Planning for Pixel Art and Fact Fluency

I need to share this experience with anyone who will listen (read). I’m an active member of the #GAfE4Littles and #InnovatingPlay online communities and they recently merged. Chirstine Pinto just released her first book, Google Apps for LittlesJessica Twomey challenges the community with regular invitations to play. The March invitation was to choose an activity from Christine’s book to complete in your classroom. Christine and Jessica created questions for participants to respond to around that challenge on Flipgrid. The questions took participants through the planning process and challenged our thinking as well as encouraging us to take the activity we chose even further. I have only used Google Apps with my littles a tiny bit. And when I say tiny, I mean twice. I am not one to turn down a challenge so I ordered my book and selected and activity!

Question 1 – Choose an activity and share why it is meaningful.

I wanted to pick something that I could implement in my classroom right away. I started flipping through the book but I almost immediately turned to the Pixel Art page. It jumped out at me because we just started our unit on addition and subtraction fluency (#math1OA6). The group I have this year needs me to keep things fresh. I knew I couldn’t teach this unit the regular way because they would get bored. The Pixel Art page gave a suggestion for taking the activity further by turning the Pixel Art into a puzzle by inputting equations. This was exactly what I needed for my kids. They can solve an equation quickly, but can they create the equations fluently with the total or difference in mind.

Question 2 – Anticipate challenges.

(Nevermind my struggle with stickers)
I was concerned about device availability because right now we have mostly iPads. I was able to totally avoid this problem because I signed out laptops from our computer lab. I also wanted to be able to format the cells to have a color assigned to the 2 digit number 10 but Alice Keeler‘s blog post on starting from scratch went totally over my head. I am a spreadsheet newbie. So, I stuck with the original preformatted sheet she shared. This worked out great because the colors on there matched the colors of snap cubes I have.

Question 3 – Personalize and Extend the Learning.
In creating Pixel Art, students have the choice to create anything they want. This activity has built-in personalization. We will continue to extend the activity through adding equations that will turn the art into a puzzle for a friend to solve. I plan to change one of my literacy centers and one of my math stations toa Google Assignment on Google Classroom and recreating Pixel Art will be one of them. Students will be able to play both with the snap cubes and the spreadsheet prior to the creation of their Pixel Art

I bet you are ready to see how it went….

Pixel Art in Action

I introduced my students to the activity by showing them some examples of Pixel Art like this tweet from Ryan Read who is doing Pixel Art with is high school students

I didn’t even finish my first sentence when one student shouted out, “It’s like Minecraft!” I had them hooked! I grabbed the snap cube tubs and dumped them and they got started right away.

They created everything from footballs to Pokemon, cats to Steve from Minecraft, and college logos to flowers. They spend nearly an hour creating their Pixel Art models. My students are so used to grabbing cubes to count and not worrying about the colors that I did have to help them think about the colors they wanted to use because in this activity, color is important. They also struggled with the idea of making their Pixel Art “flat” and not 3 dimensional.

Day 2 was our “play with the spreadsheet” day. I modeled the process of getting to the spreadsheet through our Google Classroom and then typing single digit numbers and using the arrow keys to navigate around. I showed them how to delete if they didn’t want that color and made a color key on the left side of my spreadsheet. They actually didn’t play around like I expected. They went right to work making their own key and then inputting the numbers to create a digital model of their Pixel Art. We duplicated the sheet to be ready for equations the next day. This saves a Pixel Art sheet as the “answer key” and allows for one to be the puzzle.

Day 3 we talked about fast fact fluency and why learning to add and subtract quickly is important in life. We talked about some strategies we have always used to solve equations and how to use those strategies mentally. They practiced those strategies through a game.

On day 4, I modeled making a list of equations for each total they needed based on the colors in our math notebooks. Then how to use that list to type equations in each cell turning the Pixel Art into a puzzle. We had some questions and concerns about the entire equation not showing up in the cell (because it is small) and how to see it all so you know it’s there, moving to other cells, and how to get a plus sign. One student picked it up quickly and rushed to help anyone who needed it. He was like our own IT department. By the time I got to students who had raised their hand for help, either they problem solved and figured it out or the IT department showed them what to do. I was blown away by their independence and ability to complete their pixel art. I still have a few who need to complete theirs this week.

