Ed Tech In the SpEd Classroom

Using Technology to Help Bridge the Learning Gap

Genius Hour: Mission Complete! (5 minute read)


Wow.  I can’t believe it’s already been 8 weeks since I started Genius Hour in my Resource class! Time really did fly by! Anyway, I’m excited to share with you my Genius Hour (GH) journey with you in hopes that you will be able to do something like this with your classes.  Lots of learning with students and teachers alike!

If you remember from this post a while back, I explained to my students that our GH would be a chance for students to explore any topic of their choosing, as long as: a.) a passion of theirs, b.) they researched something, c.) they created something, and d.) they presented their work.  The thought being, if students worked on something they were passionate about for 20% of the time, morale would increase and productivity would go up as well.

At the beginning of our GH project, I gave students a GH Digital Interactive Notebook that I created to give them a little bit of structure.  As you know, there is minimal teacher involvement in the whole GH process.  However, I didn’t want students to go blindly in.  With the Digital Interactive Notebook, students could focus on that week’s goals and reflect on their own work.  The DINB stated that week’s goal and offered them a space to think about what they had accomplished, what changes were made, and also what they needed to do to prepare for the upcoming week.

This past Friday marked Week 8:  Presentations week.  Students had spent the past several weeks brainstorming, pitching their ideas, researching, preparing their presentations and, finally, presenting their work.

Needless to say, I was floored.

I have had some of these students for the past 3 years, since we keep our same caseload students throughout the duration of each student’s high school career.  These same students, who I’ve seen procrastinate, struggle, joke around…their presentations showed me a whole new side to them.  I almost wanted to shout to them, “where have you been this whole time??” The way they presented showed just how passionate they were about their chosen subject matter.  There was no reading off their slides, there was no lack of tone.

It was just information given from students who haven’t been given the opportunity in school to show the world who they really are and what really matters to them.  

I had students creating survival guide manuals, caring for horses, doing comedy acts, creating tutorials on how to execute basketball and soccer maneuvers, how to progress as an artist, inventions to help families when they have a lost child, students showing us a song they played after self-taught guitar lessons, and so much more.  One of the most memorable presentations was a website that a student created to inform people of the different sexual identities a person can have.  She didn’t only explain the different ways people can identify themselves, but she ended her presentation showing us her “My Story” page of the website.  This was the page that explained her struggles growing up and eventually led her coming out to the entire class.  My students were very respectful and haven’t treated her any differently since then, but I could sense a strength and pride in my presenter that I had never seen before than when she shared her story.

What would I do differently? Aside from some minor DINB tweaks, I would opt to give my students the entire DINB ahead of time, instead of the beginning of the week we were on.  Basically, when it was week 1, I mass-assigned week 1 slides only to all my students.  Every week I would add that week’s slides to each student’s DINB.  I will not be doing this in this manner next time.  Originally, I had thought that I could attache each week to the master DINB copy in Google Slides and that change would disperse out to each student copy.  Alas, that is not the case.  When you give the student a copy of a Google Slide, they get exactly the copy you give them initially.  Any further changes in the master copy do not show in their copies.  So essentially, I had to go into each student’s DINB each week and copy/paste that new week’s slides into their files.  It was a pain, to say the least.

Also, I would do more conferencing during the project.  While doing the DINB gave me the opportunity to check in on a student’s work at any time, I wish I would’ve done a more thorough conference with each student.  Some students really struggled with choosing one topic to focus on.  I had some students change their minds a few times, which was ok–but trying to give them guidance while still allowing them to take the reigns was a bit challenging.  It was difficult for me to find a good balance.

One other thing I would do differently is change the peer review sheet we used for presentations as well as the rubric.  I want both to align a little bit better than what I had used.  Lastly, I would want to invite more people in on the students’ presentations.  I think there’s more accountability when you know a larger group will there to witness your presentation than if it is just your small Resource class.

Overall, however, I’d say it was a success.  This year was my guinea pig year, but they enjoyed doing something different.  I mean, think about it:  what teacher did you ever have tell you to work on anything you wanted? My kids brainstormed, they learned, and they created something awesome that they shared with the rest of their class.  It was a win for everyone.  That is the beauty of Genius Hour, and that is why I will do it again.

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HyperDocs in the Resource Room!


Ok, so I’m not gonna lie–it took me a bit to understand what HyperDocs were.

I had gone to conferences and skimmed by Twitter posts regarding HyperDocs and finally caved.  I wanted to see what all the hype was about.

Anyway, after reading a post from Shake Up Learning on Twitter, I stumbled across an example of one.  It was life-changing for me.

