Summer Learning Part 1: Stop Motion Animation

Summer Break is finally here for me.  I spent the last three weeks teaching four classes of summer school.  I taught stop motion animation, coding with ozobot robots (two different sections of age groups), and a circuit design class.  And let me tell you, not only did my students learn a lot, I leaned a ton as well.  I developed  classes to offer that I was not an expert in.

I did that on purpose. 

I am a believer that letting students see you take risks, see you NOT being an expert in everything, see you being a learner like they are, is a powerful tool as a teacher.

I first tried stop motion animation this past school year with my fifth graders.  I basically downloaded the app on their iPads and had them “figure it out”.  Their task was to create a visual to promote their “Shark Tank” invention. The students LOVED it, so I thought it would be a great enrichment class to offer for our District’s Summer Learning Program.  I took a different approach with my summer students than I did during the school year.  After all, I actually had time on my hands, 15 hours of dedicated time to let students explore, be creative, take risks, and create.  (Super exciting :))  Below is an outline of what I did for the three weeks:

Day 1-2
Day 3-4 Start working with group

  • Brainstorm ideas on possible story topics
  • Discuss Story writing – focus on Premise
  • Discuss Story Writing – focus on outline for story – 3 acts total – beginning, middle, end
Day 5
  • Storyboard/ write script
Day 6
  • Continue storyboarding/ script
  • Create characters
  • Start working on setting
Day 7
  • Continue working on setting
Day 8
  • Play around with app
Day 9-12
  • Take pictures/film
Day 13
  • Drop animation into iMovie
  • Record voice over
Day 14
  • Continue with voice over
  • Create theme music in Garage Band and drop into iMove
Day 15
  • Share movies with class and on YouTube



Student movies:

I modified lessons from the site: .  You can find the lessons in PDF form here.  These lessons were extremely helpful for me to gain a starting point.  I would also recommend The StopMotion Handbook if you are interested in learning more about stop motion animation.

The outline above reflects how the three weeks played out. I definitely feel that the first days spent discussing animation and story writing are key to a successful end product.   I was surprised how many days it took for the students to “film”, some groups needed more time.  Also, some students left early on the third week, so they were not able to complete the voice overs and theme music. 

I was impressed with the movies that the students made.  Their creativity, risk taking, and teamwork was evident every single day during summer school. 

Now that….Is Positively Techie!

Feel free to share your resources and ideas for using Stop Motion Animation.  I would love to build on my resources :))

A Positively Techie School Year

The countdown of days is on the board, students are more chatty than usual, and the scent of a sweaty, almost sixth grader hits you when you walk in the room…

It’s coming quickly to an end.  A school year with my little family of fifth graders.  I have spent more waking hours with these kiddos than my own children and I love them all dearly.  I have learned all about their lives, I know their mannerisms, their little quirks, their strengths and their weaknesses.  I look forward to seeing them each and every day.  It is amazing how much a child grows and changes in ten months.  It’s amazing how educators grow and change in a school year…

The end of the school year means a time to reflect, a time to think about the next little family of students that will be coming my way in the fall.  What worked, what didn’t, what I can do better, what I will try new next year?  The questions, thoughts, and ideas keep swirling in my head.  As much as I don’t want this year to end, I can’t help but think about how I can be a better teacher, learner, facilitator, and leader next year.

The biggest change for me this school year was turning my classroom into a flexible learning space.  It by far was THE BEST idea I had all year!  The positive response from the parents, students, and other staff members was overwhelming. The students tell me how much easier it is for them to learn in my classroom because “they don’t feel confined”, “they are comfortable”, “they can focus on their learning and not on the fact that they are sitting where they don’t want to sit”.  The thing about my classroom is it’s not only about the furniture.  “Flexible” was more of our motto all year.  WE were flexible.  Students had the choice of where to sit any time of day.  They had to make the right choice everyday to ensure they got their work done.  To my amazement, the majority of the time, they made perfect choices for themselves!  I gave them the power to take some control of their learning and they used their power wisely.  Next year, I already have plans to make a few changes and add a few fun pieces of furniture (and hopefully ditch my desk – if I can find it a new home).

I was able to teach all the fifth graders during a designated “tech time”.  I worked with students on projects dedicated to Social Studies, Science, and Language Arts as well as a few techie lessons to build their technology tool kit.  We had Mystery Skypes, wrote blogs, and worked on many projects including a few of my favorites the “Shark Tank” project, a Mother’s Day video, and a digital memory book. Our local Apple Store in Oak Brook, IL. sent out two members of their Creative Team to lead workshops to teach the students about the Apple apps on their iPads. The team came out several times throughout the school year and helped the students create a digital memory book.  This “book” is a memoir of their life from birth through fifth grade.  It includes photos, video, student created background music, and a voice over of the students telling their stories and memories for each year of their life.  These are truly going to be memorable keepsakes for years to come!

