Projects in the Tech Lab

posted Mar 6, 2015, 3:51 AM by Jenna Cooper

My name is Chad Wade and I’m the Technology Lab teacher at Sugar Grove Elementary.

If there is something odd about me that you must know it is that I love spreadsheets.  I make them for everything in both my job and in my personal life.  Whether it is the salaries for the Indianapolis Colts or the layout of the Greenwood Mall, I like to take information and see if it can be represented as a spreadsheet.  I do my best to share my enthusiasm for spreadsheets with my students.

In Fourth Grade we are just beginning a multiple week project using Google Sheets to learn some geographical facts about our Indiana counties.  The fourth graders work in small groups to enter the names of all 92 counties.  In the upcoming weeks we will paste in the county seats, and use the already provided data for county populations, housing units and area to format cells, sort data, and create simple functions in order to interpret our data.

This unit has become much easier to do with Google Drive.  The students can log in to their Google Drive accounts from any computer at school or home and access their projects.  Good bye flash drives!  My fourth graders have also learned how to share their files.  That way they can still contribute to their group’s final product even when they can’t meet with their group in person.

Here are a few pictures of students working.

IMG_0014 (4).JPG



Flip or Freak Out? Flipped Learning in the Classroom

posted Mar 5, 2015, 5:40 AM by Jenna Cooper   [ updated Mar 5, 2015, 5:47 AM ]

My name is Andrea McCoy and I teach 8th grade science at Middle School Central.  

Flipped classrooms freak me out. Seriously. I have endless questions. What if students don’t have internet at home? What if they don’t watch the videos? What if they don’t learn anything from the videos? How long is this going to take me? What if I don’t have time? What if I hate it? What if the students hate it? What will parents say?  Where can I put this on my evidence report?

I have attended conferences, read articles, and researched flipped classrooms. I still lack the confidence to go at it full force. If you are a pro at this, stop judging me; I am working on it! (In my defense, 8th graders just went one-to-one this year.) However, I have taken itsy bitsy baby steps towards the flipped classroom and it has already solved so many headaches/dilemmas.

1. Resource Videos were my initial motivation for doing a quasi-flipped classroom. If students did not understand a concept while they were reviewing for a test or homework, how could they get help? A basic internet search might take them from 8th grade chemistry to collegiate chemistry in one click. I wanted to have an easy way for students to get the concepts they needed. Ta-da! Videos! I started out just looking for great videos on YouTube. Most of those videos  were great, but went too far beyond the content or used big words. Due to my control freak nature, I started making my own videos.

Video Example: (The video below was made by Susan Porter, 7th Grade Science Teacher)

Significant Figures Example


“Mrs. McCoy's help videos provide students with the opportunity to take the content learned in a class and review it at their own pace in their own personal study environment. These videos are great resources for students in other classes, as well, and provides those students with an alternate approach to learning the material if additional instruction is needed. If I know that a student is struggling with a Science topic, I can always refer them to one of Mrs. McCoy's videos and feel assured that their questions will be answered in great detail. These videos are also a great resource for parents in helping their child understand content. It provides parents with a quick refresher of the material and allows parents to be able to hear exactly what is taught from the teacher.”  -Kristin Rodman, 8th Grade Special Education

“The videos you create for your students are incredibly helpful!  What a great way for kids and parents to get help from home!” 

-Katie Hoffmann, 6th grade Language Arts & Social Studies

2. Differentiation used to freak me out. (Are you sensing a theme here?) How could I work with 5 students who needed the most help, and still release control of the other 32 students? Students who are not working with me watch videos for a number of reasons: to get instructions on their task, to answer a question on the assignment, or as a review of past content. They can work completely on their own giving me the freedom to target students who need the help!


“In my 8th grade math class I have found many ways to incorporate the IPads, Canvas, and the app Educreations.  I have found that I can create video lessons for the kids in Educreations so that students can work at their own pace and they can watch the videos as often as needed.  While they are watching the videos on their individual IPads, I am able to work with kids in small groups or individually on material they need help with, or enrichment with students.  Using the IPads in this way allows a teacher so many ways to differentiate their classroom and curriculum.  Students seem to really like this method, also.  Their feedback is that they can watch the videos as often as needed and there are no classroom disruptions.  They can also pause the video whenever needed to come ask for help or whatever they need to do.  They also have access to the lessons at home and their parents can even watch the videos so they can help their kids. -Jill Jennings, 8th Grade Math

3. Absent Students

I always felt that absent students would miss a lot of instruction and then just be expected to “catch up” on their own. I could provide them with all the missed materials, but how could I be sure that they were reading through the content and trying to understand it? I would try and get students started and then work with them one-on-one, but that never seemed to be the most effective. The videos have allowed me to “send” work home for the student to do. They also allow me to provide the student with instruction without trying to explain it in the five minutes before class starts. 

4. Substitutes

When I am out for the day, I hate coming back to the chorus of “the sub didn’t tell us that was homework”, or the “sub didn’t explain that”. I started making videos of the instructions for the day. The students could either watch it individually or I could have the sub play it for the whole class. This way, I know the students are getting all the instructions or notes necessary for the day. I do not have to interrupt my plans for the one day that I am out.

Video Recording Software:

Educreations App: This is my go to free app favorite. Make sure to register for an educator account. Easy to use, but you cannot go back and edit what you have already recorded. (I take screenshot and pictures of practice questions, diagrams, and graphs and then I record/write all over them!)  

Example of Educreations Video 1

Example of Educreations Video 2

ShowMe App: Very similar to Educreations.

