Thursday, March 14, 2019


Kids love Tim and Moby. Teachers love the quick, engaging, and relevant videos.  But did you know there is so much more to BrainPop than videos and quizzes?  

Image result for brainpop tim and mobyIn the last several years BrainPop has been busy developing new tools and partnering with other quality organizations to become more than just a platform to students to consume information.  They have a variety of tools that allow students to interact with material and concepts in an exciting way.  They are promoting the practice of having students actively creating rather than just consuming.  Awesome!

A little history.  Last year I went through training to become a Certified BrainPop Educator.  The program was phenomenal!  Unlike a lot of other "ed-tech" companies, BrainPop actually understands teaching. They have teachers on staff, and their practices are aligned with current pedagogical research.  Seriously, I was blown away!  The tools they have built into the platform are extremely user friendly and require kids to use critical thinking skills.

These tools are available on almost every BrainPop topic.  If you aren’t sure where to start, I would suggest looking at their standards alignment. On this page you can search by state, content, and grade level, and it will show you a document with all the BrainPop topics organized by standards.

I know that some of you already using some of these tools, but I wanted to provide a quick overview of each tool so you can know what is available.  Each tool also has a link to a more indepth resource page where you can learn more about each tool, see teachers using it in real classrooms, and view some examples. (Click on the red title.)

Image result for brainpop certified educatorIn case you are interested, the BrainPop Certified Educator training is free and completely online.  You do need to apply though.  You can find more information here, or I would be happy to chat with you to share my experience.

This year I was required to re-up my certification by watching a recorded webinar and completing an activity.  The good news is that by doing this, they gave our school a complimentary coding package for the remainder of this school year!  This is a great opportunity to look at ways to engage students, and give them new ways to show their learning.

Creative Coding

Students create their own projects to show what they know about a topic using code either with block based programming or text programming. No previous coding experience is necessary, there are tutorials built in!

Make a Map

Students create a concept map to show their understanding of what they are learning.  Students can use pictures, words and clips from the video to complete their concept map.  Teacher can see student work in their dashboard, so this an option for a formative assessment.

Make a Movie

This is a simple video creation tool that allows students to create their own BrainPop style video.  What I love about this is that it is open ended enough to allow students to really show what they know, but with enough support and pre-made items to make it doable for all students.


Students play a game where they have to try to clear the board by sorting the tiles into groups.  How students sort the tiles gives you an indication of how well they understand the concept.  It’s challenging, fun, and addicting!

TimeZone X 

Students have to “fix” history by putting the events in order.  The goal is to help students understand broad themes in history rather than just memorizing dates.

Game Up

Games from museums, universities, etc. vetted by BrainPop and related to the content. Some games are SnapThought enabled.

Meaning of Beep

Students use context clues as hints to try to guess a word.  This tool is also SnapThought enabled.

Newsela and Related Reading

BrainPop curates other resources to help support student understanding of the topics.

Image result for brainpop Finding new and exciting ways to engage our students in a constant challenge, but BrainPop is a great resources that provides teachers a platform to help students learn and show what they know in a variety of ways.  How will you engage your students? 

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Tech Tuesday-Schoology Resources

Welcome to week three of Schoology November!  If you missed the first two weeks about Discussions and Google Drive Assignment App be sure to check them out.

This week we will look at the resources within Schoology.  This tool is Schoology is extremely useful for collaborating and sharing.  No teacher has time to reinvent the wheel, so saving and sharing course resources in Schoology helps to streamline this process.

There have been lots of questions and some confusion about the resources; specifically how to add to your resources, and how to share them with your team or colleagues.  

Here is a 6 minute video walk through of the resources tool.  

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Tech Tuesday-Google Drive Assignment App

Welcome to week two of Schoology November here on the blog. Be sure to check out last week's post about Discussions

Google Drive Assignment App

At the elementary level the way we use digital tools is not the same as middle and high schools, for obvious reasons. Often a teacher will tell me, "I don’t need an LMS because I’m not grading papers online or requiring students to turn things in electronically."    While we may not be giving students “grades” or closely monitoring due dates, the Google Drive Assignment app within Schoology is worth exploring. If you ever have your students work on a doc, slides, drawing, or sheet, and you want to be able to see and/or comment on their progress, then I highly recommend using this tool! 