Mother’s Day Project

Towards the end of the year I started an Innovation Club and began the creation of the weCreate Lab at our school.  I met with K-2 graders and 3-4 graders to introduce them to technology tools that will be available to them next year in the weCreate Lab.  My favorite item is the ozobot robots.  I LOVE how ANYONE who can draw a line can make the robot move from one place to another.  I am also loving the fact that students build on their expertise and eventually code on the computer to lead their robot from one place to the next.  I spent a few sessions with Snap Circuits and littleBits.  The students easily caught on and understood how everyday items get their power through circuits.  I gave students challenges to make the light dim, make the fan turn on, and turn a light different colors.  It was rewarding to see how the students, even Kindergartners, kept trying and didn’t give up until they figured it out.  The excitement and joy they showed when they finally met the challenge was awesome!  The last couple of sessions we will be exploring the Makey Makey Kits.  Students this year got a taste of the new technology tools available to them, but next year, we will really be able to dig in and go through the whole design thinking process.

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I want my students to be risk takers, therefore I hold myself to that same standard. Each year I try new things. Either I expand on what I’m already doing or I try something completely new. A couple of new ideas didn’t work out quite as I planned.  This year I tried The Global Read Aloud for the first time.  The Global Read Aloud is a global phenomenon created by the amazing Pernille Ripp @pernilleripp.   Books are chosen each year and classrooms around the globe read the same book and connect to discuss the book through Edmodo, blogging, Skype, etc.  I set up 2 classes for my class to connect with and we actually did connect with one class.  It was not easy to get all of the assigned chapters read each week and the class that we actually did connect with didn’t participate much.  I love the idea behind The Global Read Aloud, but I also feel that in order for it to work both classes need to really commit to participating fully.

Next year I want to improve on so many things.  I want to schedule more Mystery Skypes.  After the first Mystery Skype I ever did, I never wanted to give another map worksheet.  The amount of authentic geography learning that happens during a Mystery Skype is astounding!  Everything I know and have used on Mystery Skype I got from another amazing educator Paul Solarz @PaulSolarz.  I planned on participating in blogging challenges with my students, but I didn’t.  That will definitely be on my goal sheet for next year.  I also want to learn and use Google Classroom to it’s fullest potential.  It was a helpful tool to send out and collect assignments however I know it could be used for so much more!  I follow Alice Keeler on Twitter @alicekeeler.  She is THE ONE to turn to if you want to know anything Google.   I will be researching all things Google as well as work on getting my Google Certified Educator Levels 1 and 2 this summer.

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Of course I have some new things up my sleeve that I can’t wait to try next year. I am super excited for Breakout EDU to arrive.  This is a game that promotes collaboration, teamwork, problem solving, the list goes on.  The goal is to unlock the box in a specific amount of time.  There are several different scenarios with clues to a mystery that needs to be solved.  You work together to solve the mysteries and unlock the box.  I want to start the year off with a Breakout EDU game at one of our Institute Days.  This way, the staff can see first hand how students can build bonds through the collaboration and teamwork involved in opening the box.  A PERFECT back to school activity!!

I am looking forward to connecting Common Core State Standards and Next Generation Science Standards to activities in the weCreate Lab and designing some novel engineering activities. I also signed up to receive the Idea Box  from the James Dyson Foundation.  I am excited to learn more about Hyperdocs and create some for the upcoming school year.  I want to tip my toe into gamification and figure out what it is all about. I am sure there are things I don’t even know I want to learn about.  The summer days are a great time to learn more about amazing ways to integrate technology into the classroom.   How are YOU growing as an educator this summer?  Is there something you want to learn more about?

I am looking forward to spending time with my “real” family, sleeping a little bit later in the morning, lounging by the pool, and going for long, quiet walks.  But I will also be thinking, designing, creating, learning, and doing everything I can to be…well – better.  

Now that… Is Positively Techie!

“Shark Tank” Update

The “Shark Tank” project went exceptionally well.  I am so impressed with my student’s creativity and their ability to work so well with each other.  You can read about their inventions on their blogs at 5G Brainy Bloggers, 5Ma Brainy Bloggers, and 5L Brainy Bloggers.  My students would LOVE if you would make a few comments on their blog :))  

Thinking up a solution to solve an everyday problem and presenting that idea to”sharks” was just the beginning.  Each fifth grade class chose what they wanted to do next with the top 3 inventions.  Classes voted using a Google Form on the following options:
1. Mass produce one of the inventions
2. Make prototypes of all three inventions
3. Market all three inventions (create a website, infomercial, etc.)
Two classes chose to mass produce and sell their product, one class chose to market all three products.  The students spent the next few weeks working in groups making the product, packaging the product, creating commercials, jingles, and websites.  The inventor was the “boss” and was in charge of their “employees”.  The “boss” had to make a lot of decisions and answer many, many questions.  It was interesting to see how each student fell into their role and took their job seriously.  I can honestly say I am super proud of my fifth graders!  Once all products were made and packaged, we sold the items during lunch to raise money for our weCreate Lab at our school.  We made A LOT of money and now the fifth graders get to decide what materials to buy for our weCreate Lab.  We will be making that decision next week.

