3rd Grade Environment Posters

Third graders at Varina Elementary are learning about human influences on the environment (SOL3.10), so today students in Ms. Galvin’s class created environment posters using several different webtools. First, we discussed ways that humans impact the environment either positively or negatively and related it to the current wildfires happening in Australia. Some humans are fighting the fires and protecting the animals, while other humans are causing the fires to spread. I recorded their ideas on the board and instructed students to choose one for their poster. Next, each student did a Google image search for a background image and downloaded it to their Chromebook. Then, we took a selfie using Pixect with an expression showing how we were feeling about the background image. I like Pixect for taking selfies because it’s easy to use, it has a timer, and it features some cool effects. Since we wanted our background image to be the one we downloaded earlier, we removed the background with RemoveBG. If you’ve never tried that tool, it’s really amazing. It automatically detects the background in a photo and deletes it in a matter of seconds! Finally, we combined the background image with our selfie using a tool called ToonyTool. With ToonyTool, you can add a background, a character (our selfie), and speech bubbles and text. The posters turned out great! You can see them all here.

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5th Grade Tree Diagram Comics

Fifth graders at Laburnum Elementary have been learning about probability (SOL5.15), and one strategy they use for figuring out all the possible outcomes is to make a tree diagram. So today, students in Ms. Burgess’ class created tree diagram comics with StoryboardThat. First, they logged into the site with their Google accounts and added a Scene to the first panel. Then they imagined different combinations of objects that would fit that scene (like foods at a restaurant or outfits at a party). They added some Characters and objects that matched their scenario. In the center panel, they constructed their tree diagram using Textables and Lines. We used Textables instead of Shapes so we could easily type inside of them. They started with one category (2 meats or 3 shirts, for example) and added additional categories to their tree. Two or three different categories are all that can fit in the panel space. To save time, I showed them how to copy and paste elements with the “Duplicate” button (it looks like two pieces of paper). Finally, in the last panel, they used the tree diagram or the Fundamental Counting Principle (multiplying by all the amounts in each category like 2 shirts x 2 pants x 3 shoes) to figure out the total possible outcomes. You can see a couple of sample projects here.

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3rd Grade Perimeter & Ancient Architecture

Third graders at Trevvett Elementary have been learning about ancient civilizations in History (SOL3.3) and how to measure perimeter in Math (SOL3.8a), so today, students in Ms. Robinson’s class measured the perimeter of the Parthenon and the Colosseum with Google Maps. First, we explored both structures in Google Earth. Google Earth is an amazing tool that not only allows you to view buildings in 3D, but you can actually look around inside them with 360 photos (click the little man icon in the lower right corner, then click on a blue dot near a building). As we explored each building, we estimated their perimeters. Next, we went to My Google Maps. Google Maps has a different set of features that allows you to create and save your own custom maps. We located the Parthenon and the Colosseum and placed a marker on each one using the marker tool. I showed them how to customize the pin by typing information, adding a photo, changing the pin color, and adding an icon. Then we used the shape tool to draw a shape around the perimeter of each building. Shapes can be customized as well, using the paint bucket tool to change their color, border size and transparency. Once the “Save” button is clicked, the perimeter and area of the shape can be found in the bottom of the pop-up box. Students compared their earlier estimates with the actual measurements. Finally, we published our maps and shared them on Schoology. You can see them all here.

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4th Grade Force & Motion Animations

Fourth graders at Laburnum Elementary have been learning about force and motion in Science (SOL4.2). Today, students in Ms. Wolinski’s class created animations to illustrate these concepts. In the past, we have used ABCYa! Animate for animation projects, but today we used a more advanced tool called Wick. I like Wick because you can move each individual part of your drawing, so it makes the process of creating an animation a lot easier. First, we acted out different types of force, motion, and energy, including kinetic and potential energy, to get ideas for our projects. Potential energy is a difficult concept to understand, so we explored examples like pulling back on a bowstring, taking a deep breath before blowing up a balloon, raising a hammer, pressing your fingers together in preparation to snap, pulling your arm back to throw a ball, etc. For each example, we thought of ways to increase the potential energy–pulling back further or pressing harder or lifting higher. Now that we had some ideas, we launched the Wick editor. I demonstrated how to illustrate the first frame of their animation using the paint tools. Then I showed them how to duplicate the frame and move different parts of the drawing in small increments on each subsequent frame. If there is too drastic of a change in the position of the objects, the animation looks jarring instead of smooth. The students continued duplicating and manipulating their frames until they had an animation that illustrated force and motion. Our animations were a bit too fast though, so I explained how to slow them down by going to the Project Settings (the gear icon in the top right corner) and changing the frame rate. Finally, we clicked File > Export Animated GIF and uploaded our finished animations to Schoology. You can see some student samples here. UPDATE: I taught a similar lesson with Ms. Stevens’ class using another animation app, Brush Ninja, and added those to the project page.

