Friday, March 27, 2020

The John Hughes #Sweet16Candles Movie Tournament

No sports, huh? Well, it doesn't mean we still can't stir up a little March Madness in celebration of one of the greatest film directors of all-time.

Here are 16 John Hughes gems, who fought it out over two weekends of quarantine in March of 2020. Congratulations to Ferris Bueller's Day Off for capturing its "one shining moment" and defeating The Breakfast Club by a score of 2111 to 1866. Check out the tournament round-by-round results below.

Sweet 16: Friday and Saturday, March 20 and March 21- FINAL SCORES

  • All of the number 1 seeds cruised into the Elite 8. 2 seeds Home Alone and Pretty in Pink also had a pretty easy time of it in their matchups. Although they received significant support, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles and The Great Outdoors just didn't have enough juice to move on, falling to 2 seed Vacation and 3 seed Uncle Buck.

Elite 8: Sunday, March 22 - FINAL SCORES

  • Home Alone may have been John Hughes' highest-grossing film but it was no match for another holiday classic, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. The Griswold Family picked up almost 62% of the vote in what was expected to be a closer contest. Ferris Bueller's Day Off proved worthy of its number 1 seeding as the "Sausage King of Chicago" rolled past Pretty in Pink. The Breakfast Club and 16 Candles completed the sweep by #1 seeds and enter next weekend's Final Four.

Final 4: Saturday, March 28 - Final Scores

  • After two rounds, the four top seeds have all advanced to the semi-finals. Teenage classics Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Sixteen Candles, and The Breakfast Club are joined by holiday favorite Christmas Vacation. While some in the Twitterverse are already waging finals bets, each film will need significant support to advance to tomorrow's championship.

    Ferris Bueller's Day Off 134
    Sixteen Candles 56

    The Breakfast Club 126
    Christmas Vacation 118
Championship: Sunday, March 29 Final Score
  • Ferris Bueller has blown away the competition all tournament long, having just dumped Sixteen Candles. The Breakfast Club narrowly squeaked out a Final Four win by just 8 votes. One contest remains. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Check Out These "Riveting" Free Leveled Readers from Google's Area 120

Rivet is a new product in experimentation-phase from Google and its Area 120. It comes in app form or it can be utilized just through a web browser.

Mind you, while the whole site is being built on the fly by engineers at Google, the web-cased interface is in beta, so it might have even more glitches. Oh well, the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks as this is a great tool for putting just the right reading level material into kids' hands when they could be doing far worse with devices.

Personally, I like that there are no log-ins needed and that on any type of device there is instant access. There also seems to be a wide range of interesting subject matter, both fiction and non-fiction.

The interface seems pretty easy to navigate and I like also how the presentation of text changes at different levels.

Thanks to Jen Giffen for sharing this cool new resource.
Each level's bookshelf offers a wide variety of choices.

Sample page from Level 7

Sample page from Level 3

Thursday, March 19, 2020

More Fun with Tour Builder - Sir Mix A Lot - Posse on Broadway

Google Tour Builder is great for creating geographical references of history like my grandfather's journey through World War II or literary settings. It is also tremendous for mapping out hip hop classics like Sir Mix A Lot's Posse on Broadway.

Check it out.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Watch the 3Dux STEM Show Video Series

From our good friends at
Watch Episode #1, Leaping Lizards and Lots of Levers. Then build your own machines!
The STEM Show Video Series offers parents a variety fun and educational activities you can do at home with your young engineers. Teachers can share this video as a part of a remote learning plan. Use craft and up-cycled materials you already have in your home or grab your 3Dux Kit and follow our kid-friendly tutorials.

Watch the video
Create your own
Share your project
Showcase your project and your story 
to win prizes and see what other kids are making
The STEM Show inspires kids' creativity as children use the design process and learn to innovate solutions using materials at hand. Sharing projects and stories with the global 3Dux community gives children a voice and an audience of peers eager to listen and learn.  A great way to feel connected. 
Sign up for the next live 
Friday March 20th at 12pm EST. 
Watch the video and join a discussion with Pediatrician Marci Klein and 3DuxDesign Creator Ayana Klein on how we can support our children academically and emotionally during challenging times.

Van Andel Education Institute Works to Keep the Curiosity Alive

Here is a growing list for families and teachers that is full of great resources and activities from the folks at Van Andel Education Institute. There are experiments and engineering challenges as well as science and math lessons. The VAEI team has even included ways that popular entertainment options like Disney+ can be used educationally and to keep the learning...and especially the curiosity going.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Take the #ZipLineChallenge

It's everybody's favorite activity in STEM. Now, you get to show off your zip line skills from home. Rig up a zip line and use the engineering process and design thinking to send a passenger on a wild ride. If you are a student of mine, send me an email with pics or videos. Otherwise, post it to social media with #ZipLineChallenge. It doesn't have to be too fancy, just inventive and fun.