One thing I love about my class and this activity is they/it differentiate on their own. This friend struggles to write his thinking so he used the cubes to model the equations before typing them into his spreadsheet. He moved one cube at a time to make sure he got all of the equations for a given number and was able to record both the addition and subtraction equation that goes with the number he wanted (#math1OA5).

Up next, is sharing the Pixel Art with a friend to see if they can solve the Puzzle. I ran into a roadblock here. In our district, students can’t share a document with another student. But, since I have access to their finished Pixel Art Puzzles, I think I can share it for them. We’ll duplicate the sheet again to keep the originals intact. I also plan on showing them how to rename the sheets so its easier to identify which tab is which. Watch me on Twitter for this next stage. I’ll also update here once we’re finished.

I challenge you to get the book and use some of the activities in your class. Or use this one by using the template on Alice Keeler’s blog I shared above. One third grade teacher at my school plans to use this with her class and division.

I also challenge you to think through the planning process using the method laid out by Jessica and Christine. I know I plan to use it again!

  1. identify the standard, activity, and technology (if needed)
  2. anticipate challenges
  3. personalize and extend the learning
  4. embed play
  5. SHARE

3 Act Math Tasks with Littles

act 1

I heard about 3 act math on Twitter (where else?) I didn’t understand it but I also knew that some of my coworkers were using this method with their students. This fall, I attended the High 5 Math Summit at NC State. When I saw a 3 Act Math session on the schedule, I made sure I was first in line for that session. In this session, the presenter took us through a 3 Act Math Task as if we were students. She stopped along the way to comment on how she, as a teacher, pushes her students thinking and provides assistance as students work. At the end, she shared with us resources to find already created 3 Act Math Tasks. I was interested in trying 3 Act Math with my students but until I lived it as a student, I couldn’t wrap my brain around how this would work with littles. I finally decided to give it a try. I decided to have all of my students attempt the task. I disagree with only giving these types of tasks to high performing students because I believe that all students should have access to challenge in a real-world context.

act 2

After the Math Summit, I brought many great things back to my classroom to try with my littles. 3 Act Math is one they LOVED from the first moment we tried. As a teacher, I thought the first 3 Act Math Task I gave to my students was a huge failure, but in their eyes it was amazing. I used one of the resources she shared with us, Graham Fletcher, as my first 3 Act Task. Graham publishes 3 Act Tasks he creates on his website. They are ordered by grade level and the common core standard is listed beside the task. I love that he puts the standards out there so the curriculum connection is clear. 

We tried the Cookie Monster task. Most of them loved the process. The hook video got them thinking and asking questions. Their questions weren’t math based and I had to redirect their thinking. By the end of the 3 Acts, only 2 or 3 of my students reached the correct answer. I was intentional about not jumping in to save the day and lead them in the correct direction because I wanted to see how they reacted to the struggle and their incorrect answers. Most of them loved the process. The hook video got them thinking and asking questions. Their questions weren’t math based and I had to redirect their thinking. They handled it well.

I had some students share their strategies with the class (this was something they hadn’t done before and I had to do a lot of prompting). I only had the few students who were successful at the task share. Some students quickly found their mistake while their friends shared and fixed their work. I celebrated their mistakes. For the few students who were still very confused by this task, I pulled them in a small group and walked through all 3 Acts with them again and helped them through the problem-solving process. Since the fall, I have completed 3 more of the tasks on Graham’s website and have even attempted creating 3 of my own tasks.

This tweet was during another Graham Fletcher 3 Act Task – The Juggler.

act 3

Each 3 Act Task I give my students, I have learned something different. I always give my students the opportunity to try the problem on their own and wait until the end to provide supports. Because I don’t jump in to save them, my students have become skilled at failing and finding their mistakes. They have become better at these 3 Act Tasks and are able to use the problem-solving strategies I have taught them in real-world applications.

Sharing has changed in a big way after the 3 Act Task. As I observe my students solving the problem, I mark their dry erase board with a dot to let them know they will be sharing. I strategically choose who will share based on the strategies they chose or the mistakes that they made. Yes, you read that right. I have students share even if they made a mistake or didn’t reach the correct answer at the end. We can all learn from each other’s mistakes.

