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Pixel Magic Activities



If you've been following me on social media, you've probably seen that I am completely and utterly obsessed with Pixel Art activities at the moment.  I used these activities with students in grades 3-5 in the past and they ATE THEM UP!  I even had one 5th grader who loved them so much she taught herself how to code a simple one over winter break.  She was so proud of herself and I was too! <3

With everything moving digital I wanted to find a way to use them with younger students as well as older students. I've even started creating Pixel Magic activities to go along with picture and chapter books and I've been having way too much fun with it!  I can't wait to get back to school next year and use these with students...and the great thing is, no matter what our school situation looks like - back in the classroom or remote learning - these will be easy to use with students!


If you are not familiar with Pixel Art, it uses Google Sheets to "bring in" squares of color a few at a time as students enter correct answers until finally an entire picture is revealed. One of my favorite things about Pixel Art is that it is an independent and self-checking activity.  Since the bits of color appear when correct answers are entered, students will know if they entered an incorrect answer since nothing new will appear.  They will then know to try again!

Here take a look:



Students will need access to Google Sheets (or Microsoft Excel) to do these activities. If you're a Google school, the activities are super easy to share through Google Classroom.  If your students don't have access to Google Classroom and don't have their own Google accounts, you can use them as centers in your classroom on your own or a class Google account that you create.   The activities can also be download from Google Sheets as Excel files to share with your students that way, if preferred.

It's important to know that when entering the answers into the sheet, answers DO need to be spelled correctly.  The answers are not case-sensitive, but spelling matters.  That can be difficult for the younger learners especially, so I'm going to share an app that I've used for years in my classroom for this.


Easy Spelling Aid is an app that is available on both The App Store and Google Play.  It is $4.99 in the app store on my ipad right now and honestly it was the best five bucks I've ever spent on my classroom.  I've used it for years for writing workshop.  You know how you have those students who are perfectionists and want every single word spelled correctly?  I would have this on my tablets as an option during the revising stage.  It's SO easy to use - students simply tap the microphone, say the word, and it repeats the word and displays the spelling.  There are a lot of other features to this app that are helpful for dyslexic students, also.

Take a look at the intuitive design of how it works as a spelling aid.



With my Pixel Magic Book sets, I have made them available in GROWING bundles, which means after purchasing, you will receive ALL future book activities added for FREE.  I only promised 12 picture book activities and that bundle is already up to 40!

By purchasing the complete GROWING bundles you also get the deepest discount (50% off) at only $1 per activity.

You can click on this image to see the description which includes all current titles included:


I also have a complete GROWING bundle for a chapter book set.



Since the picture book set has grown so large, I've also divided it up into MINI bundles of 10 books each.  By purchasing the mini bundles, you receive a 25% discount ($1.50/each activity)









And, of course I still have Pixel Magic activities that are separate from books.  My Yearlong Research Bundle (grades 3-5) includes one activity per month that has students visit and read/research from a website to find answers to questions on a seasonal topic.



And my Primary Pixel Magic bundle has 3 versions for each image - basic addition, basic subtraction, and word riddles - no research required!



If you're new to pixel art and would like to try one of my resources for FREE, check out the versions below.

     

I hope this is a new digital activity that you and your students will LOVE!





Teacher Picks for Parents for Remote Learning



Now that students are learning remotely from home, it's important that teachers help parents have the learning essentials for their children.  If you ask me, there's not a LOT that falls in the essential category when it comes to supplies students must have at home to assist in learning, which is a good thing because every family situation is different - especially during this time.  So, besides having a way to connect with the teacher for instruction/assignments (whether that be from a district-provided device, the family computer, or a parent's cellphone), here are my other Teacher Picks for Parents During Remote Learning.  {Disclaimer: Oriental Trading provided many of the products in this post free of charge in exchange for the published post.}



Pick 1:  Dry Erase Board & Markers


Save paper.  Seriously.  This is one of those top tips that teachers use in classrooms daily.  If students are practicing math, spelling, or other content that is not going to need to be kept then white boards are the perfect solution!  You'll save paper and children LOVE them!  Markers with lids that "snap on" to the top of the marker so they're not lost easily are the best.  And, yes, that's a sock for the eraser.  Let's save money where we can - every home has socks without mates hanging around, right?  Who knew we'd actually find a use for those?  They make the perfect eraser for little ones.  Just slip them on the hand for erasing and then toss them in the wash later to use again another day.