I am always trying to get my student’s voices heard.  It is important to help our children navigate a positive way to use the social media and the internet.  I will be sending the links to the student’s website to companies to get their feedback on the inventions and have been promoting on Twitter some of the items our students made.  One surprising email did come in because of this article written for the local paper.  A marketing firm emailed me wanting to see the video and presentation of one of my student’s inventions!  She was hoping the brand she works for could “help out with this product”.   A video is in production at this time, but I don’t know how the company is going to use it.  I will definitely be sharing it when it goes public 🙂

My students now believe that their ideas matter, that they DO have a voice that can be heard.  My students now believe in themselves and have a sense of pride for their hard work.  They also have a feeling of accomplishment and ownership for real life solutions.  That is all I could ever want as a teacher.

Our students have so much creativity built up in them and often, we get too caught up in teaching from the book, getting ready for the test, worried about the scores and data.  The things my student’s took away from this project could NEVER be taught from a book, or be assessed for a grade on a report card.  Here are several reflections my students wrote in response to the question:
What did you learn form this project?

“I learned that it’s possible to make tons of things you imagine and being creative is super fun and exciting.”

“I learned about sales and how to make a sales pitch.”

“I learned that if you think of an invention or idea you can really make it happen if you believe and try hard enough. It was fun and amazing!!!”

“That you can apply anything you dream of.”

“I learned a lot about how people market products and the process of how a company gets to success, and I also learned that even kids can do this and it’s not impossible but it takes a lot of work.”

“I learned the process every inventor had to go through to get their product invented. I also learned the stress some bosses have to go through to get their workers to do what they want to do.”

“I learned, that there are many new ways I can think about solving everyday problems.”

“I learned a lot about working in groups, and leadership. It was kind of hard telling everyone what to do for the website, and getting things done, but after a few days of getting used to it, I got better at it.”

“I learned that you don’t always get picked in the real world, and you have to deal with it and be happy for the person who did get it.”

“That I could be a inventor when I grow up.”

“I learned that to really get the most out of the project, you really had to think out of the box and be creative with your invention to get the most out of it.”

“I learned that you should take risks. I think that I could of made a better product, but I didn’t take a risk, I just thought of something and didn’t really think about anything else.”

“I learned that it is a complicated and frustrating process to go through to make an invention. You need to think through so many things to be successful with your invention.”

“I learned that you have to keep on trying.  If you did not get you product pick then still should not stop, and don’t give up. Keep on trying and reach your goal.”

“I learned that there’s a lot of steps to making products and working together makes it go way faster.”

My goal is to continue working towards giving my students opportunities to be risk takers, use their creativity, follow their curiosities, and share their voices to the world.  The weCreate Lab at my school is the perfect place where students can use a variety of materials to do just that!


Now that… Is Positively Techie!

“Shark Tank” Classroom Materials for you to use (simply duplicate the copy and modify to meet your needs)!


Innovators Wanted!

One of my goals for the new year is to create as many opportunities as possible for my students to be curious, to be imaginative, to become planners, and collaborative  risk takers who create.  In other words, I want my students to become innovative!

“Shark Tank” Unit

Our  fifth grade team created a “Shark Tank” Unit which is perfect for creating the environment to make innovation happen in my classroom.  Students will research an invention that is valuable to their everyday life.  They will find out:

      1. Inventor
      2. Invention
      3. Problem invention solved
      4. The process from idea to production
      5. Timeline of dates – i.e.. Idea, patent, production, first sale, etc..
      6. Struggles/roadblocks inventor encountered
      7. Cost/Profit/Financial info

Then, the students will brainstorm an everyday problem they have and think of ways to solve the problem.  Students will present a variety of information:

      1. Invention name
      2. The problem it solves
      3. Share a visual/ graphic aide showing what it looks like
      4. A description of how it works
      5. Materials used/needed, “starting plan” on how it will be built/assembled
      6. Itemized cost of materials per unit/Total Cost to build/Selling price per unit/Profit CAN include marketing material (brochures, infomercial, packaging, etc…)

The presentations will be given “Shark Tank” style and a few students from each class will be chosen (invested in) to work with other students to build their invention.   Check back in March to see the completed inventions!


Innovation Club & Lab

Not only do I want to create this opportunity for my own students, but I want to create it  for other students at my school too.  I am hearing about more and more schools with “maker spaces” and was inspired and excited to get one started at my school too!  I was extremely fortunate to have our PTO provide the funds to purchase materials for an “Innovation Club & Lab” at my school 🙂  I will be sponsoring an after school club and the materials will be available for teachers to “check out” so they can use them in their own classroom.  There are so many materials out there, it was really hard to choose the best ones to meet the school’s needs.  I wanted to choose materials that would not only create an environment where students could be innovative, but were also teacher friendly, so  teachers would feel comfortable to use the materials too.