One thing I am going to try next is to have those fast finishes not only show multiple strategies but to then write about their problem-solving process. Writing about math will help to deepen their understanding of the task they completed. I would also like to have students create a video that will teach others how to solve a problem like this. Their instructional video will not only help them fully comprehend the problem and strategies but also benefit students who struggle with this problem type or strategy. I really want my students to learn from each other and not just me.

Have you tried 3 Act Math? What are your experiences? What are your favorite resources? How have you made this accessible to littles and struggling students?

I Dove Into PBL & You Should Too!

I’m a north personality meaning I dive in head first and I’m not afraid to take risks. I jumped into PBL after reading only 1 chapter of Hacking Project Based Learning and finished that PBL, #PBLclouds, before finishing the book. I skimmed the book but didn’t read it. I learn best through trial and error and  I don’t need to all the details before buying into a new concept or method.

In addition to #PBL clouds, I now have done PBLs focusing on Sun, moon, and stars (planned as I went),

force and motion through the building of arcade games (I didn’t have a great guiding question)

and one on solving 2 major problems at recess through designing something to add to our playground spaces (more of a Problem Based Learning than Project and feedback was not intentional).

I am so interested in including inquiry-based approaches in my classroom, it is one of my Professional Development goals this school year and I am participating in a book study on The Curious Classroom. 

Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

  • It is not hard
  • It is time-consuming
  • You must plan ahead
  • You must be flexible

Here’s what I’m working on:

  • I need to improve at intentionally planning my PBLs. By that mean I am going to more fully dissect my standards searching for the High Impact Takeaways (HIT). Each learning experience within the PBL will then more clearly align to standard and lead toward an answer to the umbrella question. Planning this way will also help me see the cross-curricular connections. Once these are clear, I can use the PBL to reach more than one standard strand in more than one subject area.
  • I need to shift assessment responsibility to the students. For starters, assessments need to be more authentic and measured throughout the PBL. Currently, my assessments are based on observations and conversations with students about their work. I’m not 100% sure how this will look but I’ll figure it out! I’m thinking a documentation system that lays out my HITs and allows for comments and photos of evidence of student progress or mastery. If you have any suggestions, please reach out or leave a comment below!
  • Feedback needs to be a bigger focus in my PBLs. I want students to give me feedback, I want to be better about giving feedback to my students, and I want them to give feedback to each other. Focusing on feedback will ensure students have a deeper understanding of the concepts and standards within the PBL.

Here’s what’s next:

  • I’m working on a PBL share with my friend, Kara Damico. Together we planned and implemented a vertically aligned PBL on community impact through solving recess problems. We will be sharing, along with students about the impact this PBL had on student learning. We will also be working on writing this PBL up for possible publication within our district.
  • Part of my PD goal this year was to implement 1 PBL each quarter. I’m beginning the work on planning a community and map PBL to hit both the 1.E.1 and 1.G.1 NCSCOS Social Studies Units. Thoughts? Ideas? Resources?

I am by no means an expert on PBL but I do think I am slowly moving forward and growing in this area. I highly recommend the 2 books mentioned in this post and you’re welcome to borrow my copies if you want!

Protols for Learning with Littles

A big part of teaching littles is having clear and consistent routines. A big part of teaching in the 21st century is deep thinking. Combining these 2 can be tricky for an early childhood educator. Littles need direct instruction and modeling in clarity to be successful in deep thinking. Setting clear and consistent thinking routines have gotten my students to think more deeply across the curriculum. And be able to share those thoughts with one another.

Thinking routines and protocols ensure equity in your classroom by structuring they way students respond to prompts. Protocols and routines allow for every child to think and respond. Not just those who raise their hands. It’s also provides access to deeper thinking through clear steps and predictable routines.

Turn and talks are great and all but sometimes littles need more to get going. After reading the book Making Thinking Visible, I added some new routines to my classroom. Then I was inspired to seek more protocols to add to our tool belt of routines.

I see, I think, I wonder

In this protocol, students look at an image or the cover of a book and complete each of the statements. Students can respond to the sentence stems orally or through writing (teacher’s choice). I like this protocol because it is predictable and focuses littles on what we want them to notice through observations. It also allows them an outlet for their natural curiosity. I have used this protocol to introduce a new book, launch a science unit, and as a close reading activity. I have also extended this protocol with a digital image displayed on my smart board. I began with the image zoomed way in and asked students to complete the statements with a partner. Then, I zoomed out a little and asked them to make their statements again. We repeated this a few times until the image was whole. This protocol has become so routine in our classroom that I hear students using it during partner reading!