Pick 2: Clipboards & Pencils, Crayons


Pencils and crayons are probably a given, but clipboards go hand-in-hand in my opinion.  While I strongly recommend having a designated "work spot" (desk, kitchen table, coffee table) we all know that sometimes it is tiresome sitting in one spot for a long period of time.  Many teachers now have "flexible seating" in their classrooms, so have a clipboard on hand to allow your child to work in other places around the home.  Even as an adult, I work better in non-traditional seating areas.  Let your child stretch out on the floor, on his bed, or in her favorite chair to complete independent assignments.  Plus, sometimes, if multiple children (especially siblings) are learning in a common area they just need a "break" from each other for a bit.  These rainbow clipboards from Oriental Trading are perfect if you have multiple children.


Pick 3: Sidewalk Chalk


Sidewalk chalk is something you may already have at home (#winwin) but if not, Oriental Trading has some really fun options like the popsicle chalk in the picture above or the unicorn horn chalk.  While most schools are cutting the learning time for remote learning, it still helps for children not to be stuck inside for lengths of time.  They need to be able to get outside whenever possible.  Why not take that spelling practice or math practice out to the driveway to get some fresh air? 

Pick 4: Pony Beads (or other small manipulatives)


You'll also need some type of small manipulatives for students to use for math.  These will help them with counting on, adding, subtracting, patterns, and more!  The small manipulatives could be anything really - cereal, pennies, dry beans, legos... I chose pony beads because they're something children can keep in their own container (more about that in a minute) and because we can also use them for craft activities when we need to take a break from learning.  Pony beads can be used to make bracelets, pipe cleaner animals, key chains, mosaics, and more!


Pick 5: Organization


Maybe one of my most important picks (or possibly the one you don't have at home already) is organizational tools!  My first recommendation is to give your child a container with a handle that he/she can carry around as his "school box."  Mine is filled with most of the items listed above - pony beads, markers, pencils, crayons, a sock, sidewalk chalk, etc.  This way your child has everything he needs with him at all times - and those things aren't getting misplaced, or stolen by younger siblings.  The school box becomes off limits to everyone else. 

My next organization recommendation is a clipboard holder.  The great thing about this storage piece is that it can also hold the dry erase boards.  If you have multiple children, this will be a lifesaver instead of having clipboards and dry erase boards scattered all around the house.

Find a shelf or area in your house where the "school boxes" and clipboard storage can go.  When it is not learning time, these items can be "off limits" so that they are always there and ready for the next day of remote learning.  When it's time to work, your child will know right where to go to grab their clipboard, dry erase board, and school box before heading to their work spot.  Easy peasy!


If you do have multiple children, color-coding supplies may help too.  I like to label the containers with names using a color that matches one of the clipboards.  No arguing over which clipboard everyone is going to use in the mornings.  Colors are claimed or handed out on the first day and then it becomes a non-issue. 


Pick 6: Creative Play


My final pick is for a new creative play option at home.  Your children will get bored quickly being home all day long.  This Marble Run is one of the top choices in our STEAM lab at school.  Children LOVE to build courses for the marble to race down as they try to make it land in the "catcher."  It's a fantastic way to get them using their problem solving skills as they try to figure out why the marble went off course and adjust their track.  It comes with a set of cards with examples of tracks for children to try to build or they can just use their imagination! The pieces are magnetic so they're perfect for the side of the fridge. 

In classrooms, teachers often give students "brain breaks" - these are short 3-5 minute activities that let students take a break from work and help them to refocus and attend to the task when they come back to it.  At home, you'll need to allow for brain breaks too and activities like this, rather than watching TV or playing a video game, are recommended.


I hope these ideas help you set up a space for your child that will be organized and easy to implement as you continue on this remote learning journey.  Let me know if you have any other questions or need additional tips about setting up remote learning in your home.  We're better together!




Technology Coach



I taught second grade for 20 years.  I never thought I would do anything else.  But when your dream job kind of lands in your lap, you jump on it.

I've always loved technology and I've taught hundreds of hours of tech workshops for my district.  I always LOVE supporting teachers because I don't understand how they can continue doing their jobs well without support.  They have SO many demands on their time now days.  So, to get to do all of this WHILE still teaching....yes, please!

Many people have asked what I'm doing this year.  My official title is a Technology Integration Specialist, also listed often as an Instructional Technology Specialist but commonly referred to as a Technology Coach.