I decided to use the basic template and edit it for a HyperDoc of my own with my students.  We do something in my Resource Room called Adulting 101.  I wanted to do a lesson on credit, since I teach high schoolers.  I wish that I had someone spend even just 15 minutes with me when I was in high school talking to me about credit.  It would’ve saved me thousands of dollars and 7 years of financial agony.  You have no idea, guys……you have no idea.

But, I digress.

So, I researched different ways I could teach them about credit besides standing at the front of the class and lecturing them and/or having them fill out guided notes.  I had never created a HyperDoc before, so it did take me a bit of planning ahead of time. My biggest focus was, “what did I want my students to learn?”  The second question was, “how did I want them to learn it?” I finally decided on a mix of videos, articles, and infographics.  I also made a video of some of their teachers who were giving them advice on what they wish they knew when they were in high school.  Here is part of their HyperDoc.

As you can see, it’s not all just about what credit is, but also about how much adult life revolves around it.  The first thing that came to my students’ minds when I asked them what they thought credit was about was “credit cards.”  And although they know what a credit card is, they didn’t necessarily understand what it entailed.  This was not all the students had to explore.  The HyperDoc about was embedded in another HyperDoc via Google Slides.  You can take a look at that here.

I really liked how students were able to get their own copy of the Slides and work at their own pace.  Although each student was at different points of the lesson, they were all engaged.  And to make sure they weren’t just sitting and reading or watching videos only, I created slides where they’d have to give free responses to given questions.

Now that I have done this once, I would definitely do things a bit differently next time.  First, I would conference more with each student more than I did.  Sometimes, when students are given too much freedom, they can go a bit astray.  Not as in not doing the work or doing something else, but more spending more time than was needed on one section.  As you can see, this HyperDoc is jam-packed full of information, and I didn’t want them getting too far behind.

All in all, however, I’d say it was a success.  It was something different on a topic that was relatively new to them.  My only other regret was that I didn’t start this sooner in the school year.  There is so much more I could do with follow-up activities! I plan on doing more of these next year, adding their individual IEP goal work into them.  Super excited to plan them over the summer!

Hope this post gave you some ideas of what to do with your classes, special education or not.  HyperDocs have so much potential, the sky really is the limit with these! Feel free to share your own! I’d love to see how others use them in their classrooms!


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Flipgrid Introduces Genius Hour!


Howdy, partners!

I know what you’re thinking:  where can I get a cool zebra cowboy hat like that? 😉

I have learned that students really appreciate you looking like a joke from time to time.  They seem to get a kick out of it.

Today, I decided to use Flipgrid with my Resource students for the first time eva.  To them, I was just delivering another “Do Now” (warm up), but in reality, it was a way for them to start thinking about the last big project of the school year they have coming up.  We are going to be starting a Genius Hour after Spring Break, and today’s prompt got them thinking about their passions.

The Do Now consisted of a video that I created, explaining how to download the Flipgrid app or use the website option.  Additionally, I explained that their Flipgrid needed to answer the prompt:  What Are You Passionate About? They had to identify things they enjoyed doing in their spare time or things they would like to learn about, if they could learn about anything they wanted.

While at first it took a LOT of time for them to warm up to the idea of *gasp* recording themselves, they eventually did it.  Nervous giggles were heard throughout the Do Now, as they tried to think about what they were going to say, stumbled over wording during their recordings, and (with some students) realizing they accidentally deleted their video instead of saving it.  I can’t remember how many times I heard the words “I don’t want to show my face!” today, but it was a few (um, isn’t this a selfie generation??).  Anyway, since it was their first one, I did give the option for them to not show their face, as long as they answered the prompt.  Aside from the few students who had technical issues, it was an overall success! Some things I heard students talk about was their passion in drawing, reading, basketball, organizing, and singing.  Some students stated they wanted to learn how to cook, learn Japanese, learn about other countries, and learn how to make shoes.  It was pretty awesome to see! Not to mention, some of their video selfies that they took and decorated were priceless.  It’s a cute little feature that Flipgrid has that makes it a little more fun.

A student gets giggly as he records his Flipgrid.

When we get back from break, students will start thinking more specifically about their passions as we introduce Genius Hour to them. For those who are unfamiliar with Genius Hour, it is where students are given class time to research a topic they are passionate about.  It doesn’t have to be academic at all, unless they choose it to be. Students will research a topic over a span of a few weeks, then create a presentation that they will deliver to their classmates.  The idea behind Genius Hour is that it gives students the chance to explore their passions more in order to increase morale and to help answer a question of some sort.  Students are encouraged to pursue a topic that either is fun for them or that addresses an issue they care about.  For example, some may research how to create a Rube Goldberg machine and why it works (while actually creating one), while another student creates their presentation about how to stop bullying in schools.  It is all left to students with minimal teacher guidance, other than the general guidelines that are given.