What makes you say that?

This one has become second nature to me. I respond to my students frequently with this little line. I like it because it is a subtle shift from asking, “why?” and doesn’t sound accusatory. When I responded with,”why?” students automatically thought they were wrong and changed their answer. When I respond with this question, they explain their thinking and reasoning that led them to their conclusion. It even pushes them toward finding and sharing the evidence they used to answer the question. Add this one to your back pocket now!

I used to think… Now I think…

This one is so easy to add to any nonfiction read aloud or unit!  Students start by activating their prior knowledge (I used to think…) and then focusing on finding something new in a text or video (But, now I think…). I have used this as a conversation starter, turn and talk, and response in a notebook. I have included this protocol in reading nonfiction, a math video on a new strategy, and split up as part of a launch to a science or social studies unit. I like this protocol because it sets a purpose for reading or viewing. Even for students who may be dinosaur experts, they are focused on finding that one new bit of information they didn’t already know while you read that nonfiction book.

I’ve also added some routines from other sources.

Chalk Talk (not sure where this one came from)

This is a fabulous and tricky protocol for littles! During Chalk Talk, students write their thoughts, ideas, or what they know about a topic on a large chart paper. When I do this, I give every student a different color marker so I can tell who’s is who’s. After completing their response on the chart paper, students then read what their classmates wrote and respond to others. During a Chalk Talk, students are not supposed to talk to each other, their marker is supposed to do the talking for them. This is where it gets tricky for littles. Littles need to stretch their words out loud so they can hear the sounds. Littles need to orally rehearse their writing prior to recording it. Littles struggle to write words and sentences others can read. I love this protocol because it challenges littles to focus on the reader when they write. I find my students are more concerned about recording exact sounds and writing neatly when we do a Chalk Talk than when they write a during writer’s workshop. I provide access to this protocol for my littles by allowing them to use their voices to help them write but encourage them not to talk to their friend and by allowing them to choose between sketching or writing. And they CAN do it, with practice and gentle reminders. I have used this protocol with students as a number splash (where they have to show a number in multiple ways – a math routine in my district), classroom rules, problems and solutions that might occur at school, relationship building activity for morning meeting, recording ideas for personal narratives, and responding to a read aloud. Sometimes I do 1 chalk talk and focus on responding to others, sometimes I have multiple chalk talk charts at once and focus on sharing ideas and debrief later.

Snowball Toss (SOS from Discover Education)

This protocol is “snow” much fun! It’s also a great way to use some of that scrap paper that builds up in your room! In this protocol, students respond to a prompt on a piece of scrap paper, then you gather in a circle, ball up the paper and toss it in the middle like a snowball. Students then grab a paper snowball open it up and read then respond to what their classmate wrote or respond to a new prompt and repeat as many times as you want! This one has some of the same challenges as Chalk Talk when it comes to students writing and being able to read each other’s writing. I provide the same choice (sketch or write). I have added my own spin to this protocol by having students respond with “I agree” or “I disagree” statements or if the snowball they picked has a sketch then they have to respond with a sketch. This is a newer protocol for me, but the kids are loving it! We used it to discuss the Eclipse of 2017 and as a response to a character strength we were discussing as part of Positivity Project. I’ll be using it again this week with a lesson on time! Watch for me to tweet it out @AubreyDiOrio.

Back to back/Front to front

I picked this one up from a tweet by my friend Nathalie Ludwig.

We use this one ALL. THE. TIME. In this protocol, students get up, find a partner, and stand back to back. The teacher asks a question and provides think time. Students cannot respond to the question until the teacher says, “Front to front.” Then each time you have a question, say, “back to back” and students find a new partner. This is a great way to change up your turn and talk with some movement and different partners. This protocol adds equity for your students with differences through built-in think time. I have not had an issue this year with students always picking the same few friends or talking at the same time, but you can add some control by assigning kids as either ketchup or mustard. Then littles have to find someone to complete the pair and you can have ketchups talk first, mustards talk second. I use this protocol to respond to a read aloud, as a morning meeting activity to discuss a character strength, to share a math strategy, to compare judy clocks, share a hypothesis, and SO MUCH MORE!