  1. Makey Makey Kits download 2
    Use the supplied circuit board, alligator clips and a computer to turn ANYTHING into a keyboard.  Beginners to advanced creators can have fun while typing a letter to creating an elaborate device.
  2. LittleBits           images 2
    Magnetic bits fit together to create a circuit.  Follow the directions to start a fan, turn on a light, or create your own invention.
  3. ozobot             download (1) 2
    A tiny robot that teaches robotics and programming.  Students can program using either a drawn color code or a more advanced block-based code.  This robot can play games, dance, and much more!
  4. Snap Circuits    download (2) 2
    Follow the color coded manual to snap together circuits to create a variety if electrical items SAFELY or create your own.
  5. JustStand V2       Screen_Shot_2013-09-06_at_10.57.28_PM 2
    This iPad stand can be for stop motion and video creation. Can also be used as a document camera – bonus 🙂

What I LOVE about all of these products is that they can be differentiated to meet the varying level of each student.  All students from K-H.S. can use these products and be challenged, the product grows with the student’s level of mastery, imagination and creativity.

My dream is to eventually have a full “Innovation Lab” at my school, one similar to Creative Learning Systems Smart Labs.    I know it will take time and I am confident it will be the norm in the future.  I will continue to take small steps until I get to where I believe we need to be in education.  If you are interested in taking steps with me, comment below and we can take the journey together!

Now that… Is Positively Techie!

Feature Image credit

How are YOU Preparing Our Children for the Future?

Institute Day…  Yep, we had one yesterday.  The majority of teachers dread these days, especially when they have to listen to a speaker for hours on a topic they can’t relate to, have a million other things on their to do list that keeps swirling in their head all day long, or they don’t feel they need to know the information for their particular role in the school.  I have a feeling yesterday was one of those days.   However, I truly believe the topic was important for EVERYONE in education.

I thought a lot about the presentation that I heard yesterday and am weirdly intrigued.  The presentation yesterday on The Next Generation Science Standards shed some light onto what needs to happen in education so we can prepare our children for the future in a world we can’t even imagine.  Something that was said motivated me to share my thoughts about the future of education.   I think about the future of education ALL THE TIME – I picture my perfect, futuristic classroom and try to figure out how I can incorporate as much of my vision into the school day as I can without taking away from the things I have to do.

My perfect futuristic classroom is a place where I have complete control on what I “teach” as long as by the end of the year, the Common Core Standards and the NGSS are mastered.  There wouldn’t be specific blocks of time that I had to “teach” math or language arts during.  I would be more of a facilitator or a coach that would create opportunities for my students to engage in purposeful, meaningful projects that encourage them to use life long skills.  I would provide real world experiences that would connect my students with other classrooms around the world so they can meet people from other cultures and have time for conversations and to collaborate on projects that can benefit others.   I would foster a platform where my students can share their voice, their projects, their innovative thinking to help develop communication skills that will assist them in the work place someday.  I would provide a space where my students could make choices so they can be comfortable, free of distractions, and start learning how/where they work best.  My classroom would have materials that would allow my students to explore, be creative, innovative, and produce products beyond our wildest imaginations.  My classroom would be filled with energy, excitement, and a love for learning.  My classroom would be filled with students who are prepared for our future world.

I have a vision of the types of students I want to create and yet there are so many barriers in place.  I don’t have the freedom to do everything I want and I realize I must take baby steps until everyone else can catch up and get on board.  So my question/problem is, “How do I get everyone on board?”.  I know that with each baby step I take, there is a risk involved.  The presenter yesterday, in so many words, said we are born curious- We are born risk takers- We are born wanting to constantly learn and figure out new things.  Somewhere along the way, our children have had their desire to explore, learn, innovate, and take risks squashed. In a world with a future that is changing quicker than the blink of an eye, why is that we are still so afraid to change ourselves and the way we “teach” our children?  How are we supposed to prepare our students to succeed in this ever so changing world and allow them to explore and want to take risks and become innovators if we aren’t willing to do it ourselves?  I ask that you start becoming a risk taker.  Start reflecting on the world around us, think about how you teach your own child and/or your students.  Are YOU doing everything you can to prepare our children to become successful in this world full of technology and innovation?  If not…take a risk, take a baby step.

I’ll be here for you every step of the way 😉

Now that…Is Positively Techie 🙂

A Few of My Favorite “Techie” Things

There are so many websites and apps these days, it is hard to keep up with them all!  There are some that come and go quickly and others that stick around for the long haul.  My favorite type of tech tools are ones that are used for creation purposes, easy to use, and can easily be shared globally.  I have a few that I use consistently each year because they have all of those qualities.