Explain Everything App: This requires some more time

Jing: Easily allows you to record on your desktop. Free!

Screenr: Similar to Jing.

PowToon: The videos you create with PowToon are much more creative and professional.

EdPuzzle: Allows you to use a current video and crop, add text, quizzes, voiceovers to it.

There are so many out there! Please comment if you have any that you feel should make the list!


  • Start Small: Shorter videos work best. They are also easier to make. Just pick one short video to get you started.

  • Don’t Sweat It: Your video does not have to be a perfect work of fantastic art. I desperately wanted my videos to be fantastic to watch, but I did not have the time! The more interesting, obviously the better, but a 4 minute video about HOW to do something really goes a long way.

  • Post it!: I post my videos on my teacher webpage or on Canvas. The students know where to access them.

  • TinyURL/QR code: I will put this on their assignment sheet so that they can access the video during class time or at home. This also makes it easy to leave when a sub is here.

What Do Kids Learn Playing Minecraft?

posted Mar 4, 2015, 5:10 AM by Jenna Cooper   [ updated Mar 5, 2015, 5:53 AM ]

My name is Jeff Peterson and I teach 8th grade science at Middle School North.

club image.jpg

I am often asked about the Center Grove Middle School North (MSN) Minecraft Club.  “What do kids do in Minecraft Club?  What can kids learn playing a game?”  As often is the case with education and learning, the answers to questions are often complex and with some surprises.  

The MSN Minecraft Club is a group of students and teachers who enjoy game-based learning.  Minecraft is a sandbox game where players can create and build, fight off enemies and explore vast landscapes. As is the nature of sandbox games, players can roam free, choosing objectives as they go. Because Minecraft has such open possibilities and potential, the teacher and student can choose how he or she wants to use it.  I have students who like to build.  I have some who like to explore.  I have some who like to mine and manage resources.  Students have the freedom in Minecraft to make choices and explore the consequences of those choices.  Some good, some bad; but in the end, they can start over to try again and try it a different way.

Here are the main things I think my students learn playing Minecraft:

  1. Builds creativity, problem solving, research skills and spatial reasoning

When I was a child, I loved building with Legos.  We would get a new set almost every year for Christmas.  We would build the set following the directions once, then dump the entire set into the collection of all the other sets we had accumulated over the years.  My brothers and I would spend hours building new things with the parts of multiple sets.  It was a very creative experience and required a large amount of spatial reasoning.

Minecraft is similar to this experience in that the world is basically made of blocks that can be broken down and rearranged into something new. Some blocks can be combined or processed in some ways to change them into other blocks.  The game encourages players to try new combinations and recipes to learn more.  In order to make some items, you might have to craft new tools or objects from rare materials.  To be successful in Minecraft, students have to be creative and determined to learn new things from trial and error, collaboration or through research.


  1. Resource management

When you begin the game, you have very little if anything.  You need to make everything (or find it).  This often begins with finding wood to make a crafting table and wooden tools.  These tools are easy if you are lucky enough to start in an area with lots of trees.  If you start in a desert or mountain biome, you could be in for a rough start.  The goal is to quickly make some simple tools and gather as much wood as possible before night falls.  When the sun goes down, bad monsters begin to spawn.  If you planned well, you should have enough resources you can move underground to avoid the bad guys.

This general theme continues throughout the game.  Players need to learn to plan ahead and manage their resources.  Before they leave for a trip to explore, do they have enough food to survive away from their crops?  Should I use these seeds to plant more crops or should I feed my livestock to get meat and leather?

We have also added an economy system into our server so students can set up small shops to sell game items for in-game currency.  This teaches them simple economics principles like supply and demand pricing.

  1. Team work - Communication Skills

As a lifelong player of massive multiplayer online games like World of Warcraft, I know the value of teamwork in games.  Many of my students also play multiplayer games like Call-of-Duty, HALO and Team Fortress 2.  While we can debate the type of communication skills kids learn from these “public” arena games, those who are very successful in these games are effective at communicating with others.  The depth of these games' universes requires that players communicate with other players effectively to be successful.  Even in short-term games, teammates need to know the role they play in the team for the team to win.  Teams that are effective at working together in collaboration will win every time (even against a stronger opponent that fails to work together).

In Minecraft, the world is the opponent.  It will often seem the world is working against you.  That diamond block is across that pool of lava.  You will need just one more iron bar to craft that new piece of armor.  How do I craft bread from the wheat I grew?  Players in Minecraft act like a small community to help each other out.  I have seen seasoned players helping new players on our server by walking them around the village to show them where to find things.  Some have even built “welcome to the server” starter homes.


  1. Students can be whatever they want to be

The last thing I think my students learn playing Minecraft is choice.  I have some students who only mine.  They have learned the most effective tools and geographic arrangements of mines to optimize their success of finding rare ore and minerals.  I have others who are farmers.  They have learned about how to build farms and irrigation/fertilization to help plants grow better.  I have students who are merchants, fishermen, crafters, explorers and civil engineers.  I am constantly amazed at how effective they are at identifying a need in the community and filling it.

In closing, I would be neglectful if I did not mention that not everything about Minecraft is good.  There are public servers where the play style is player-vs-player games (Hunger Games servers) and the language is adult.  Anytime you have interactions with others you run the risk of someone not playing well with others.  Also, as with any video games or the internet, addiction can also be a problem and playtime should be monitored.  All these said, I think with sufficient safeguards, mentoring, and training, the Minecraft Club at CGMSN has been a great success.

For more information, feel free to reach out to me on Twitter @petersonjeffrey or email.

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