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5th Grade Plant Cell Videos

Fifth graders at Varina Elementary have been learning about plant and animal cells in Science (SOL5.5), so today, students in Ms. Gallahan’s class created cell videos with Adobe Spark. Adobe Spark is a great tool for creating short videos that look and sound amazing. First, we reviewed the different parts of the cells and their functions. I challenged the students to practice what they have learned about figurative language (SOL5.4d) and compare the cell parts to something else that serves a similar purpose. Now that we had some ideas, it was time to get started on our videos. We signed into Adobe Spark with our Google accounts and created a new video project from scratch. On the title page, students typed a creative title and added a background image using the built-in photo search (click “Find free photos”). One of the things I really like about Adobe Spark is their fantastic library of high-quality stock images that students can use in projects. We continued using those images in our subsequent video frames where students also added sentences comparing the cell parts to other objects. Then we recorded voice-over narrations for our videos. Recording a voice-over is a simple as pressing the big red microphone button. Finally, utilizing another cool feature in Adobe Spark, we added a soundtrack from the built-in music library. We published our videos and shared the links with our classmates on Schoology. You can see them all here.

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VSTE Conference 2018

This week my friend, Alfonso, and I presented at the VSTE Conference in Virginia Beach. We had three sessions. In the first one, “Classroom Clickbait,” we explained how you can use the science and psychology of online clickbait to tap into your students’ curiosity. We used the acronym CLIQS (cliffhangers, lists, images, questions, and secrets) to categorize the types of clickbait, and we gave examples of how to use each type in your classroom. Our next session, “Civil Debate,” provided the rationale and some ideas for including debate and public speaking activities in your instruction. In our final presentation, “Top 5 Tools You’ve Never Heard Of,” we shared several (more than five) useful web tools and examples of how we have used each one with students. You can access all of our presentations here. UPDATE: We presented again at ISTE in Philadelphia and updated our slideshows: Classroom Clickbait and Top 5 Tools You’ve Never Heard Of.

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2nd Grade Habitat Place Value Comics

Second graders at Laburnum Elementary have been learning about place value (Math SOL2.1) and habitats (Science SOL2.5), so today, students in Ms. Brouillard’s class created comics showing an animal in its habitat discussing place value. First, students chose an animal and researched online to learn where it lives and what it eats. Some students even found out exactly how much food it eats (for example, you can ask Google, “How many fish does a bear eat each day?” or “How many pounds of bamboo does a panda eat each day?”). Then, we went to StoryboardThat and found some backgrounds that match the animal’s habitat. We dragged those into the comic panels, searched for our animal in the Characters tab and added it to the comic. Next, we added the food that the animal eats (using the Search feature if we couldn’t find it in Characters). The Textables tab is where the speech bubbles are found. Students added speech bubbles to the comic and typed one sentence about the animal including a 2-digit number and another sentence asking a place value question about that number. We saved our comics and shared them with our classmates on Schoology. Finally, we looked at each others’ comics and tried to answer the questions. You can see some student samples here.