For a lot of my students, what they want to do with their lives after high school is unknown.  They know they have to have a plan for what they’re going to do by the time they graduate.  Some even have a career in mind.  However, most don’t know all the training/work that goes into those careers. Or, they don’t know what to pursue at all.  I think a Genius Hour project could help them identify what really matters to them, which could carry over into a future profession.

I’m excited to see what they end up creating.  It’s a chance for me to see a side of them I normally wouldn’t see and learn more about them as people.

I know it’s going to be great.


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Spring Breakout (Digital BreakoutEDU): The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly


WOW.  What a day.  I am proud to announce that I’ve executed my very first digital Breakout ever! And what an adventure it was.

But let’s start from the beginning, shall we?

If you’re not familiar with BreakoutEDUs, get familiar with them.  They are ah-mazing.  I was able to do a real one with the box, all the locks, etc.  It was a lot of fun and the students in my class had a blast doing something different.  An alternative to doing a physical Breakout is to do a digital one.  The same concept is there:  clues are hidden on a website or electronic document.  An advantage to doing a Breakout digitally is that anyone can create one. You don’t require all the equipment/hardware that’s required for a physical one.  Students are given a certain time limit to unlock all “locks” and are given a certain number of allowed hints, but couldn’t use their first hint until 10 minutes had passed.  I created a Google Site with an embedded Google Form containing the locks.  Thanks to the advice I was given from Alex Milton from River Valley Middle/High School prior to making it, I knew how to create the Form with data validation points to let the students know their lock was “still locked” if they entered the incorrect guess.


Now, before I get into the details of creating the digital Breakout, I needed to think of my overall goal for my students.  Although I teach high schoolers, I teach high schoolers with a range of disabilities.  One common concept they’ve struggled with are fractions.  We had been reviewing fractions for the past month and I really wanted them to get these concepts down before our upcoming state tests.  Plus, fractions are something that follows them in almost every high school math class.  So, my digital Breakout was going to be geared around fractions review.  After attending MACUL 18, I was inspired to create a digital breakout myself after getting solid advice from teachers who have done them in their own classrooms.  By seeing and getting some hands-on experience playing with one, I was able to re-create my own with similar features.  It helped a LOT.  After understanding what the bare bones of my Breakout was going to be, it was time to figure out the details.

And that, my friends, took a looong time.

It wasn’t only thinking about picture clues with hidden, embedded links that was a process for me.  It was also coming up with clues that weren’t too easy to figure out the answer right away but vague enough to still be a doable puzzle.  Much of my time was spent perusing this Google doc that offered a plethora of websites that are awesome for Breakouts clues.  I highly recommend that if you ever even think of doing a Breakout (regular or digital), you make a copy of said document for your own records.  You can thank me later.  In addition with thinking up clues, I was also thinking of the types of “locks” that would be used for each one.  I didn’t want to repeat any lock type as much as possible, so I had 5 types total:  a 3 digit lock, a directional lock, a word lock, a color lock, and a 3 word lock.

After several hours, I was finally able to finish my digital Breakout.  After testing the links and codes out, I used my own offspring as guinea pigs and had my son and his friend test it out.  And it was at that point that I knew I had messed up. A few times.  They were able to show me that I should’ve made some of the hidden links a bit bigger so that students could click almost anywhere in a space to have it open another window.  Also, I forgot that it’d been a while since my son and his friend had practiced fractions, so it was much harder for them to “get” the clues.  Once time ran up for them, I figured I should up the time limit for my students from 45 minutes to 60 (we are on a block schedule, so classes are 90 minutes).

The next day, I had my co-worker play it to do a final test.  It turns out my one word lock answer was completely different from the clue.  I had forgotten that I had changed it at the last minute and didn’t make that change on the lock itself.  It was a close call.  I had the soundtrack of the movie Clue playing as they came in to class to set the mood and had them figure out a riddle for their warm up.  When it came time to do the actual Breakout, I explained the rules to my students.  Most of them had me the year before and remembered the physical Breakout box game we did last year, so they were familiar with the rules.  After going over the rules, I let them loose.

*record scratch* And that’s when it went downhill.  Quickly.