Since accepting this position, I've come to find out that a technology coach can look very different depending on the location.  Many tech coaches serve a district and are assigned to multiple schools.  Some tech coaches are at one school and solely help teachers integrate technology into their lessons (do not trouble shooting or other duties).

I wasn't really sure what my job was going to look like at the beginning of the year, and as most of you know, I'm a major PLANNER so that was stressing me out!

I'm definitely still learning as I go and I've learned that my position may evolve and look different from year to year.  At this time, most high schools and middle schools in my district have tech coaches but not many elementary schools.  In fact, there are over 50 elementary schools in my district and only 4 have tech coaches - two of us being new this year.

So, what does this mean?  What do I do from day to day?  I'm lucky that my position is at the school I've taught at for the past 12 years.  I already know the staff and the resources we have available.  My main job is to help teachers integrate technology into their classrooms.  Grades 3-5 are 1:1 with chromebooks and grades k-2 have iPads.  We also have laptop carts and a computer lab available.

Teachers can sign up for me to come into their classrooms to teach lessons, introduce new tech tools, help them with lessons, be an extra set of hands, etc.  They can also sign up for me to help them plan or hash out ideas.  Some examples of things I've done this year include - teaching students to use Flipgrid, Green Screen, SeeSaw, Chatterpix, Quizizz, Digital Breakouts, and more!

So, there's no set schedule for each day (eek!) - it's really just whatever the teachers need.  Some days are super filled while other days I have more flexibility.  Open times give me a chance to deal with all of the troubleshooting (aka tech problems) - think Promethean boards not working, computer, problems, printer, issues, etc.  This is, not surprisingly, the least favorite part of my job, but I do realize how important it is and therefore try to stay on top of it.  I know how it feels to have 24 little faces staring at you when you can't get your board to work...and then having to revamp your entire day that was centered around technology!  I try to get these issues resolved asap.

When there aren't too many issues going on, I get to work on the other parts of my job - planning/reviewing professional development, scheduling virtual field trips, exploring new apps/programs, creating instructional videos for our staff, updating the school website, adding to our school's Instagram account, creating flyers and QR codes for school events, broadcasting our school's morning news program, helping students create green screen promotional videos for school events, and more!

Here's a peek at this week's sign up (aka my schedule) to give you an idea of a typical week.


As you can see, Halloween digital breakouts have been in high demand this month!  And, you can also see that I'm also pulled for coverage of classes and asked to help with standardized test administration. It can't all be fun, right?! :P

So, while I'm in a new position you'll probably notice a shift here on my blog.  I'll be sharing even more tech integration posts with you - maybe bringing back my Appy Classrooms series, too.  I can't wait to share some of the things I've been working on with you!

If you have any questions about the tech coach position, leave them below!





Student Partnerships


I mentioned in this post that I was going to be writing a series about being deliberate in the classroom.  My favorite way to be deliberate is in setting up student partnerships, so what better way to kick off this series?  A new school year is upon us and you'll soon have a new crew of kiddos to get to know.  You'll also probably be doing many get-to-know-you types of activities, benchmarking your students, and establishing your routines and procedures so I hope this post is one that can help you right from the start!

There are many ways to partner students in the classroom and there's not one right or wrong way.  I used to use popsicle sticks with students' names on them or a randomizer app.  Both are fun, but can be a bit time consuming.  Over the last several years I came up with a few ways to partner my students so that they had "set" partners that worked for many different activities/reasons.

I found that there were a few partnerships that I needed in my classroom.  These included...

* Reading Partners - sometimes I would want to pair students high/low and sometimes with partners of similar reading levels

* Math Partners - sometimes I would want to pair students high/low and sometimes with partners of similar fluency levels

* Convenient Partners - sometimes I would want students to have a partner at their seat without moving around, often for a very quick activity

* Random Partners - sometimes I would want students to have a random partner...someone they didn't work with on a daily basis

* Choice Partners - occasionally I would still let students choose their own partners (or have the choice of working alone)

So, how could I establish all of these partnerships and easily remember them all?  It ended up being pretty easy and it all centered around a single index card.

At the beginning of the year, I was already benchmarking my students in word and addition fluency, so this seemed like a reasonable place to find my partners.
I used the simple F&P word lists to benchmark my students.  I created this PowerPoint of the word lists to make benchmarking easy.  I started my students on level 1 (slide 22) and each time a red slide popped up (indicating a new leveled-list), I would tell them they were going to try some words that were a bit harder now.  We continued until a student missed 3 (or more) words on a single list.  At that point, I knew that list was too hard and their level was the previous list.  Of course, you may have a different way to assess your students, but the point is that you need to identify higher and lower readers to establish good partnerships.  While this benchmark doesn't consider comprehension, it's still usually a good base to begin with partners.