Glows and Grows

Glows and Grows is a protocol for collecting feedback. Glows are something great and Grows are areas for improvement. This one is accessible to students because they grasp on to the word Glow as a positive and Grow as something to get better. It encourages them to take a growth mindset and look for something that could be better. Through this protocol, I’ve noticed students focusing on kindness and helpfulness rather than looking for the work that is the best. I have used this protocol to collect feedback from experts during a PBL, with writing or reading partners, and student-led conferences.

My favorite part of having thinking and learning protocols is that they can be applied to any subject area and once my students get used to them, I don’t have to give a ton of directions. I just say, “we are going to do a Chalk Talk. Please write about ____.”

Have you tried any of these protocols with your littles? Have you used other ones? I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments below!

Seesaw! My go to for student choice

What is Seesaw

Seesaw is a digital portfolio platform that can be scaled for students pre-k-12. It is simple and intuitive for littles but also provides opportunities for critical thinking, communication, and feedback that can reach students through 12th grade. Seesaw allows students to post to their journal and a class feed with photo, video, text, drawing, or google doc integration responses. Students can scroll through the class feed and like or comment on their peer’s responses. Student responses can be organized in folders for easy searchability. Parents can connect to their child’s Seesaw journal and like and comment their work as well as see progress over time.

Why I Seesaw

I seesaw because it provides students with opportunities to express themselves through multiple methods. I love the choices it provides students as they share their learning and reflections. I love that kids can practice citizenship by commenting on each other’s posts. Seesaw is like social media for kids. It is a great way to model appropriate digital behavior and moderate as they practice.

How I Seesaw

For the last 3 years that I have used Seesaw, my students have quickly become Seesaw experts. They are able to post to their journal quickly and independently. I use Seesaw for a variety of things. The list below includes things my students have posted (both kindergarten and first grade):

  • Math Story Problems
      • Students need to be able to create their own story problems in order to fully understand how they work. Writing their own helps them play with the language used in a story problem and therefore provides them access to better understanding story problems that need solving. After posting a story problem, students then scroll through the feed to solve others’ story problems. They have learned to write better problems that require multiple steps and make sure to include a question at the end and not the answer! This has been one of my math stations for the last 2 years and they LOVE it! I change out the manipulatives for them occasionally to keep things fun and interesting! (#math1OA2)

  • Relationship building
    • Students also share photos on Seesaw at home. I love getting notifications on the weekend of baby brothers and sisters, road trips, a book they’re reading, and songs they made up. I even had a student upload a video to Seesaw in the car as they were moving to another state!

I would love for you to share in the comments why you Seesaw or your favorite things for students to upload on their student Journals!

Not included in this post: encouraging positive interactions through likes and comments and family involvement! Those are blog posts for a different time!

The 5 W’s of Breakout Edu with Littles

I see it as my mission to take all the innovative pracitces popular in education and make them accessible to littles. Breakout Edu was a tough one for me. I played around with it in my head for a long time before actually trying it. I’ve still only done it a handful of times and I love it. I’m interested in creating my own breakout puzzles.

Why I like breakout boxes…

Breakout boxes provide students with the opportunity to practice problem solving strategies. They encourage students to persevere and show some grit. They allow students to collaborate toward a common goal. Breakout boxes can hit so many standards and hit every one of the 4Cs all at once! And, they are SO FUN!

What I’ve tried…

I’ve chosen breakout boxes that focus on solving different types of story problems (OA.1.1, OA.1.3, OA.1.5) and ones that focus on answering questions about a story (RL.1.1). I found these breakout boxes on I printed all the materials and followed the instructions to assemble my box and set up the puzzles around the room.

I introduced the problem and their goal to unlock the box. The math breakout we did had a football story (it was the beginning of the season and I have students super into sports). We had to unlock the footballs for the team. In the literacy box, the mouse locked up our markers and we needed to break them free or lose them forever! I broke my class into groups (one for each puzzle), set the timer, and set them free. We rotated around to all the puzzles until everyone had a chance to solve them all.