Teachers can push out a template of any Google Drive product (doc, slides, drawing, or sheet) and this app will make a copy for each student. Gone are the days of sharing with students, having them make a copy, and share it back to you. You can also avoid the flood of emails you get when you ask students to create and share a document with you. Even if you just push out a blank document, I think this process is worth it. Using the Google Drive Assignment App creates a folder of all the student assignments in the teacher’s Google Drive. This alone can save you hours of searching for student documents. 

You can also differentiate by individually assigning your templates to select students or groups. 

Check out the video below where I demonstrate how to set up a google drive assignment, and the second video to see the student's view.

Setting Up Google Drive Assignment

Student View of Google Drive Assignment

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Tech Tuesday-Schoology Discussions

It's been a while since I've posted on here, and A LOT has changed in the last several months!  The biggest change to our school (tech-wise) has been the adoption of Schoology as our LMS.  The goal behind adopting this new platform is to give our teachers, students, and families a one stop shop for everything digital.  

Schoology also offers some really powerful collaboration and assessment tools.  I plan to feature different tools here on the blog each week for the month of November. 



Online discussions are not reserved for older students or online courses, learners of all ages can benefit from this tool.  Schoology gives students the option to respond with text, audio, or video, so the needs of various learners can be met in one place.


  • After reading TFK, Science Stories, or other text post a  3-2-1 (3 things you learned-2 questions you have-1 connection you made)
  • After watching a video post a question or prompt 
  • During or after a read-aloud post a question or prompt 
  • Post thoughts or questions for book club members to respond
  • Ongoing discussion where students can make book recommendations
  • Use the video recording tool to give a book talk 
  • Post a problem of the week for students to solve.  Give them the choice of how to respond (audio, video or text).


For students in our elementary buildings who do not take their devices home, I would encourage you to give students time at school to respond to the online discussion.  This could be part of math, reader's, or writer's workshop.


  • Writing takes more time to process and reflect on what you want to communicate.
  • Encourage all students to participate, the shy students get their voice heard and the ones who are always willing to share won’t dominate the conversation.
  • Documentation of a student’s thoughts and responses.
  • Practice keyboarding skills.
  • Practice speaking/audio recording skill.
  • Practice online communication skills.
  • Authentic practice of digital citizenship skills.


Preparing your students to participate in online discussions can seem like an overwhelming task.  I highly encourage you to take the time to set up clear expectations and practice discussion techniques prior to having them go online.  The investment in time up front will be worth the headache it saves you in the end.  I have adapted this slideshow from second grade teacher Sophia Garcia-Smith, and it is FANTASTIC for teaching kids how to respond to online posts.

Setting up discussions in Schoology is quite easy, follow the steps in the video, and see the graphic below.

Online discussions should NEVER fully replace face to face interactions in a our elementary classrooms.  Like anything, balance is necessary, so I encourage you to consider the online discussion tool in Schoology as a way to engage students in a different way.  

As always please reach out to me with questions or feel free to comment below! 

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Tech Tuesday-Rediscovering the Joy of Learning

Here in Minnesota we are desperately looking ahead to spring. The dream of being able to walk outside without a coat seems like it is close to becoming a reality, and with daylight savings this past weekend we can drive home from work without turning on the headlights! However, when you work in a school, you know that with spring comes standardized testing. While I look forward to the warmer weather, I always dread the months of April and May because of the high stress feeling in the building. Earlier this winter I saw this post on Twitter and it has really stuck with me:

It is so easy to get caught up in the daily grind of checking off a list of concepts that students have mastered, then planning their next steps, AND catching kids who didn’t master the concept, planning appropriate interventions, while simultaneously juggling 20+ personalities in the classroom, their families, and professional obligations.  It shouldn’t be surprising that we end up with students who are good at school, but lack the skills to do well when they leave here. I think part of the problem is that we have slowly squished the joy of learning out of our school day.

If asked, “Why do you teach?” I’m sure that many educators would respond with something like, “I teach because I love watching a kid’s smile when that light bulb goes off, and they finally understand it (whatever it is).”  Most educators love learning and want to share that love with others. It is the joy of learning, not test scores, that inspires us to come back day after day, year after year.

Given the demands of this job, it is easy to forget or let that feeling of joy get buried in all the other “stuff”.  Finding a way to recover that joy can be challenging, so I wanted to offer a few resources to reignite the joy of learning for you and your students.  