After sharing my Google Site with my students via Google Classroom, it quickly became apparent that my site was blocked.  It had never occurred to me to have a student who wasn’t in my class to try it out first while at school.  When my son and his friend tried it, they were at home when it worked for them.  But under our school network, it did not.  I went into panic mode and tried to think of a fix.  Ultimately, I allowed students to use both my teacher computer that projected my site on the whiteboard and allowed them to also use my personal laptop.  I only had 7 students in that class, so we were able to make it work, but it was far from ideal.  The beauty of digital breakouts is that all students have access to it simultaneously, so they could decide to either figure it out together or split it up, but they each would have it on their own devices in front of them.

The cherry on top of all this was that my AP walked in to observe this thing that I had been so giddy to share about the days before.  Ultimately, it worked out ok.  I was starting to relax as they continued to play.  Then, I realized my students had no idea where to begin.

Have you ever seen those videos on social media where kids are given a cassette player or Walkman and they look at it like it’s an alien? They poke and stare and move it around but have no idea what that thing is?  It was exactly like that.

It was excruciating to watch.  It never occurred to me that even for my Breakout-experienced students, none of them had ever done a digital Breakout before.  I intentionally did not tell them in the instructions to click on things, as that is part of the “fun.” As several minutes went by as the students were scrolling and reading in almost complete silence, it may or may not have crossed my mind that I had made a horrible mistake.  All sorts of things were running through my head: “What was I thinking?…why did I think this would work?…should I just call it off and do something else?…what is my AP thinking?….God, I could really use a donut right now.”

After some not-so-subtle reminders that they had hints available to use, they finally decided to use one.  With great relief, I told them to start clicking on things.  Pictures.  Anything that stuck out on the page.  Finally, they started finding clues and convos started happening.  It wasn’t until my AP had left the classroom that I thought to ask if our IT department could temporarily allow my Google Site.  It also wasn’t until my AP left that the kids started really getting into it. Figures.  At the end of it all, they were finally able to unlock all 5 locks in 45 minutes.


So, what did I learn? A lot.

  1. Double -no- quadruple check all your links and locks at school! Have a coworker try it out! Have a student! It will make for a lot less stress when it’s actually time to roll it out.
  2. Talk to your IT department, if you have one, ahead of time.  Make sure your students will actually be able to access your site, if you choose to do it on a website.  It makes a huge difference.
  3. If you do have your digital Breakout on a Google site, explain to your students NOT to expand embedded pics in another window.  I found that when they did, the hyperlinks embedded in the pictures were not active.  This will only make things more difficult and/or frustrating for everyone involved.
  4. Make sure there are no big events going on at your school during your Breakout.  I totally didn’t think about our WIDA testing that was going on with our students who spoke another language.  Which was a huge chunk of my caseload.  So I never had a full class to do this.  Obviously, the more people you have playing, the easier it is.  One class had only 2 kids in class that day.  Another had only 3.
  5. It’s going to be hard to hold back while they’re working.  Really hard.  Fight through it! This is an outstanding time for them to learn to do things on their own, as a team without your help. I did have to remind some of my classes very often that they had hints to use because 30 minutes went by and they were struggling severely, but also wanted that badly to figure it out on their own.  Let them.
  6. Get feedback from them right after the game is finished.  I created a Breakout reflection Google Form with a few questions that asked them to rate the game, their individual roles, what they would change, which their favorite puzzle/clue was, and how enjoyable it was for them.  Despite the dead-ends that they ran into, there feedback was overwhelmingly positive.  I did have one that reported it was “too hard” but he also struggles with math and due to testing going on in the building, there was only 1 other student in class to help him.
  7. Make it a competition! I had each of my hours compete against each other and the other teacher’s Resource classes.  Bragging rights are a great motivator.
  8. Make any necessary changes for future Breakouts.  I learned that I will give my students more than 4 hints to use in the future.  I can certainly give hints as needed, but like to give them the independence to ask for help when they feel as a group that they need it.  I also learned that I needed to make some clues a little less difficult.  When creating future clues, I have to think more how they would think instead of how I would like them to think.

All in all, I say it was a success.  It was a lot of work upfront, I will be honest.  But watching these students work together, come out of their shell, thinking outside of the box, and having fun while reviewing content is so worth it.

MACUL 2018


It’s been a jam-packed 2 days, let me tell you.

If you’ve never attended a MACUL conference, my apologies.  You don’t know what you’re missing.  I think they know that March is about the time when teachers start feeling the burn-0ut.  They know.  We’ve got standardized testing coming up (right after Spring Break, mind you!) and teachers are starting to feel the pinch.  What better way to re-charge our batteries than to hold a conference chalk-full of tech tools that we can start using in our classrooms and get our creative juices going?  Throw in some amazing sessions, some outstanding keynote speakers, add in Twitter to share all the goods, and BAM–we are ready to go.