The levels of my students may end up looking like this:


Using these word list levels, I sorted my students...
I then partnered a lower reader with a higher reader until all students were matched.  My partnerships ended up looking like this...
I call my reading partnerships "SuperSpeed 1,000" partners because I use Whole Brain Teaching's Super Speed 1,000 in my classroom daily.  It's word fluency practice for partners (a high reader with a low reader for support) that takes 2 minutes per day and I swear by it for building word fluency!

Now, do I always want to pair a lower reader with a higher reader?  Of course not!  For many activities, that partnership will be frustrating for both partners. 

But, since we use SuperSpeed 1,000 daily, I can just say, "Get with your SuperSpeed 1,000 partner" and students know exactly how to partner up.  If I want reading partners of the same/similar level, I can quickly use this handy index card (that I keep on my desk) and call partners by looking at names stacked on top of each other instead of side-by-side.  So now, instead of Carmen and Landon being partners, Carmen would be  partnered with Amanda while Landon would be partnered with Heyward.

One benchmark. One index card.  Reading partnerships for the year are set.  Of course, I sometimes revisit throughout the year and make a few adjustments due to progress, comprehension levels, etc.

I set my math partnerships in much the same way as my reading partnerships.  Since at the beginning of the year in 2nd grade, we're focusing on addition, I give my students a basic addition fluency check, such as this one here.  Since this one has 50 problems, students are given 2 minutes to solve as many as possible.  The number correct is their addition fluency score.  These scores are sorted in the same manner as my reading scores above and students are paired together (low/high) for daily SuperSpeed Math practice.  Just like SuperSpeed 1,000, SuperSpeed Math is a 4-minute daily partner practice by Whole Brain Teaching that builds fact fluency by having high and low math students working together.  But of course, I can again easily and quickly pair students with like abilities which is SUPER important for playing math games in the classroom (otherwise, the high student will always win and that's not good for either partner).

I write my SuperSpeed Math partners on the back of the reading index card so I only have one card to keep up with but I have 4 partnerships already set for the year - low/high reading partnerships, same level reading partnerships, low/high math partnerships, and same level math partnerships.


Sometimes, my partnerships are more about convenience rather than math or reading levels.  For example, if we're working in our science interactive notebooks and there's a partner game, I want students to pair up quickly for that activity.  Seat partners are a way to do this super quickly as it doesn't even require anyone to move around the room.  I assign seat partners at the beginning of the year - you can add sticker dots to desks to help students remember which neighbor is their seat partner, if needed, but my students usually don't need any help. 

We have trapezoid tables pushed together to make hexagonal teams in my classroom so my seat partners look something like the first picture.  If you have circle tables in your classroom, your seat partners would look like the second pic.  The importance is just that seat partners sit next to each other so they can partner up quickly without even leaving their seats!





Because students get tired of working with the same partners over and over, I also like to have a "random" partner for them to work with when activities allow it.  I call these random partners "table partners" as they are the person that sit directly ACROSS the table from each other.  When I'm partnering students and academic abilities or convenience doesn't matter, students partner up with their "table partners" and head to choose a spot in our classroom to work together.

Table partners in our classroom would look like the picture on the left.  I wouldn't recommend marking these with stickers if you've already marked seat partners since that could become confusing.  When I want students to work with table partners, I just have them stand up, face their table, and point ahead of them.  That person is their partner!



Reading partners, math partners, seat partners, and table partners are my way of deliberately pairing students for meaningful partnerships throughout the year.  I'm all set whether I need high/low or same ability partners or if I need partners at tables or with a little more freedom to move about.

Of course, at times throughout the year, I also let students choose their own partners.  However, this is few and far between.


As a reward usually, or later in the year when students are much more independent (and responsible with our routines/procedures) I will let them have free-choice in choosing their partners.  However, I do use this one scarcely.  Using this partnership may depend on your class, but it's nice to keep in your back pocket as a little surprise reward some days.  :)


I hope this post helps you to think about how you use student partnerships in your classroom, how you can have them set up and organized ahead of time to minimize taking away from instructional time, and how to deliberately think about what partnerships would benefit students at particular times throughout the day.  By thinking ahead and having a plan for partnerships, transitions can be smooth and partnerships can be more successful. 