This website is great for students to explore topics they are interested in or find explore topics they had never even considered.  The site features a Wonder of the Day question accompanied by a short article, video, and photos/graphics to help explain the answer.  I love that the website was designed to be accessible to lots of learners. The graphics make it easy to navigate, and the best part is you can have the articles read aloud while the words light up.  There is an option to create an account, however, it does require parent permission. And since an account is not necessary to use the site I would avoid going this route with students.

Mystery Doug

This site offers a little less flexibility, but has some really great resources.  Doug used to be a teacher, but now he answers questions he receives from students.  If you sign up for a teacher account you will get a new video emailed to you each Monday, and the videos often correspond with current events (recently he answered questions about the Olympics, and this week with St. Patrick’s day it is about rainbows).  A cool built in feature is that at the end of each video your class can vote on the topic for the next week, you can also submit a topic for Doug to answer. This is a great resource to have on hand for a brain break, snack time, indoor recess, or when you have a guest teacher.


This is an oldie, but goodie. Did you know that BrainPOP is almost 20 years old?!?!  Not only can you access great educational content, but the featured video can be accessed without any login.  The videos always start with a question and include humor and engaging graphics. BrainPOP has also expanded to be more than just a video and quiz platform.  By signing up for a My BrainPOP account teachers can assign different activities for students and give them the opportunity to create as well as consume information.

In discovering these resources, I kept coming back to the idea of Genius Hour.  Genius Hour is great, but I know from experience that facilitating a full blown Genius Hour can be overwhelming, particularly with younger students who need more assistance.

So my thought is this: instead of working through a huge project, try to find some time even if it just a few minutes a week to give students time to explore these resources. Perhaps if they finish their work early, they can have some time to look up something that interests them. Or one day during their read to self time they get the opportunity to explore something they have been wondering about.

As far as keeping kids accountable for their research, there are lots of quick easy ways to do this:
1. Post on Seesaw
2. Post on Padlet
3. Post on Flipgrid
4. Respond to a question on Google Classroom
5. Post on a bulletin board in the classroom (yes, low tech is great too!)
The best part about having students share is that they can learn from each other, and be inspired by their peers to learn about other topics.

Spring is the time of year when everything feels renewed, refreshed, and happy. I hope that you can find some time to renew the joy of learning for your students, refresh your passion for teaching, and lastly, I hope that in the next few months your classroom is a happy place with smiles and lightbulbs!

Happy Spring!

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Tech Tuesday-Creating and Connecting

Humans are social beings. We naturally want to talk, share, and connect with others. I believe this is part of the reason that social media has become such a huge part of our society. It appears that social media isn’t going to be going away anytime soon, so love it or hate it, using social media is a skill that our students will likely need in their futures. If you teach high school or middle school, your students probably have accounts on Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, etc. so teaching them responsible ways to use these platforms doesn’t seem outlandish.

But what if you teach in an elementary school? These students cannot lawfully have a social media account since they are under the age of 13. Eventually these students will need to have the skills to successfully navigate social media, so how can we start preparing them at a young age? Fortunately in the last few years platforms have emerged to help teachers tackle this task. Tools like Seesaw, Flipgrid, and Padlet have designed safe, kid friendly platforms where students can safely share their ideas and their work while practicing their online communication skills that will be essential in their futures. (Note: just because the legal terms of a product say they cannot use it, some adolescents with or without the consent of their parents choose to create and use an account anyway.)

Image result for seesaw Image result for flipgrid Image result for padlet

This begs the question, is it the responsibility of our schools to teach children this skill? In my opinion, YES! Just like we teach character education, I believe that teaching these skills will not only positively impact our students long after they have left our buildings, but it fits with what we know about best practices. It is a well known fact that students learning by doing. If they can explain a concept in their own words and in their own way, then we know they have truly learned it. I love this quote from Janelle Bence:

Authentic learning is not demonstrated by a worksheet that’s turned into a teacher. That may be more appropriate to indicate progress in a particular more isolated skill. Real learning, however, is manifested in learner creations that are published for consumption by a wider audience.

Bence, J. (2016, May 17). The benefits of sharing student work in online spaces. In KQED Education. Retrieved February 7, 2018, from

So with the idea that using social media is a life skill, and true learning requires more than just worksheet completion, where do we begin? Lucky for us, some very talented and creative educators have come up with ideas on how to combine the content and skills they are already teaching with the posting, sharing and connecting that students want and need to practice.