The first tool is Storybird.  Storybird is a FREE website where students choose artwork for the pages of a book and then write a story based on those pictures.  Here is my Storybird book called Dreams.  As you can see a simple story can have a big message.  The creativity, critical thinking, decision making, and writing are all a part of the process to create a thought provoking story.  Adding on top of that, the opportunity to share their story with the world, a real live audience, takes it to the next level.  I set the stories as public and I have my students share their stories on their blog.  One more thing I LOVE – parents can purchase the book as a hardcover or softcover.  Not only is this tool amazing for writing instruction, students enjoy reading each other’s books – along with the hundreds of thousands of books written by children and authors around the world!  So EXCITING 🙂


Speaking of reading…another website I find my students engaged in often is Newsela.  Newsela is a website FILLED with non-fiction articles.  The articles can be changed to several different Lexiles so every article can be enjoyed by your struggling reader to your strongest reader with the click of a button.  Teachers can assign specific articles and levels to their students or students can choose on their own what they’d like to read.   Newsela also offers text marking tools, quizzes at the end of articles, and open-ended questions for students to answer.  Articles are categorized by subjects such as “Money”, “Kids”, “Art”, and “Science” to name a few.  Newsela has recently updated their site with Text Sets.  Text Sets are a group of articles related to a specific topic.  You can create your own Text Set for a topic you are covering in your classroom or use someone else’s Text Set that has already been created (and tweak it to make it perfect for your classroom needs).  I have used Newsela in two ways this school year.  Each week students are required to read an article of their choice.  Then students create a Google Slide with the title of the article, four detailed facts (as bullets) that support the main idea, and their opinion or thoughts on the article.  Students have also written a blog post ( about an article they read and commented on each other’s posts.  I plan on assigning more of those posts in the future.


News-o-matic is an app that has non-fiction news stories written by children for children.  We were fortunate enough to have a trial period at the end of last year with this app and my students LOVED it!  They loved reading the stories so much, that several of them had their parents buy the app for their personal devices at home.  The stories include fun visuals, video clips, maps showing where the story takes place, puzzles and much more!  Unfortunately, it is an expensive app so we don’t have it this year. However, it is definitely worth looking into for your classroom!


The last tool is a fun way for students to create a summary of ANYTHING…Tellagami is an app that allows your students to choose a background, create a personalized Gami, and either type in what the Gami says or record themselves saying what they want their Gami to say.  Once the 30 second video is created, students can email it to themselves and use the link to put their video into their blog post.  In the past, students have used this tool to give a quick summary of an object they took a picture of and use it as the background.  For example, a summary of a book, a description of a plant cell, a historical photo, or an explanation of a piece of art they created in art class.


There are so many wonderful tech tools to enhance instruction in the classroom and unleash your student’s creativity out into the world.  Allowing yourself the time to explore new tools and take the risk of trying something new and unfamiliar in your classroom can lead you to find some of YOUR favorite “techie” things.  So go ahead….Give one of these a try!

Now that is Positively Techie 😉


My favorite communication tool Remind wants to hear from teachers about the small things they do to make a big impact on students.

#TeachSmall Movement

Below is my story, feel free to share your story in the comments below or on your own platform…Be sure to use #TeachSmall.

My story isn’t about how the small things I do make an impact on my students.  I’d rather share about the teacher who inspires me everyday to be the best at what I do.  The small things she did, has shaped me to be the teacher I strive to be everyday, because I want to be THAT special teacher for my students too.

Mrs. Glynn was my fourth grade teacher.  The things I remember most about her is that she was young, athletic, had long blonde hair, and drove the coolest car in the parking lot.  I loved her from day one.  She was so  beautiful, nice, caring, and fun.  I knew since I was born I wanted to be a teacher, but when I got to fourth grade – I wanted to be just like her.  I don’t have a lot of memories from my childhood, but this one particular moment I will never forget.  The details are foggy, but I know the way she made me feel is something that has stuck with me my whole life.  Some 35 years later – when I think of this moment – love fills my heart for my fourth grade teacher.

We were sitting on the bleachers in the gym.  I was upset about something (I can’t remember – something about home or possibly girl drama). Mrs. Glynn sat beside me because she noticed something was wrong.  She looked me in the eyes and basically told me everything was going to be okay.  I don’t remember the conversation, I just remember how I felt in that moment.   She showed me that I was important, that I mattered, that she cared about me.  It is an amazing feeling to know that someone you look up to so much thinks you are important.  I make it a point everyday to show my students that they are important, that they matter, that I care about them.  I want them to know I will always be there for them even when they walk out my classroom door on the last day of school.

Mrs. Glynn, thank you for simply being you.  I think about you ALL the time – I will never forget you!


Putting the FLEX in your Flexible Classroom

We’ve all been there…. at the long, full day institute.  Rows upon rows of uncomfortable chairs face the front of the room.  By 10:00 AM you start feeling tired, achy, your back hurts and so does your bum from sitting so long.  Your mind starts thinking about the next five hours you’ll have to sit and you have lost focus.  Sound familiar?  Whether it was an institute, a graduate class, or an after school meeting….we’ve all had the experience of feeling so uncomfortable that it distracts us in some way.  So, think about it…How do you think your students feel? EVERY DAY?!?  Their growing, changing bodies, their energy filled selves, all bottled up and forced to sit in a HARD, plastic chair for the whole day!

