Thursday, July 17, 2014

Google Calendar

When planning for the school year, I used to write the name of each lesson I planned to do in a calendar. I called this my "skeleton." It was my way of making sure I could fit everything in that I needed to fit in, and being able to plan around holidays and other such events.

I used to keep my calendar, a copy of the TEKS, and a few other things in a big binder. I would carry that binder to every meeting, PLC, and workshop I had. It was nice to have everything in one place. But you know what? That binder was heavy, and it started to become a pain in the you-know-what. Since I made a commitment to use less paper in the classroom, I knew that it was time to kick the big binder to the curb. I needed an alternate way to carry all my stuff with me -- this time, in the cloud.

Confession: I am not a big Google fan. Even though I use a few of their apps + Blogger for my class blog {and this one!}, I just think Google is hungry for all my personal information. It's a huge hassle for me to remain somewhat anonymous on this Google account, since they're always asking me for my full name, birth date, address, blood type, SSN, and the rights to my firstborn... Oh? Did I take it too far? ;) Maybe Google doesn't quite ask for all that stuff, but they get pretty close! Anyway, it pains me to admit that Google does have some great tools for education. One tool I've been using of theirs is Google calendar.

I teach 5 different classes per week, and I color-code each of those classes. For instance, everything about my Monday class is red -- the notebook that I make to go along with the kids', a folder with examples, the label on the plastic container with copies I've made for them in advance, etc. Tuesday is yellow. Wednesday is green. Thursday is blue. Friday is purple. It just makes sense in my head, and I've found that one of the keys to organizing is doing what works for you. 

Here's how I use my color-coding and Google Calendar to replace my paper and pencil calendar:

First, I went through the entire school year and marked every school holiday appropriately. I chose a color for this that wasn't already in my system -- orange. It was easy for me to see with a quick look that, for instance, that May 26, 2014 was Memorial Day.

After that, I created an entry for each school day of the year. I write the name of the lesson I plan to do on that day and color-code it appropriately.

Does it take some time to set up? Sure. Just like any other organizational system. But once you get it set up, it's heavenly!

I color-coded my weekly recycling club meeting in teal, and any personal notes are recorded in gray. I always make my personal notes "private," so when others mouse over them, they see a lock next to the name and cannot read anything other than the title.

Notice there's a box that says "lesson notes" on Tuesday. I love to make notes about lessons -- what worked really well, what definitely needs to be changed next time, if there was a schedule change that day {so I know how much time this lesson took to complete}, etc. I put those in gray and lock them because no one else needs to see my lesson notes except me. :)

I started using Google calendar at school around January 2014, and it has worked beautifully for me so far. It's great because I already have a Google account, which means I already had a Google calendar to begin with {it was just blank}. I love that I can color-code and make things public or private. I also have the ability to share the calendar with others by e-mailing certain events to them or embedding the whole calendar on my class website.

In the past, my blog consisted of telling the parents a short blurb each week about what their child learned in Science Lab. Now, I'm thinking I can just embed my Google calendar into the blog and let it do the work for me.

When I go to meetings or plan with another team, I take my iPad with me. I use an app called Sunrise to help me access my Google calendar. It's totally free to download, it syncs with my calendar automatically, and it keeps my color-coding so that it makes planning on the go quick and easy.

There are several free apps that work well with Google calendar, but Sunrise was my favorite.

Do you think you could use Google calendar to plan? What other tools do you use to keep your planning paperless?

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Circuit Quiz Cards + Freebie

Ahhh... it's good to be back! Hope you had a restful and relaxing month {and Independence Day, if you're in the US}!

Today, I want to show you one of my favorite review/circuit activities -- the circuit quiz card.

We learn about insulators, conductors, and circuits before making these circuit quiz cards. A few weeks before the reading and math STAAR test, we make these circuit quiz cards in class. I ask my students to write math questions on their cards, but you could really put any questions you want on them.

To start, you need this quiz card template. Two cards will fit on one piece of paper.

What You Need:
  • Card stock (the number of pieces is up to you... I have 100 kids, so I use 150 pieces so that everyone can make up to 3 cards) with this template printed on it
  • Foil
  • Hole punches
  • Circuit testers {a multimeter tester like this one works... this one has a very sharp point, but it's way cheaper and requires AAA batteries that you can replace each year...}
  • Tape

What To Do:

1. Print your template on card stock and cut each page in half. Each half page is now its own quiz card template.

2. Punch a hole in the top sheet of card stock where the darkened circles are {there should be 4 total holes}. Fold the card on the dotted line. Write a question above the solid line. Write answer choices next to the three bottom holes.