Who are the Breakout boxes for and how I made them more accessible for littles…

I planned my first breakout box for my whole class to do at the same time. I split them into small groups so they had to work on 1 puzzle at a time and I rotated them around as they seemed to reach a solution. The second time, we partnered with a second grade class and they had free range to solve the puzzles around the room with their second grade buddy or a group of their choosing. Both of these methods worked well with my students however, they made a lot of mistakes when I turned on the timer. My advice for making breakout boxes more accessible for littles…


Woah! My kids got so obsessed about how much time was left they made silly mistakes on problems I KNEW they could solve otherwise. As soon as I turned off the timer and they felt safe to take their time and solve the puzzles, they were much more successful and were able to breakout. I tried twice thinking the first time it was just the newness. But, they had the same reaction to the timer both times. I will no longer use the timer with my littles.

When I do a breakout box…

I tried a breakout box with my class as a culminating event for our math unit right before an assessment and they did well. However, it took nearly 3 hours to do. I pretty much lost the rest of my day.

About once a month my district has early release days where the students go home early but the teachers stay normal hours for professional development. I’ve found that these early release days are the best for breakout boxes because they fill up our day, they’re fun, students are engaged in rigorous work focused on multiple standards.

The next one I did was on one of these early release days and in the middle of our study on making predictions. The breakout box went with If You Take A Mouse To School. Students were familiar with this book since we had already read it and made predictions throughout. When we returned from specials, the room was a mess and the mouse left us a message about our missing markers. This worked great and really piqued their imaginations. No one predicted the mouse would come to OUR school!

Where I’m going…

My next plan is to try to start creating my own breakout boxes for my students. This way I can decide on specific curriculum points to hit and include my students’ interests.


I didn’t even know, but I was doing #booksnaps

I’ve been doing this really cool thing for over 2 years and had no idea it was a thing until last year! Ever since I started using Seesaw in my classroom, I’ve had students posting about the books they read. It started with a picture of the cover of the book and recording as they read or taking a video of their reading. This task helped build fluency and understanding (RL.K.10).
Then we moved to a photo of the cover and retelling the story (RL.K.2). Eventually we began taking photos of the pages of the book and explaining how the picture supports the text (RL.K.7). And then it happened. I asked the students to identify the “expert words” in an informational book and one of my students used the label tool and labeled the expert words in the picture and then recorded to explain them (RI.K.4).

This changed everything! I realized how much more I know about his understanding of the text and that he is applying the minilessons to his independent practice. Annotating the picture gave me way more information than simply having students record to tell. This in-the-moment decision this little friend made changed everything for me! I realized that I needed to be doing more book responses this way. I began encouraging students to post their responses with labels and using the drawing tool to explain their thinking.
And then I wend to my first edcamp, edcamp wake March, 18 2017. I went to a session on booksnaps because I had seen the idea floating around twitter and wasn’t quite sure what it was. Turns out this was one of the edcamp sessions where everyone turned up to learn something and no one really knew what it was or how to do it. After some on the spot collaborative research we were able to figure out that booksnaps were a way for students to share a reaction or their thinking on a specific section of a book using snapchat. And a light bulb went on in my head: “I do that! I just didn’t know it was a thing!” So I shared some of my students work and how we use Seesaw as a tool to share about the books we read. From this session I decided to be more intentional about students’ booksnaps and having them cite their source. I noticed that by the end of the school year, the more I asked them to include, the quality of showing what they know decreased.

This year, I was more intentional about introducing booksnaps to my students and created an anchor chart to make sure all the parts were included.

This year, our booksnaps have been a much higher quality including, labels, drawing, emojis, captions, and voice recordings. I have added to this chart since this picture to include retell, character strengths, comparing and contrasting, and tell 3 things. I will continue to add to this chart all year as we focus our booksnaps on different standards and question types.

Main idea (RI.1.2)

Reaction (RL.1.7)

Compare and contrast characters (RL.1.9)

Tell 3 things (RI.1.8)

Our next step with booksnaps is to explore different technology tools to use. We will try some with flipgrid and chatterpix next.

What is your favorite tool for booksnaps? How do you make booksnaps accessible to your littles?