I started to think about all of this and realized my classroom just wasn’t set up with my students in mind or with the way I wanted to teach in mind.  My classroom wasn’t completely traditional.  I at least had the desks arranged in pods and had a comfy reading area with bean bag chairs and pillows.  But, it wasn’t good enough, the chairs were so hard and heavy.  The desks were filled with student materials so every time we wanted to make more space for a project or change the desks around to work in larger groups, we had to use a lot of muscle.  It was loud, took time away from learning, and was inconvenient.  I knew I had to make a change.  So at the end of the school year, I made it my goal to create a fun, flexible, comfortable learning environment for my students in the fall.  I had the whole summer to figure out how I would do it, how I would manage the possible chaos in my class, and how to explain to parents why I created a space that looks and works like no other class in the school.

I love a good challenge ;))

My first step was finding comfortable furniture on NO budget from school and little budget from my pocket.  As I searched online for classroom furniture I realized it would cost a small fortune to get a fraction of the cool, new, innovative pieces that are out there.  Then I remembered I heard of a site for teachers to post items they would like for their classroom and random people or companies donate money so the items can be purchased, the site is called  I logged on and created my project “Flexible Learning Space for Innovative Learning“.  Within two weeks, my project of $1,300 was FULLY funded!  I was completely shocked!  I was going to get four Runtz chairs, four desks that could be adjusted to standing height and had no storage (super lightweight) and a lightweight rectangular table.  WOW!!! I really couldn’t believe my project got funded at all let alone so fast!  My dream of a flexible classroom was getting close to reality, but I still needed more variety for my students to choose from.  So I did what I do best, I started “garbage picking” from what other teachers didn’t want anymore.

Our custodian laughs at me because he knows I am the biggest “garbage picker” at our school.  So over the summer, I scanned the halls for the unwanted items.  Someone else’s trash could be my treasure.  For instance, my new favorite table of all time was out in the hall to be moved to the basement.  I took the adjustable legs completely off and added tennis balls so the floor wouldn’t get scratched.  I now have a space for students who like to work on the floor.  That colorful bin in the background was also a hallway find 🙂  along with two long, thin rectangular tables, a low shelf that I use as a bench, a super cute tiny round table, and a wire shelf to store the students bins.  So far I haven’t spent a dime and I already have a ton of choice for my students.  Things really were starting to come together!

Things I did spend money on were the red cushions for the hard chairs and the floor for my low table (Walmart – 4 for $8), the long body pillow for the counter seat (Target $10), and the rainbow chairs from Five Below ( a big favorite at $5 each – not the best quality, already starting to split at the seams).  I recently bought a pretty patterned contact paper to cover the round table and the bench and garden knee pads from Target in their clearance section for $2.50 each.  (I think the kids will be more comfortable kneeling or sitting on them.) You can see in the pictures I also have stools and swivel chairs on wheels.  My students truely have a wide variety of seating choice, which I wanted.

Using DonorsChoose was so easy and my students love the Runtz chairs so much, we decided to try again to get a donor for more comfortable chairs. “New Flexible Classroom Seeking Comfortable Chairs”  I even had a student go home and write a letter to help our cause:

Why Runtz chairs make a better learning environment 

Hello my name is…..  I am a student in Mrs Gadzala’s fifth grade class at….. I was very excited when we were donated Runtz chairs and built them.

Later that day I got my hands on it and started working on it. I loved the chair so much and realized how much better I could work when I was on the Runtz chair and not on a uncomfortable desk chair. It may be a little hard to set up but it is amazing to see what you can get done once you have a Runtz chair. So if you are willing to donate to my class, we would be delighted.

Having any student go above and beyond puts a smile on your face and makes your heart melt a little bit 🙂

Here are a few other organizations that will donate to teachers:

Here is a fun video I put together for part of my “thank you” package for my donors from DonorsChoose that showcases the delivery of the Runtz Chairs.  (We are still waiting for the standing desks.)

Our Flexible Classroom thanks to Donors Choose!

Classroom Cribs Challenge Video
You can also hit your local garage sales and I’ve heard college kids get rid of furniture at the end of the school year. So, don’t be afraid to “garbage pick” and think outside the box!!

I’ve got my flexible space, but how do I keep order in a classroom of 22 ten year olds when they are given complete control of where they want to sit at any given time of day?  I had a plan set up from day one.  First, I told the students my expectations for the space we were about to call our classroom community.  I explained my vision for this space and our roles in this space.  I asked them what they wanted to accomplish this year in this space and then we came up with guidelines to follow in order to have a successful year:

I created a continuos chart for the Runtz Chairs (aka Bum Drops – they look like gum drops you can sit on – the students made it up :)) and for the bean bag chairs.  This stops any arguments over who gets to sit on them.  When the other classes come in, they know to look on the chart to see if they get one of the “fun” chairs.  The other spaces and chairs are available for anyone to choose.  I have four students who chose in the beginning of the year to house their things in a desk and on most days sit at the desk.  That is okay, because that is how they learn best.  The other students have a bin to house their materials and can choose to sit on the floor, counter, a stool, swivel seat, in a group, all alone, by the window, or in the corner.  I explained to the students the importance of making the right choice for them.  I said and repeat often, “You are the only one who knows what the right choice for you is, choose wisely so you can accomplish all that you want this year.”  To my surprise, they actually do make great choices!  Sure, they may sit by their friends, but sometimes they don’t.  I have never had a more focused, engaged, and QUIET class than I do this year.  I read research that a flexible space works, but I wasn’t positive I could pull it off.  I wasn’t positive my students would take on the responsibility I was giving them of making good choices and they are!  It is so cool to see 🙂  I have to be honest here.  I do have the other fifth grade classes in my room for a short period of time three times a week.  The other two classes are a bit more squirrelly and need reminders about making better choices, but in time I believe they will “get it” too.
As far as having to explain to parents the benefits of my classroom?  I had this blog post from edutopia ready to share (the video is worth watching) But, I didn’t need to.  The reaction and enthusiasm of the students explained it all to the parents.  Here is a letter from one parent and I have gotten similar comments from others:

“I think the classroom looks fantastic; visually and functionally! My daughter is a new student to this school (we moved from out of state days before school started) and the main thing she came home talking about the first few days of school was your flexible classroom. She likes the freedom and choice. She loves the responsibility of figuring out a seat and what works for you. She thinks the classroom looks fabulous and she felt very mature being able to move around the class responsibly.  

I think this type of set up is great for kids with extra energy and that need to move while learning. While my daughter is not a kid who has to “move to learn”….I have seen great benefits for both types of children. My daughter told me that she loves her classroom and school and thinks the seating makes her and her classmates excited to learn. She loves the variety. She said her classroom is awesome!”

I knew taking a risk to create a flexible classroom for my students was the right thing to do.  I didn’t know the flexible space would have this much of a positive impact on my students and their learning.  I couldn’t be more happy with the turn out or more proud of my students for making such great choices each and every day.

If you are still unsure you want a fully flexible classroom space, I suggest taking baby steps to get you started.  Start with a corner in your room and expand from there.  Think about your students and the environment they will be most happy, focused, and engaged in.  Ask them what type of environment they want to learn in.  Check out my fifth grader’s blog posts on the type of environment they learn best in.

Creating a learning environment that is innovative and gives students comfort, choice, and the sense of responsibility….

Now that is positively techie!

Putting MORE Flex in Your Flexible Classroom!

Breaking Down the Walls

It is a beautiful Saturday afternoon and I am sitting on my front porch.  I have a beautiful view of one of the best parks in my town and it is bustling with children playing, tennis players grunting, and people walking the track.   I am feeling pretty darn happy and well, lucky…  First of all, I completed my Masters Degree in Educational Technology this summer so I have a lot more time on my hands to enjoy afternoons like this:))  Second, I am quickly approaching a school year that I will be spending a good portion of my day doing what I LOVE… working with students on projects and integrating technology into all subject areas.  Last but not least, I was fortunate enough to present some sessions at our district’s professional development technology day.

I co-presented a session with one of my amazing friends – who in my opinion (and many others) is a complete stitch!  Not only is she caring and compassionate towards her students, she is one of the hardest working teachers I know,  one who is always willing to take risks and try new things, she is also extremely entertaining!  I had a GREAT time preparing our presentation together and an even better time presenting with her.  Please follow her on Twitter @JenPierson1.  Our presentation was about creating a “Global Classroom”.  We talked about Author Skype, Mystery Skype, Blogging, Twitter, and something new we are both trying this year, The Global Read Aloud.   Click on the links to find out more about these programs to help you create a global classroom.  Here is a link to our presentation with a bunch of info, links to resources, and some funny teacher ecards from :)) I will talk about these topics in more detail as the year goes on!

The next two sessions I talked about student blogging.  I have a strong passion for student blogging in the classroom.  I started blogging with my students in January of 2014.  Right away I could see the amazing changes in my students as writers.  They were more motivated, engaged, and actually tried to produce better writing!  I attribute all of those positive changes to the fact that they were writing for an authentic audience.   Now, students aren’t just writing for a grade, me, or their parents.  They are writing for their peers and if you do enough “PR” for your student’s blogs, the whole world!  Each year I set new goals to add more to my student’s blogging experience.  This year, I am going to connect with other classes through  This is a service that connects you with three other classes from around the world and you each take turns commenting on each other’s posts.  I am really excited to start this and will keep you posted!!  This will definitely show my students there actually IS an audience out in the real world who wants to read their writing.  I really am excited!!!!  Other ways I have ensured an authentic audience would “find” my student blogs is through Twitter.  If you use #comments4kids and include a link to your blog, there is a good possibility, but no guarantee that your students will receive comments. I have used this hashtag on numerous occasions and finally had a connection at the beginning of the school year.  A group of college students were assigned by their professor to make comments on my student’s blogs.  The smiles and excitement my students felt was priceless!  I have also found authors on Twitter, Facebook, and through email and invited them to read book review posts my students have written.  I had two students last year whose author actually shared their iMovie book trailer on their own website!  Now that truly motivated the rest of the class to write more and more!!  I highly recommend you try blogging with your students.  Here is a link to my presentation with loads of ideas for blogging in all subject areas and a ton of resources.  Also, check out my iTunes U course called “Blogging in the Classroom” for a step by step guide to get you started blogging in your own classroom.  There are permission slips, rubrics, and links to all of the resources I have used to get me started!!