Let me know if you have any questions!



Being Deliberate in the Classroom


This past year my school did something a little different with our book study.  Instead of a book geared toward educators, we "read" StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath (affiliate link).  I put "read" in parenthesis because this is not a book you read from cover to cover.  Instead, you read the introduction and then take an online quiz (that you only have access to using a scratch-off code inside your copy of the book). 

After taking the online quiz, which consists of questions with a "range" on how you feel about various topics/scenarios rather than right or wrong answers, you are given your top 5 (of 34) strengths.  I must say that they were spot on and the detailed descriptions of each of my top 5 strengths described me to a tee!  It's interesting to think about actually taking each person's strengths in a workplace and building on it.  Letting those people do the things that make them shine!

At first, I was a little disappointed in my results as I figured "achiever" would be my number one strength - that's always been my personality.  However, it was number two.  My number one strength was....DELIBERATE.  Hmmmm....I wasn't happy with that word.  It seemed to have a negative connotation to it.  Then, I read the description for this strength and it was an AHA moment.

I am deliberate.  In everything I do.  In throwing parties, in planning vacations, in planning my week, and in running my classroom.  It all made sense.  I'm a planner.  Rarely do I do anything without having thought through it beforehand.  I have a backup plan for my backup plan. Anyone else?

Being deliberate is SO important in teaching.  I've always been told classroom management has been one of my biggest strengths....this is why.  My classroom runs SMOOTHLY.  I have a system for everything.  I sometimes watch other teachers take their students to the hall restroom, go out to fire drills, or monitor their students at lunch or on field trips and think WHY?  Why don't they have a system in place?  Things just run much smoother with a system that has been deliberately planned ahead of time. 

So...I'm sharing some of my favorite systems with you just in time for the new school year!  In my next few blog posts, I'll share with you how I'm....

  • Deliberate with student partnerships 
  • Deliberate with classroom management
  • Deliberate with routines
  • Deliberate with classroom supplies


I hope that if DELIBERATE is not one of your top strengths, you'll pick up a tip or two that may help you start thinking and planning ahead for the new school year.  If you've taken the strengthsfinder quiz before, what was your top strength?  Be sure to share it with others and use your strength to help them!


Missing Addends Made Easy

Missing addends are always a tricky concept for many students.  I believe the cause of this is many reasons.  Some students are still building their number sense, some students are simply careless, and some students don't truly understand that equal sign.

When a problem such as this is given to many students, they will simply see two numbers, add them, and write the answer in the blank.

You'll get this in return.  Obviously, the 12 doesn't make sense when the problem is read back, but since most students at this age don't check over their work, they don't know to go back and rework it.


And, let's face it. Most of the time, students have been taught to look at the sign and put the answer in the blank.  That's exactly what this student did.  They think they've solved it correctly.

I've found something that works with my students.  I call him THE EQUALIZER! (said in my best superhero voice)


First, when presented with a problem like this...
we talk about the equal sign and what it means.   Many students will say it means "the answer" so this is something we clarify.  We learn that equal means "the same" and we do a lot of demonstrations with manipulatives to show "the same."

Then, I introduce THE EQUALIZER who is a super hero with special powers - he makes everything "the same" or "fair." But, his super power is in his muscles and if his muscles aren't the same, his powers won't work.



So, we practice drawing his muscles.  To do this, we always find the equal sign - his muscles grow from there.  We draw a circle from one side of the equal sign, up and around the numbers, to the bottom of the equal sign and then repeat on the other side.

Once the muscles are drawn, students have to make sure they are "the same" so THE EQUALIZER will have his powers.  In the illustration above, we see that one side is complete with a 10.  So, we need to make the other side also equal 10. Drawing these "muscles" really lets students see the two sides of the equation.

This visual is just what many students need to be able to understand the problem and filll in the missing addend.  However, a few students may still make careless errors. So, once the muscles are completed, the final step is to check.



I actually have my students label the muscles when checking to prove that the are equal.  If they're not, the student knows they need to go back and try it again.

So, to review, these are the steps we use to "equalize" a problem.



When we're practicing this as a whole group, I let students who solve the problem correctly stand up on their chairs and flex their muscles for us!  They've become EQUALIZERS!



They kind of eat it up. :)  I hope this little tip helps your students master the tricky concept of missing addends!


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