Book Talk

A book talk proves you read the book and encourages others to read it. Think about it like a commercial for the book, you want to entice others to read it without giving away the ending or any surprises.

What tools can students use?

Seesaw-record a selfie video

Book Review

A book review is very similar to a book talk, but your ideas are communicated in writing rather than speaking. Short and simple is the key! You want to summarize the book and get others excited to read it without spoiling the ending.

What tools can student use?

Google Classroom-Question

Book Trailer-Tony Vincent (@tonyvincent)

A book trailer is a commercial for a book, just like a movie trailer it creates excitement around the story using images, music, and purposefully selected words and phrases. Book trailers are intended to be short and exciting for the viewer.

What tools can students use?

iMovie-share on Seesaw or Flipgrid
WeVideo-share on Seesaw or Flipgrid
Planning Sheet

Book Snaps-Tara Martin (@TaraMartinEDU)

A book snap is a picture of a page in a book that a student found interesting, insightful, or stuck out to them for any reason. Students use a digital tool to annotate and share their thinking about what they read and share it with others.

What tools can students use?

Seesaw-activity option 1, activity option 2, activity option 3, activity option 4
Pic Collage EDU-Share on Seesaw or Padlet
Google Drawings-Share on Seesaw or Padlet
Google Slides-Share on Seesaw or Padlet

How can you get your students creating, connecting, and socializing in a positive way?

Feel free to comment below or reach out with any questions or suggestions.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Tech Tuesday-Online Read Alouds

As you are well aware, during February we celebrate I Love to Read Month.  As I step back and reflect on reading instruction in our classrooms, and all of the preparation that goes into teaching a child to read, and think, and understand, and comprehend, and analyze, and synthesize.....(the list goes on and on), I realize that teaching a child to read is truly an artform!  In the middle of all of this high level academic work, it's also important to note how much children of all ages love to listen to someone else read a story.  Not reading with an instructional goal in mind, but just reading. Reading for fun!

Study after study confirms that reading aloud to children is so beneficial in so many ways.  The older our students get the less of a priority reading aloud becomes both in school and at home.  My first year teaching fifth grade it took almost the entire year to get through one read aloud chapter book because we just never had enough time.  Or, if I'm being honest, it was because I never made it a priority.

The reality of our education system is that there is too much to teach and not enough time, and this is where I feel that we can leverage our technology resources to offset SOME of this imbalance.  You may not have time to do a whole class read aloud as much as you would like, but there are so many recorded read alouds that students can access.

Just to be clear, I am not by any means equating a recorded read aloud with an in person one.  Everything is always far more engaging and authentic in person than on video, but if you are looking for a way to give your students exposure to more books, more words, more ideas, more cultures, and increase their love of reading then I recommend you check out these resources.  These can easily be shared with students through Seesaw or Google Classroom, or posted on your classroom website for easy access.


These should all work on desktop, chromebook or iPad.
Storyline Online: Videos featuring celebrated actors reading children’s books alongside creatively produced illustrations.

Just Read Books Aloud: Books read aloud by normal people and kids.  Typically the reader is not shown, just the pages in the book. *Site does contain ads.

Kids Read 2 Kids: Abridged version of classics read by kids.  The reader is shown instead of the pages in the book.

Also don't forget Tumblebooks and Bookflix have "read alongs" and in EPIC! students can choose to listen to audiobooks or "read to me" books. 

YouTube Channels

Wait, don't be scared off!  I know that lots of teachers shy away from using youtube with students because it is easy for them to become distracted with all of the related videos and ads.  But YouTube is an unbelievable resource!  To minimize the distractions, I suggest using prior to sending your students a video.  All you have to do is copy the link from YouTube, paste it into viewpure, and click "purify."  This will pull up a simple screen with JUST the video.
There are TONS of YouTube channels with great children's books read aloud.  Here are just a few.  

Books Read Aloud for Children (YouTube Channel): Books read aloud by a narrator.  The reader is not shown, just the pages in the book.

Storybook Nanny (YouTube channel): Books read aloud by a narrator.  The reader is not shown, just the pages in the book. Includes soft background music.

Katie's Bookshelf Classroom (YouTube Channel): Books read aloud by a narrator.  The reader is not shown, just the pages in the book.

Are there any other great read aloud resources you use?  Comment below or send me an email.

Happy reading....and listening!