I always felt a little guilty, asking my students to blog and share with the world their ideas when I wasn’t doing the same.  It feels great knowing I can model and share my experiences with my students this year and I hope to motivate them more than ever through my example.

Now that is Positively Techie…

Back to School Tools

It is that time of year again, one of my favorite times of the year….Back to School time!  The things that make this a favorite time for me are setting up my classroom, planning new and exciting things for the upcoming year, a classroom full of new students, and of course – new school supplies!! :))  There are two tools I pull out of my toolbox at the beginning of the year that I can’t live without, Remind and Planbook.

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I found Remind two years ago when I was the “Cheer Mom” for my daughter’s cheer team.  I was in charge of communicating with the parents on game time, location, snacks, etc…  I was looking for a way to text all the parents at once because there were many times the location of the game was changed last minute or a practice was cancelled due to inclement weather.  I didn’t want to input all their numbers in my phone (I was busy with a new school year, new grade level, and four kids at home :))  I found this amazing website and app called Remind101.  Remind *new name* is a free service that allows teachers to communicate with parents and students safely through text messages. Teachers never see the parents/student’s phone numbers and vise versa.  I can send messages through the app on my phone or iPad or I can send the message from my computer.  I can even schedule messages to be sent at a later time!  I use Remind with only my parents as my students are too young to use the service (must be 13 years old or older).  It is super easy for parents to sign up.  In my back to school communications I send a page that looks like this: invite 2 .  As you can see, all it takes for a parent to sign-up is a quick text message or email (if that is their preferred method).  The name suggests that you would use this to simply remind parents of upcoming events, but you’d be mistaken.  The possibilities are endless – it is really up to the individual teacher as to how much or little they want to use the service.  I used Remind to remind parents of upcoming events as well as a way for me to share with parents what is happening in my classroom.  Below are a few of the messages I sent last year so you can get an idea of how I used it:

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If you Google “Ways to use Remind” a ton of sites pop up with a variety of ideas for Kindergarten teachers through college professors.  Here are a few links to some:

This is from the Remind Blog.

This is from a blog called Instructional Fluency.

Here is a link from TeacherCast for a few ways District Admins can use Remind.

I highly recommend giving Remind a try.  Parents LOVE this form of communication as they are as connected to their phones as much as the students are!  No longer can a student say “Nothing” when asked by a parent what they did in school that day…

Here is a link to the Remind site so you can learn more and sign up!

Planbook is the next tool I pull out of the toolbox and can’t live without!  Even though I am considered pretty “techie”, I am still a bit old fashioned and LOVE reading actual paper books, writing to do lists down on paper, and well before last school year – writing out my lesson plans with paper and pencil.  I stumbled upon a website that provided a digital plan book called… :))  It cost $12 per year so last year I figured I would give it a shot.  I was a little nervous at first because I was taking a risk and going out of my comfort zone…teachers can understand the special bond they have with their lesson plan books.  In the past, I would meticulously make my lesson plan pages on the computer, color coded subject areas and all.  I would then print them out, hole punch them, and add them to my binder.  My beloved flairs would come next as I would mark down (color coded of course ) days off of school, meetings after school, All School Meetings, etc.  Last, I would get my pencils sharpened and start planning!  By week three – my plan book had erase marks, arrows, and wasn’t so “perfect” looking as it was on the first day of school, but that was okay – that is what happens every year because as we all know – plans change.

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So, I started the year using this digital plan book and it took a couple weeks for me to get comfortable.  One of the first benefits I realized was that as the schedules changed last minute, I could easily change my schedule without having to reprint a bunch of pages and rewrite upcoming events on the new sheets…It was easy AND a huge time saver!  I still wasn’t 100% sold.  I missed my pencils.  I stuck with it and I am not kidding you – after two weeks I was completely sold and had no idea how I lived without this tool!  I had my plan book at the tip of my fingers, on my phone, iPad, and computer.  I could update my plans wherever/whenever I needed to.  Those arrows I was talking about on my paper plan book…not a problem.  If you don’t get to a lesson or need an extra day you just need to click the “bump” button and all following lessons for that subject get bumped to the next day.  Do you turn your lesson plans in to your principal or share plans with a co-teacher?  Not a problem, you can easily share your plans with pretty much anyone!  Do you need to show what Common Core Standards your lesson correlates with?  Not a problem, Planbook has all CCS you can attach to your lessons.  Have a link to a video or website to show students during a lesson? Not a problem, no need to have a bunch of windows open on your desktop – you can have live links in your plans with Planbook.  Oh and there are a bunch more NEW features – my favorite – the Google+ integration.  The list of features goes on and on… I urge you to check it out for yourself and give it the good old college try.  After all, we want our students to be risk takers, so shouldn’t we lead by example?

Now that is Positively Techie…