Coding Unplugged – A number sorting computer

I learned an amazing coding activity at the #NCSTA17 conference in Greensboro, NC in October. The activity is from The mat works like a computer. It has rules and paths the information must follow. I was mind blown the first time we did it as adults at the conference and I immediately had the idea to use this as one of my comparing numbers introductions. #math1NBT3

The first time I did this, I taped the pattern out on the floor copying it from the photo I took at the conference. I didn’t want to spend the money making the cloth if it didn’t work. I was worried that my firsties wouldn’t get it since they would need to know right from left in order for the computer to be successful. I was so surprised! They did not want the computer to “break” and were very careful to chose the correct direction and help each other figure out where to go on the coding mat.

I bought this drop cloth at Lowes. I painted the pattern with tempra paint from my classroom. I copied it from the photo I took at the conference. It was pretty easy except I didn’t eyeball the paths correctly and ended up with 2 curved ones when they should all be straight. I also had a few cat prints from my dear sweet 15 year old torti cat, Calypso, being nosy and walking across the mat.

The kids DID NOT MIND! They love hearing all the crazy stories about my pets!

The first time we did this, I gave the kids single digit numbers 1-6 that I knew they would be able to compare and put in order easily. I had them line up out of order at the starting end of the mat. I asked the kids who were not on the computer to tell me what they noticed:

  • “They are 1 digit numbers.”
  • “They are out of order.”

So far so good! I explained the rules and paths on the computer and gave reminders for right and left so the knew which direction to move. At each step forward I had them stop and the observers to notice any changes (Nothing changed except the order of the numbers. And they were still out of order.) I slowed this WAY down. One step at a time asking them to compare and decide: right or left? By the time they go to the other end of the computer they were just as amazed as I was at the conference that this unplugged computer WORKED!!!

The next time we did this, I gave them teen numbers which I knew they were familiar with from kindergarten and had 1 or 2 numbers missing (i.e. 11, 13, 16, 17, 18 19). I kept it at a slow pace. Taking 1 step at a time and comparing and following paths and asking the observers to notice any changes. They were less surprised that the numbers ended up in order and more concerned that some numbers were missing in the order. This led to a great conversation about comparing numbers and the numbers that come between other numbers.

We moved on from there comparing more 2 digit numbers. I gave out another set of cards with 2 digit numbers specifically chosen so that it didn’t matter if they only compared 1 of the digits, it would still work out in order (i.e. 12, 23, 34, 45, 67, 89). I anticipated this would be a common misconception with comparing 2 digit numbers. We talked about always comparing with the tens number firs then the ones if the tens were equal.

The next set of cards had more random 2 digit numbers. I had them draw the base ten picture for this number so they could begin comparing both the number and a picture of that number and visualizing each 2 digit number. The last set of cards had just base ten pictures and they compared the images.

Each time I gave out a new set of cards, I called different students to be in the computer so that everyone could have a chance to observe and notice and participate. Each time we worked the computer, they were able to follow the rules and paths faster. Our observation skills even got keener as they noticed mistakes in the right/left stepping and corrected their friends so we didn’t “break” the computer.

Please share other unplugged computer science or coding activities or ideas you have for this activity in the comments!

Amazon’s Echo Dot in the Classroom

This is not a sponsored post.

I bought an Amazon Echo Dot at the beginning of the school year and have set it up in my classroom as an additional learning tool. The Echo Dot uses an Artificial Intelligence, Alexa, to interact with humans through voice commands. Having an AI in the classroom helps students work on their speaking and listening skills. They have to speak clearly so she can hear them. They have to listen carefully because she sometimes answers quickly.
I have seen a lot of questions around lately about how these are can be used in the classroom. I linked a podcast at the bottom where they talk about the benefits of AI in the classroom. I’m going to share 5 ways I currently use my echo dot and then some of the new skills I just added and look forward to using.

I chose to use AI in my classroom this year because it can help support students with different needs. It takes the pressure off students because they don’t need to read or write in order to interact with the device. I also love that it is a relatively new technology on the market and I love the challenge of making it work in the classroom.

Note – We changed the wake word on our Echo Dot to Echo instead of Alexa since I have a student with that name.

*tips* turn OFF shopping, put it in a spot that doesn’t have a ton of regular activity so she can hear and be heard

1. Muisc

From day 1 I have used my Echo to play music. I have amazon music set up and can ask her to play anything from a specific song to a genre or artist playlist. My kids love to be the DJ for the day as one of our classroom rewards. They get to pick the music for morning arrival, movement breaks, or quiet music when we need to concentrate.

