Monday, March 30, 2015

Shaking up School Lunch: Epic Lip Sync Battle brings the Fun

Where I teach in Hamilton, Michigan, elementary teachers have an hour lunch/planning time everyday. With it come some obvious advantages for staff. Lunchtime is less rushed and everyone in the building has common planning time. Kids get longer recess. With it also has come challenges. The longer kids are in the lunchroom, the more likely they are to get restless and in trouble.

Principal Teisha Kothe has taken this problem by the horns. She has instituted all kinds of fun activities including Flocabulary videos, Trivia Tuesdays, and Talent Fridays where kids get to show off their special abilities. We kicked things up a notch last week.

Building upon a hugely successful kickoff to March is Reading Month that featured a Superintendent vs. Curriculum Director lip sync battle embedded in a Hans and Franz skit, I challenged Teisha to our own battle. Kids were glued to the action and their laughter, smiles, and excitement were priceless and on Friday we made Blue Star Elementary a place where kids definitely wanted to be. Shouldn't that always be a goal of our schools?

Here is the full-length version of Teisha with Katy Perry's "Roar" and me with the Kidz Bop more-elementary-appropriate version of "Uptown Funk".

10 Spring Break Apps and Features for your kid's iPad

The calendar is about to flip to April and with that comes Spring Break, at least here in West Michigan. It's been another brutally cold and long winter and I personally can't wait to get to some warmth, relaxation, and time with my family away from the daily school routine. As families prepare to hit the road or just enjoy some time off here are ten great iPad apps and features for Spring Break 2015.

  1. Off Switch - It's not an app but probably the best feature of any electronic device for Spring Break is the off switch. Shut down for a while and unplug. Focus on all of the natural and analog adventures you can have even if it's just for an extended period each day. off buttonUnplugging completely might not be that easy though for the family facing a 24 hour drive, hours in airports, or suddenly now faced with a whole week at home together. The following recommendations are to help keep kids' brains, creativity, and fun going throughout the week. They're not in any particular order as far as one being better than another, just great apps.

  2. Keynote - This is more than Apple's version of PowerPoint. Not only is it a really powerful presentation maker, it's a powerful design tool as well. After a week of taking pictures and video of their adventures, kids can spend the ride home assembling all of their memories. Keynote is free on all iOS devices purchased since the Fall of 2013. Keynote is car friendly because most features aside from sharing are not wifi dependent.

  3. Maps - If you're on the road this break, give your kids part of the navigational duties. When I was growing up, we would travel most summers across country from Arizona to Michigan. My sister and I learned so much about geography and math when we rode shotgun with the big Rand McNally atlas on our laps. The iPad's built-in Maps app or its Google counterpart do way more than a print atlas. You can search for restaurants, upcoming gas stations, hotels, and more. Maps requires an Internet connection so in the car, kids might need to use the one on your phone.

  4. Cargo-Bot -

    [caption id="" align="alignleft" width="191"] Cargo-Bot app for iOS[/caption]

    Here is a game based on doing work at the shipyard, but every kid I know thinks of it more as the beloved claw at 90% of America's pizza joints and grocery stores. Kids have to program the claw to move crates in a series of puzzles that gradually increase in difficulty. This app is ladened with advanced problem solving and an introduction to computer science in that in order to move the claw, kids have to assemble directions as if they were coding an app. Building this type of logical reasoning transcends many different subject areas. No Internet needed.

  5. Replay - Here is a fabulously easy-to-use movie editor that provides stunning results. In fact, this app is so good, Apple used it in its product launch of the iPad Air 2 in October. The killer feature lies in the app's ability to analyze your photos and footage for tempo, sound, and color. High-end effects like lens-flare, background color, and music are all added automatically and can also be adjusted manually. It's actually called Replay Video Editor for Instagram but no Instagram account is needed. Internet is only needed for sharing projects or buying advanced features. Remember to always, always, always shoot your video horizontally! Here's a sample of what you can do literally in just a few minutes with Replay. This was some really, really rough drone footage we took over my house.
    Screenshot 2015-03-30 12.38.30

  6. IXL - Sometimes the math drill apps get a bad rap, but I am a firm believer that in the proper dose they can do a lot of good as building computational fluency is essential. Without a strong handle on basic facts, kids are greatly hampered moving forward into more complicated math. IXL is a great app that works all math standards from Pre-K on up. Many schools have student subscriptions. Check with your kid's school to see if they do and get the username and password for your trip. You'll need an Internet connection so it might not be the best for the car or van, but incorporating a little math never ruined anyone's vacation...not completely anyway.

  7. Penultimate - Here is a notebook app where kids can doodle, journal, or draw-up inventions. Because it is digital, they have an endless supply of paper and no crayons will melt all over your interior when left on a hot backseat. Any photos on the iPad can be easily inserted into sketches and if they have an Evernote account, your kids can sync their creations and keep them among their other notes on the cloud-based free service. Internet is only required to sync or share.

    [caption id="attachment_1025" align="alignleft" width="1536"]IMG_0455 Penultimate App from Evernote[/caption]

  8. Google Drive - This one is more practical over exciting, but many schools issue students Google Apps for Education accounts. With the Drive app, kids can upload all of the photos and videos they shoot with the iPad to their school accounts. When they get back to school and get the "What I did over Spring Break" essay assignment, they'll have tons of visuals to insert. Requires Internet.