Going to these conferences really reminds me why I became a teacher in the first place.  Being in such a positive and supportive environment with teachers from all over the country really does something to you.  I am grateful to have such supporting admin to allow me to attend this and look forward to more conferences in the future.

Thank you, #MACUL18.  I really, really needed this.

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Our Gratitude Board!


Ok, so one of the unique things we do at my high school is have what we call a Moral Focus every month.  Each month has a different Moral focus which allows teachers and students to discuss and partake in activities that will help them become better people.  November’s Moral Focus is Gratitude, and I think everyone can always use a little reminder about what they should be grateful for, don’t you?

I started class of by showing my students a video for our Do Now.  Once it was finished, I had them jot down 5 things they were grateful for in their Do Now notebooks.  Once they wrote their 5, they had to select their favorite and write it on the back whiteboard, which was serving as our Gratitude Board.  This way, there was always a reminder as they walked through the door.

After all students from each hour wrote their entries, our Gratitude Board looked great! I plan on allowing them to add as they wish during the month.  Later this month, we will work on writing letters to someone who has made a difference in our lives to show our gratitude.  I look forward to reading them and hearing their stories of when their recipients get them! 🙂

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Welcome to Room 111


Oh, well, he-LLO again! So nice of you to stop by again! Come on over and sit–let’s chat.

Just to fill you in on what we’ve been doing in our high school Resource class, I’d like to squeeze 2 months-worth of activities in one post.  So, just a reminder, I am currently in a 1:1, at-risk high school.  I have 4 different Resource classes this year:  my freshmen class (which is currently PACKED with 13 students!), my originally-intended-for-sophomore Resource, which now has 4 freshmen, my Certificate of Completion class for those students who are significantly below grade level, and my junior/senior Resource class.  Luckily, this year I am co-teaching my freshmen Resource with the other Resource teacher in my building.  This helps tremendously with monitoring students, managing the work load, and classroom management.

Because we are a 1:1, I have the ability to help create lessons that utilize the technology our students have.  My goal has always been creating lessons that are engaging and informative.  Being that we are on a block schedule, it can be challenging to find activities that are engaging enough to have students work for the entire 90 minute period.  This year, to help with this, us special ed teachers decided to use stations.  This will allow students to work on an activity for 15 minutes before moving on to the next.  We find that this minimizes behaviors while keeping students working on skills that we’ve taught them.

One of my favorite tools that I’ve started using more often is PearDeck.  This allows me to share my Google Slide presentation to be displayed on each student’s laptop.  Additionally, PearDeck lets students use the interactive tools to respond to given prompts.  Students can respond with text, draggables, drawing tools, and with multiple choice options.  For example, below students are learning about their IEPs (Individualized Education Programs) and enter information on their own slides, that will transfer over to the teacher.


Students entering their own information to given IEP slide prompts.


Additionally, we use Google Classroom to post Slides that each student can obtain their own copy of and edit as needed.  This has been a huge help in getting activities out to students quickly while being able to check their work just as efficiently.  In one of their station activities below, we had students replace “dead words” (overused words, but more Halloween-themed) with more colorful synonyms.  With the help of a small set of thesauruses that I’ve hoarded over the past few years, students were able to edit their given slides.  Hopefully, this will allow them to know not only that there are so many more words to use than the usual ones, but also where to find them.  And thanks to this Google Classroom feature, I can check their work in real-time.  Super convenient!


Another thing we do from time to time is give video prompts as their bellringers.  At our school, we use Teach Like a Champion strategies and the Do Now strategy is the one that students complete immediately upon class starting.   While we try to incorporate a lot of writing in the Do Nows, we try to look for prompts that will be of interest to our students.  Having short video prompts will pique their interest and give them that little extra push to want to respond.  One example of us using this in our Resource classes was showing them this video and having students respond to it.  They could answer a variety of questions, such as, “What happened next? What lesson can be learned from this?”  I’ve noticed it’s a lot easier to get longer responses with video prompts than it is with written ones.


We also know that sometimes there’s nothing wrong with good ole’ technology-less activities as well.  Getting students up and out of their seats (and just moving) can break the everyday-class-routine monotony.  Here you can see students (it was “Where’s Waldo Day,” fyi. Hence, Waldo) in the halls at different checkpoints.  These checkpoints had math problems student had to solve and had to select the correct answer from the given choices.  This activity in particular reinforced their skills on the distributive property. Once they solved the problem, they were directed to the next clue, which was at another checkpoint in the building.  Although this station activity was meant to be completed individually, several students utilized teamwork to solve the problems.  Some did them in teams of 2 or 3, others completed them solo.  Either way, each student was able to practice their math skills while getting their fidgety-ness out.