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4th Grade Flipgrid Debate

Fourth graders at Trevvett Elementary have been studying life in colonial Virginia (VS.4), and they have been learning how to conduct research (SOL4.9) and express an opinion supported by facts (SOL4.7j). Today we reviewed and practiced these concepts with a Flipgrid Debate. Knowing how to have a civil debate is an important citizenship skill which can be taught, even in elementary school. This article in Edutopia explains how oracy, or speaking well, can serve our students for the rest of their lives. Oral communication is the first of the English SOLs for every grade (K.1, 1.1, 2.1, etc.), but we are often at a loss for how to teach it. Voice21 provides great resources and rubrics for teaching oral communication to elementary students. I will be presenting on this topic at VSTE2018 if you’d like to learn more about it. My presentation is here. One fun, unstressful way for students to practice public speaking is to record videos, which is why we are using Flipgrid. Most of them have their favorite YouTubers, so they have some background knowledge about good public speakers. We discussed how those YouTubers speak with enthusiasm and expression and share interesting information. Then I gave the students a debate topic: “Life in Colonial Virginia was better than life in modern Virginia.” I explained that they would choose a side, pro or con, and defend their position with facts. We spent a few minutes researching facts about colonial Virginia on the Internet. Students copied the URL for the website they found most useful. Then, when we recorded our videos in Flipgrid, they clicked the button for attaching links, and pasted in the URL as a citation. Some of the sites the students found were: 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. Flipgrid videos use snapshots for the video thumbnails, so I instructed students to show their pro or con position visually in the snapshot with an emoji or thumbs up or down. Next, they had to find someone who held an opposing position, listen to their argument, then record a counterargument as a reply. We reviewed ways to disagree politely and with a respectful attitude. Even though this was their first debate, they did a great job! You can take a look at their videos here.

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5th Grade Southeast Region Facts & Opinions

Fifth graders at Trevvett Elementary have been learning about the southeast region of the United States in Social Studies and facts and opinions in Reading (SOL5.6i). Today, students in Ms. Brown’s class created an interactive webpage with facts and opinions about a southeastern state. We used a fantastic new site called Wick that teaches coding in a simple but powerful way. First, the students chose a state in the southeast region to research. As they gathered information, I instructed them to download a map of their state to use in their project. Next, we went to Wick and clicked “Launch Editor.” We uploaded our map, used the drawing tools to create a character, and added two buttons for “Fact” and “Opinion.” To make a button in Wick, we selected the shape(s) and chose the “button” tool. We also grouped our character together (by dragging across all the parts) and turned it into a button. One of the most powerful features of Wick is the ability to give each button its own timeline that can be triggered with code. So we added new frames to our character’s timeline (by clicking it twice and clicking the + in the timeline) and added a stop(); code to each frame using the Javascript “JS” button. Without the stop code, the timeline would play and loop automatically, which is great for animation, but not for our activity. We typed an opinion about our state in one frame and a fact about our state in the other frame. Then went back to the main page and added code to each button to go to the correct frame. For example, our code on the “Opinion” button would go to the 2nd frame of the character’s timeline:

function mouseDown() {

You can see that it is real JavaScript, but the students don’t have to type it all. They click the code snippets from the left panel, and it fills in automatically. Finally, the students checked their code by pressing the “Run” button. If everything worked, we exported it as an HTML file. You can see all their webpages here.

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2nd Grade Thanksgiving Rounding

Second graders at Trevvett Elementary have been learning about Thanksgiving in Social Studies (SOL2.5h) and how to round two-digit numbers to the nearest ten in Math (SOL2.1d). Today students in Ms. Fletcher’s class created Google slideshows featuring Thanksgiving foods rounded to the nearest ten. First, we discussed their favorite Thanksgiving foods and why we might want to round the amounts. Rounding makes numbers easier to remember and use. It also helps with estimating. We reviewed how to round numbers down (if the ones place digit was 0, 1, 2, 3 or 4) and how to round numbers up (if the ones place digit was 5, 6, 7, 8 or 9). Then, we opened a blank Google slideshow and chose a theme. We typed a title and our name in the text boxes on the first slide, and I showed the students how to add another slide with the + button. We chose the “Big Number” slide template. In the smaller text box, the students typed a sentence telling how many items of a particular Thanksgiving food they had. They could choose any two-digit number they wanted, as long as it wasn’t already rounded. We typed the rounded number in the big text box. Since we wanted our classmates to solve our problems, I showed them how to add a transition to the number so it faded in later, revealing the answer only after the problem had been solved. Finally, we used the built-in Google image search to add a picture of the food. The students shared their slideshows on Schoology, but you can see them all here.

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