2. Timers and Reminders

I will ask Echo to set a timer for the number of minutes students have to complete a task or remind us of something we need to do that is not part of our regular schedule.

3. Spelling

First graders are really good at phonetic spelling and can stretch and write the sounds for any word they want. However, they start to realize that their spelling doesn’t match conventional spelling and they want to spell words correctly. I let my students use Echo to spell a word for them or check their spelling of a word. At first they needed to ask me before asking Echo to spell a word (I didn’t want them using it for sight words or words we have learned the spelling pattern for). They are good about this now and I’m ready to release control to them (or an Echo Manager – student job).

4. Brain Breaks

Echo can play music, tell a joke, or play quick games to help with brain breaks. We can ask her to play a song for a quick dance break, tell a joke to lighten the mood, or play a quick game. We love to play the Animal Game (one of the skills you can add). It works like 20 questions about animals.

5. Genius Hour

We have an (almost) weekly genius hour in my classroom. When students are ready to choose a topic or question to work on for their genius hour, they need to have their idea approved by Echo first. The purpose of Genius Hour is for students to spend time exploring their own curiosities. Part of this is in coming up with ideas that are not “googleable.” Alexa, being and AI, works like google. My students need to ask her their question and get an, “I don’t know” response from her to know that their question is going to take some time and work to reach an answer.

Skills I like or will be using soon

  • Invisible Dice
  • Ambient Sounds
  • Animal Game
  • Flip a coin
  • Kids Affirmation
  • Kids Mad Libs
  • Laugh Box
  • MathFacts
  • Mother May I
  • Rock Paper Scissors
  • Translated
  • Would You Rather
  • Word Look Up
  • Weather

Do you have and Alexa or another AI in your classroom? How do you use it? Please leave ideas in the comments!

Google Teacher Tribe Episode 31

Scooters, Science, Goal Setting

Yesterday as I stood in my driveway waiting for AAA to jump start my husband’s car, I watched as the neighbor boy (5 years old) played on his scooter in his driveway. The street leading into our cul-de-sac is a hill and his driveway is also sloped. Our driveways have a little bump so rain water goes down the storm drains instead of flooding our driveways. He went to the top of his driveway and realized he only needed to push once to make it to his garage. Next he went to the bottom of that bump and got frustrated with the number of pushes he needed to make it over the bump before he could coast to the garage. He went a little ways into the cul-de-sac and pushed off. He had to push again to make it over the bump in the driveway and then coast to the garage. He went farther into the cul-de-sac and pushed off. He made it to the peak of the driveway bump but didn’t make it over it. He went to the top of the cul-de-sac as his sister yelled for him to come back inside. This time he made it all the way down to the driveway, up and over the bump, and all the way into his garage. I could tell by the look on his face as he rode faster and faster down the hill that he was so proud of his accomplishment. He knew before he reached the garage that he was successful.

The whole time I watched as he problem solved, tried multiple strategies, failed, made adjustments, but never gave up until he succeeded my teacher brain was going wild!

  1. Wow! I can use this story to teach forces and motion in science to my firsties!
  2. Woah! This kid has some serious growth mindset and was so determined to race to his garage with only one push. He never once gave up or thought he was a terrible scooter rider.
  3. If kids can use these skills when they play why not for academics? Why aren’t academics at school approached through play?
  4. How can I use this kid’s perseverance and apply it to myself?

Yes, I plan to tell this story to my firsties and see if they can apply it to our science unit as well as pull out the character strengths he used while working to solve this problem.

I believe in play based learning as best practice for littles. Kids learn so much from their play. We as teachers need to pull our curriculum objectives out of children’s natural play. We need to guide and inspire play where children can apply curriculum knowledge to their games. Play allows children to feel safe in order to take risks. Risks allow children to learn and grow in deeper ways.

His perseverance inspires me. I am a goal setter but I often don’t make clear plans to take the necessary steps to meet my goals. I need to be more mindful about making plans and following through on the steps I need to take to meet my goals. I also need to take time to reflect on my progress and make adjustments to my plan in order to meet my goal. I need to go farther up the hill to get over the bumps in the path toward my goals.

What does this story make you think about?