  9. Kindle App - If your kid can handle reading in the car or on an airplane without getting sick, load that iPad up with good books. The iBooks app lets you do the same thing with books from the Apple Book Store but if you are an Amazon Prime member you can take advantage of the lending library and can "borrow" one free book a month for the Kindle. Internet is required to download books, but not needed once loaded.

  10. Tinkerbox HD - This puzzle app is ridiculously addictive and involves engineering one contraption after another. Getting a ball into a basket gets increasingly more difficult as new conveyor belts, levers, and ramps are introduced. It works scientific concepts and logical thinking but in the end it is just fun.

No matter where you are headed or if you are just sticking around home, these apps all can fend off the dreaded "I'm bored" and keep brains firing all week. A few others to explore include Canva, Photoshop Mix, TripAdvisor, Yelp, and Snapseed. Whatever you make, make sure great memories are at the top of the list.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Michigan New Teacher Conference | SAGA Educators

This is a great event for new teachers hosted by Gary Abud Jr. and Andrew Steinman of SAGA Educators. I had a chance to talk to both in Detroit at MACUL and wanted to pass along information on it.
The Michigan New Teacher Conference is a free event for early career and aspiring teachers to network and learn with and alongside experienced educators.

New and experienced educators are invited to join us for a morning of conversations about teaching, leading, and learning. This conference has something for educators with all levels of experience.

Support for Michigan’s newest teachers

Insight from accomplished career educators

Networking opportunities for all participants

All conference attendees to walk away with strategies, skills, and tools that can be used the very next day.

Check out Michigan New Teacher Conference | SAGA Educators.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Students excel at spoken word project | Thanks PLN and

This past Thursday culminated a great project I facilitated with our Pioneer Tech High School students. In their Character Development and Leadership hour I teamed with teacher Amber Lugten to help students pursue what perseverance means to them and then express it in a unique way.

This really turned out to be a tale of the connected educator. Building upon the concepts of the Rock Our World Project founded by fellow Apple Distinguished Educator Carol Anne McGuire, I set off to have students create some type of collaborative music project...probably in Garage Band. Right about the same time I opened Rushton Hurley's newsletter and he was telling of a similar cloud-based site called and discovered it would probably fit our needs better being web based and built for more for sharing than Garage Band. The kids took to the site like a white t-shirt to hot wings and I happily tweeted some of our successes. One of the first people to respond to my tweet was Soundtrap developer Frederik Posse. He liked the project so much that he offered to upgrade all of our accounts, student ones included to premium accounts. This type of extreme project evolution and upgrade doesn't happen for the educator that isn't deeply immersed in a personal learning network.

The kids worked hard and made seemingly thousands of revisions. I was so proud to accompany them on Maranda's Where you Live TV program that highlights all of the great things happening in West Michigan for kids and families.

Here is our segment and below that you'll find a link to Casey and Josh's project and the full write up from WOTV.

Perseverance Soundtrap Project

Students excel at spoken word project |

Saturday, March 7, 2015

#edcampOAISD Create Animated Text Cut-outs with Keynote (2)At EdCamp Ottawa Area ISD yesterday I shared how to do some app smashing with Keynote to create graphics featuring cut-out text and animation like this one for the word "sharks". Here is a step-by-step guide to the workflow involving Keynote, Preview,, and

This and many other cool techniques will be featured in my upcoming MACUL two-hour hands-on session Friday March 20 in Detroit. Cost is $50. Space is still available and can be paid with registration or at the conference.

Screen Shot 2015-03-08 at 7.26.57 AM

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Choose your own Ed-venture and fund it with Donors Choose and the Gates Foundation

edventureIs this winter dragging you down? Do you have one of "those" classes this year? Need to put some adventure back into to being an educator? Wanna get away?

"Yes," you say. "But where am I going to find such adventure and then get the dough to make that happen?"

Funny you should ask because there are a slew of great options in some amazing locations. CUE Rock Star is in Lake Tahoe, Las Vegas, The Lakeshore of Michigan, and Boston as well as all over California this summer.

Discovery Education will soon be announcing details for its summer institute. Attending the 2008 institute at world headquarters in Silver Spring, MD was a huge launch to my career for connecting with other educators on a national and worldwide stage.

The Library of Congress holds several summer institutes for teachers as does Colonial Williamsburg,  Mount Vernon, The National Gallery of Art, Exploratorium in San Francisco, and the Smithsonian. All vary in how competitive their application processes are and what is required of attendees.

The National Endowment for the Humanities offers an astounding array of learning opportunities all over the world and throughout the United States that range from five days to five weeks. Many include handsome stipends to cover travel and fund future projects with the knowledge gained.

For experiences like Discovery that are free but attendees have to pay for travel or Rock Star that costs around $250 and requires travel, help can be found now at The site has teamed up with the Gates Foundation and together are running a pilot to help teachers fund their own professional development. Grant applications can be developed through their helpful guide.

So stop pouting about your sad lot in life. There are plenty of adventures to be had and now a new vehicle for getting those adventures funded. To be honest, adventures like these are what keep me amped up about education. Not only is the travel exciting but the biggest benefit comes from meeting incredible educators from around the globe. Get going!