3. Open the card. Tape a small piece of foil over the holes of the incorrect answers. Use a long strip of foil to connect the question's hole and the correct answer's hole. This is where knowledge of insulators and conductors comes into play -- if the kids use too much tape, the tape will insulate the foil, and it will not make a complete circuit. They also have to be careful that the foil from the incorrect holes doesn't touch the foil of the correct holes, or every answer will appear correct!

Adding the foil strip
4. To test their answer, students will put one probe from the multimeter tester on the question's hole, and the other probe on the foil of the answer's hole. If the answer is incorrect, nothing may happen on the multimeter tester. But if the answer is correct {and the circuit was set up correctly}, there should be some type of reaction on your device -- for instance, the continuity tester will light up, while the multimeter tester's needle will jump.

This student is using a multi-meter tester {as opposed to the continuity tester}. Looks different but works the same for this activity.
I let my students make up to 3 of these. Afterwards, they can start using their friends' cards to quiz themselves. We emphasize the importance of writing a good, on-grade-level question, and about how we actually DO the math problem before checking our answer with the multimeter tester -- we can't just jump straight to checking!

The kids seem to have a good time with this activity, and I love that you can connect science to any subject with it! At the end of lab, I send students back to their homeroom with their circuit cards and a few testers. The homeroom teachers are gracious enough to allow the students to grab a quiz card and tester during free time to practice. After the STAAR exam is over, I let the kids take their quiz cards home, and I pack the multimeter testers away for another year. :)

Tuesday, June 10, 2014


Sweet, blessed summertime is almost here for me! Our last day with kids was last Thursday, but I am working all this week on curriculum for the district and teaching a fun invention camp next week. And then:

After that, I'm technically free, but I'll be planning for my "social media in the classroom" workshop in August and, of course, for my lessons for the 2014-2015 school year. That leads me to ask you 2 things:

1) When are you/were you out for summer? When do you go back for the next school year?

2) How many school-related things are you doing during your "summer break"? {And doesn't it annoy you when people insinuate that we only work 9 months out of the year?! Pshhh... I wish!!}

As always, I'll reply via e-mail to your comments {unless you are a no-reply blogger. :( }. Just a heads-up: this will be my last post for the next month. I always try to give myself at least 30 days of no blogging so I can relax a little. I hope you have a happy month!

Thursday, June 5, 2014


A colleague at my school loves to use Voki with our kiddos. And I have to say: our kids respond well to Voki. But with the rise of iPads in our school, I thought it might be nice to know about an app version...

The app is called Tellagami. I downloaded the app for free, but when I looked it up just now, the description on The App Store says it's "free for a limited time." :-/

Tellagami works a lot like Voki, except there are only male and female options {no aliens or animals like Voki offers}.

Customize skin color, hair color and style, clothing, eye color, and even head size.

There aren't too many customization options -- for the female avatar, there were about 4 top options in 3-4 colors each in clothing, for instance -- but it's enough to get the job done. 

Once your avatar looks the way you need him/her to, move on to customizing the background.

The app comes with 2 free sets of backgrounds {"free" and "road trip"}, but there are plenty of other background packs you can purchase if you so choose. I particularly liked the educational backgrounds. One of the edu sets appeared to be for college, while the other set was geared more toward elementary; the elementary backgrounds have alphabet/color borders above the blackboard and brighter colors.

 I chose to customize the emotion of my avatar after my background. Choose from 7 emotions:

Finally, add some speech. You can either record your own voice, or type something in and choose from a dozen or so male and female voices.

Preview your Tellagami to make sure he/she sounds the way you need it to, and then share your creation. I like that you can share on social media sites + e-mail + text messages {although I'm not sure we'd ever use the text message function at school}.

I e-mailed it to myself to see if I could figure out how to embed it on my blog, and wouldn't you know it? Clicking the link in the e-mail takes you to a screen that offers a link to the video and an embed code. Yay! Here's my sample Tellagami:

One thing I love about this app is that you don't have to have an account in order to save anything.  Just open the app, create, and send. I don't see a way to edit the Tellagami after it's made, so that may be the only drawback I see so far. 

For reference, the maximum length of time for a recording on Tellagami is 30 seconds {which is the same for Voki, if I remember correctly...?}.

Besides the ideas for use that I posted on my Voki blog post, what if you used Tellagami to create instructions for various projects or assignments? This might work especially well if you have a flipped or blended classroom. Just create a Tellagami to explain the assignment, and post the Tellagami right next to the posted file on your class website. Those students that have trouble reading or just prefer verbal instruction would be able to listen to your voice describe the project instead of reading a paragraph about it on your web page.

In what ways could you use Tellagami?