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So that’s just a snippet of what we’ve been up to so far this year.  I am excited to share all of the upcoming treats that will take place in my Resource classes this year with you all.  It is still very much a learning process for me, despite this being my 8th year of teaching.  Here’s to a successful, new, and tech-filled school year! Salud!

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Prelude to Chapter 2…


Hello, again, friends.  It’s been a while, hasn’t it? About 3 years, actually.

Don’t hate me.  During that time, I had embarked on a new journey as a teacher at a virtual school.  Meaning, both students and teachers learned/taught virtually (from home).  While it was a new and exciting experience that gave me invaluable knowledge and experiences, I felt I had more to offer students and could do that better in a face-to-face setting.

So, here I am.

I am now a high school special education teacher at a school nearby and I am STOKED to start this new adventure! Nervous, scared, but stoked.  Let me share a few reasons why:

  • It’s a 1:1 school.  In other words, each student is issued a Chromebook.  This was a huge plus for me.  As a teacher who loves to use different techy things with her students, this opens up a lot of possibilities for my teaching and their learning.
  • There are some great values taught/instilled in students from the get-go.  I really liked this.  Where my former school lacked in consequences for students, this totes makes up for it.  Kids need that discipline and it’s refreshing to hear that it’s something in place.
  • Um, hel-LO?? I get to see kids face-to-face! Don’t get me wrong-I ADORED working from home.  There is no editing button to bold, underline, highlight, emphasize that enough.  I am the type of teacher who thrives off independence.  Give me the rules, and leave me to myself to work my magic my own way.  However, the whole reason why I went into teaching was to feel the sense of fulfillment that comes with it.  I wasn’t getting that in a virtual setting.  And that’s purely a personal thing–it worked wonders for other teachers.

I do realize that some issues arise with working in a brick-and-mortar facility.  There are always behavior issues, there is the drive to work, and the inevitable (ugh) getting dressed for work (yoga pants, anyone?).  However, I believe the pros will undoubtedly weight out the cons here.  I look forward to making new friends, establishing some great new professional relationships, and spreading my tech wings once again for the good of student learning.

So sit tight.  We begin round 3 tomorrow.  And I can’t wait.

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Book Trailers Completed! \(0.0)/


Oh, happy day! I totally felt like this on Friday when we presented our book trailers!

It’s been a long journey, through reading our novels, planning our trailers, then creating them on the iPads, but they did it.  I was so proud of them! This was a first-time journey for both them and me, but I think it turned out wonderfully.  Were the trailers perfect? No. But going from no experience on iMovie to creating a trailer using the Project feature on iMovie (not the Trailer option), they were able to do great work.  Some things I learned along the way:

1.  Daily conferencing is crucial! Being a Resource room, we couldn’t work on the trailers for any straight consecutive days because of other work we had, but I had to communicate with them often to make sure they were understanding what to do as well as staying on task.  There were a couple of students who reaaaally waited until the last minute to get their reading done.

2.  Be firm about the order of things being done! I purposefully made searching for images and music towards the end because I knew they’d spend the most time doing that.  I required that a book summary be done after the reading, then the storyboards be completed.  Some students wanted to skip right to finding pictures after their summary, which was a no-go.

3. Having an iMovie tutorial saved my life.  I found a great video on YouTube which did a fantastic job of explaining iMovie on the iPads in a short and sweet video.  I posted this on our class Edmodo site so the students could reference it as often as needed.  Even though I had it there, I still had kids ask me, “Miss! How do make the picture show longer?” My response: “The tutorial explains how to do it–go watch it again.”  And the video tutorial was only a few minutes long, so it wasn’t a big deal to go back and watch it over again.

4. Have deadlines! By having these, students were always aware at what point they should be in their book trailer creation process. Too much lagging (as some of them learned the hard way) really hurt them later as they struggled to get caught up.

5.  Make a big deal about their finished products.  I threw a “book trailer premier” party on Friday, presenting everyone’s trailers to the class.  I brought in popcorn for everyone to munch on while we watched them.  I know for middle schoolers it was probably not that big of a deal to do that (or at least some acted like it), but I wanted them to celebrate the work they put into them.

One thing I did as we watched the trailers was distribute Peer Evaluation sheets to each student.  Everyone got six of them in order to evaluate everyone else’s besides themselves.  They were to point out one good thing, one suggestion, and whether or not they would read the book based on the book trailer.  I did this because I thought each student could get feedback from their peers, which could hold more weight than my own feedback, potentially.  Plus, I wanted students to analyze each other’s work instead of just “watching” them.

Last, I created a Google Form for students to do a self-assessment on this project.  I did this not only for them to think about their own work, but to give me an idea as to what they liked/didn’t like.  From their submissions, all of them said they’d prefer to do a book trailer in the future over a written assignment/report.  I’m very pleased that it was worth it to them.  Hard work really does pay off.  🙂

Photo Apr 23, 9 37 33 AM

Writing a book summary.

Photo Apr 23, 9 37 55 AM

Finishing his reading…


Planning his trailer.

Planning his trailer.

In the early portions of storyboarding. Some tweaks were made along the way.

In the early portions of storyboarding. Some tweaks were made along the way.

Searching for images.

Searching for images.

Recording his narration.

Recording his narration.

Book trailer.

Book trailer.

Showtime. :)

Showtime. 🙂

Saying nice things about their classmate's video (while enjoying some popcorn).  :)

Saying nice things about their classmate’s video (while enjoying some popcorn). 🙂


And although they begged me not to show their trailers, I thought one wouldn’t hurt. 😉



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Innovation Day 2013: Mission Accomplished!


So I’ve had several people ask me how Innovation Day went in my classroom.  To put it simply, it was awesome!

Let me give you a run-down of our agenda for that day.  From talking to the students the day before, they knew they were to come to my room first thing after dropping off their bags and coats in their lockers.  These kids came bombarding into my room as if they had downed a few bottles of Mountain Dew.  They reminded me of my kids on Christmas morning, waiting to open their presents.  They were very excited, to say the least.  As soon as they all arrived, I kept getting asked, “When are we gonna start?” I must’ve told them “after the announcements” about 10 times.  The kids were walking around asking each other what they were going to work on.  Our poor principal.  He never stood the chance of his announcements being heard that day.  At least from my group.

After what seemed like an eternity, the announcements were over and I explained to them how it was going to work.  Students would be able to work on their project until 11:07 (lunch), they would eat lunch in the cafeteria, come back up, and work more until about 2.  At that point, the students would present their work and fill out a Reflection Sheet regarding their Innovation Day projects.  I distributed materials, which consisted of popsicle sticks, glue, Legos, Kinex, iPads, latptops, and action figures.  Some students brought in their own action figures.  Another brought in her personal (and very nice) laptop from home.  They got right to work.

I had to give some assistance to one student as he was trying to navigate Minecraft on the iPads for the first time ever.  Although my own kids at home are obsessed with that game, I don’t know much about playing it myself.  Fortunately, together we were able to figure it out and he was building in a matter of no time.

So as you’re envisioning and taking all this in, I would like to mention a few glitches I hit along the way, before I go back to painting my portrait of middle school bliss.  First was materials.  As I mentioned before, my kids don’t have a lot.  Since a few of them had mentioned using Legos, I had to find enough to endure hours of building for multiple students.  Thanks to the help of a very generous donor (thank you, Heather Gauck!), I was able to get enough.  Yes, I did end up purchasing used Legos online a few days before as well, just to make sure there was enough.  Besides the problem with materials, I had one student who was just so darn indecisive.  Actually, let me re-phrase that.  He didn’t want to take the time to think of a project to work on.  First he had come up with one project.  Then he changed his mind.  Then he told me to pick a project for him.  Then, that morning, he asked if it was ok for him to work on a 3D model of the Eiffel Tower with another student who actually bought it to work on himself.  The other student had agreed to let him work on it with him, although I let my one student know that was irresponsible of him.

Another unfortunate thing was that our principal wasn’t able to stop in and see us work.  I know this wasn’t his fault–that day was a crazy day and he had to handle business with different students and their parents.  I know how much he’d talked about wanting to see them all in action, so I let him know afterwards how it went.

One last problem I ran into was a technology issue (go figure).  I would ominously label this section Me vs. The Help Desk. So let me give you a little background info super quickly.  There have been times in the past when I’ve needed either an update or some software downloaded to my school laptop.  I’ve called the Help Desk and they’ve been able to download it as we spoke over the phone.  Instantaneously.  I’ve never really had to wait for more than a day for a software download.  A week before Innovation Day, I let the Help Desk know that I wanted to download Reflector onto my laptop. I briefly explained what it was and was told they’d get back to me.  A day later, I received a phone call telling me the dongle would cost yada yada dollars.  I told them they were mistaken–there was no hardware needed.  I tried to explain again, all while the lady was writing it down on her end.  Fast forward another day. I was told I had to wait to get the ok from our district tech person.  I followed up with e-mails asking if it would be something they could do by Friday, since I needed it for the students to present their iPad projects.  No answer.  From anybody.  I saw that my e-mails were being read, just not replied to.  I e-mailed the tech lady again and the Help Desk again. No answer.  Finally, Friday came around and I still had no answer.  We ended up putting the iPads on the ELMO and tried to present that way.  It worked alright, but it got blurry when the students were navigating through their projects and the ELMO couldn’t keep up with their motions fast enough.  It wasn’t until the middle of that next week that I got an answer that it couldn’t be done.  I don’t even want to get into how mad I was. Yeah, I kinda figured when you didn’t answer my e-mails for days that it wasn’t going to happen.

Ok, enough.  The good events of that day outweighed the bad by far.  The kids were so excited to work on their projects.  I brought in some snacks, one of my students brought in some snacks, and we played music the whole time.  I actually had two students who asked to stay during lunch, they were that much into their projects.  “You have to eat!” I told them.  “Miss, we got food here.” (pointing to the bags of chips and pop up front).  So I let them stay.  The rest of the kids went to get their lunch and asked to bring them back up to the room to eat and work at the same time.  During passing time, we had several students stop in, ask what we were doing, and then asked if they could stay also.

When lunch was over, I could see a slight shift in their momentum.  It slowed down a bit, but not much.  They had been working several hours already and I was surprised how focused they still were.  However, there was a little more checking out others’ projects and offering help, which I was totally fine with.  They all made it back to their projects eventually and continued until they were finished.

There was one point where one of my students had a catastrophe.  He was working on a stop-motion movie, using Lego figures.  I had installed an app called myCreate, which is specifically for stop-motion movies.  Somehow, my student hit the wrong button and everything erased.  Everything.  He had about 200 screenshots in the making and it was all gone in a second.  Other students tried to help get it back, I tried, but it was gone.  He was heartbroken and wanted to give up.  I told him he still had a few hours and could start another one.  Initially, he was dead-set against it.  All he said was he would never finish on time and that it was no use. I told him he had already created a great movie and knew he could do it again.  I felt sooooo bad for him! He kind of moped around for a while, looking at others working on their projects.  All the while, I would remind him that he was very talented and could start a new one.  Even if he never finished it, he could have something great to show.  Eventually, after about 15 minutes, he started rummaging through Legos again, looking for figurines.  After about 5 minutes, he started getting back into the swing of things.  I offered to save his work several times.  Each time, he declined. He was too busy working. 😉

Before it was time to present, I had them fill out their reflection sheets, which had them think about what they learned during this process.  When it was time to present, each student came to the front, explained what they worked on, and told us what they learned.  Most of the students said their projects were harder to do than they thought.  There was more involved and they had to modify what they did to make it the way they wanted.  My one student who lost all his work said he learned not to push the wrong button. 😉  Although he didn’t want to mention it, he also figured out how to create an “explosion” in his movie by holding up a transparent orange Lego piece up to the camera and take a shot like that.  I never would’ve thought of that.  He did.  He also said that even though you mess up, you can still keep going and make something just as good.  It was definitely a “proud mama” moment for me. You can see his movie here.

Building the Eiffel Tower

Making stop-motion movies!

Minecrafting. 🙂

Creating a slideshow to sing to. 🙂


Getting it juuust right…

Mission accomplished!

Writing their post-project reflections.

Presenting his Minecraft castle.

Entertained by the stop-motion movies.

Watching the awesome movies that were created.


You can watch a short video clip here.

So, what did I learn? I learned that setting aside one day for students to work on something that interests them was totally worth it.  Not only did they get to explore their interests, but we grew more as family.  No one was at odds at anyone else that day.  If anything, there was more collaboration and teamwork than I’d ever seen from any of them.  Yes, I had some trouble along the way, but it was totally outweighed by the good. And yeah, it got noisy at times.  But it was a good kind of noise.  Laughing, complimenting, talking to others and themselves, as they figured out the best way to achieve their goal.  Even the kids who have had the most behavior problems this whole year had a blast.  Better yet, they were the ones making others laugh the most and created some of the best movies.  It was jaw-dropping.  The last part of their reflection sheets asked them this: Do you have any suggestions for this project?  Every single one of them stated pretty much the same thing: I hope we can do this again.  Would I do this again next year?  You can bet on it.









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