Learn to Draw Every Day with Mo Willems

Mo Willems might not want you to let the pigeon drive the bus, but he wants you to learn how to draw and is offering free lessons every day at lunch.

As the Kennedy Center's Artist in Residence, the author of Knufflebunny, the Pigeon series, and the Elephant and Piggy books is hosting daily doodling lessons via YouTube.

Here is another great example of someone using their gifts and talents to help keep the learning going and putting smiles on young faces.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

A family survival guide to keeping the learning going at home

Normally most of my blog posts are directed at fellow educators with the big exception being my parent-focused annual holiday list of great toys that promote learning. This one is kind of a combination of both.

Over the next several weeks, the role of parents as educators is going to be amplified immensely. As different school organizations close due to the Coronavirus, each has a different set of expectations for teachers and students. Some will try to proceed virtually as if nothing happened while other schools will treat this as a break with minimal amounts of materials being sent home to families. Some families might have multiple kids in multiple versions of these situations. Regardless, the kids and the parents at some point are going to start driving each other nuts.

Start with empathy and then trick them into learning. Understand that the uncertainty of this whole mess is what actually is causing us the vast majority of our stress. Patience at some point might seem as scarce as toilet paper but acknowledge with your kids that the anxiety is real and that it is going to play a big role in how well they can focus on school work. The real trick here, and the biggest one in my bag I have assembled over 26 years of teaching, is to engage them in activities that teach as well as relieve stress.

Fat Brain Toys Timber Planks
Building and creating are therapeutic. I had heard of timber planks and I have been a huge proponent of how impactful building with blocks can be in early-childhood learning but until I started to watch my elementary students build with them I really saw the benefits from 1 by 5 inch little slabs of wood. There is the obvious learning about physics and geometry but building with them is actually therapeutic. In fact, psychologists have begun to even use them with adults recovering from trauma. Therapists and patients will build structures together, and as they do so, stress levels lower and lines of communication open up. The same thing can happen for you and your kids if you build together. Even if all this does for our kids is create a fun distraction, then that is good for them.

Load up on art supplies. Just as building with timber planks is therapeutic, so is just doing some free art. While kids are cutting or coloring, they are also working on small motor skills. So, get the kids some new crayons or markers as a special treat. "Finish the Picture" is an all-time favorite STEM class activity. Simply use a pen to draw some random lines on a paper for your kids and then have them use those lines as part of a picture. Join the fun and have your child draw some lines for you to "finish the picture".

Engineer and design. One of the ways in the classroom that I remove some of the inherent school stress is to ask kids to think of themselves as engineers or designers when we are building or making things. "For the next hour," I will tell them, "Don't act as this is just a normal class, act like you are 30 and you work at Apple or Google or maybe Nike." After they get a kick out of what being 30 might be like, they truly do change their mindsets. The other half to the engineer/designer equation is kids following design thinking in their approach to building and making. These are the steps we follow.

  • Ask. What am I trying to make? What need am I trying to fill?
  • Imagine. Dream up all of the possibilities, even some unreasonable ones. Those might actually help you develop reasonable versions of possibilities.
  • Plan. Understand your limits and constraints and then figure out what materials you will need. Draw diagrams and even build a smaller model if need be. 
  • Create. In classroom projects, this is where kids want to always jump to as a starting point. It's also where I have to drop some Ben Franklin-sounding wisdom on them about how a little bit of planning would've saved them all of the time they just spent before having to start all over again. Obviously, this is the most fun part.
  • Test. Get some feedback or try it out. All feedback is good even when prototypes crash or people think what you made is kinda lame. It's amazing how when kids think like a designer they can handle things not going well so much better than when feedback comes in the form of a checkmark on a paper.
  • Fix it. This is where critical thinking happens and this is where I get the biggest joys as a teacher. This is real life. How are they going to fix things or issues in their lives as they continue to get older? After they've fixed something, they need to re-test it. The test/fix cycle continues until it is just right. 
  • Share it. We encourage our kids to share their designs or creations with others because it keeps the learning going. One kid's solution might give another struggling student the insight into what is missing on their design.
One of the simplest projects for budding "engineers" is to create a zipline. Just stretch some fishing line from two points of differentiating heights and have them build vehicles to travel the distances. In STEM we like to build freight carriers and see how big of loads we can send down in one piece. 

Become "citizen scientists". Scientific organizations all over the world rely heavily on observations and contributions from ordinary people and National Geographic has organized a great list of opportunities for families to become a part of them. There is everything from observing wildlife, recording light pollution to monitoring bird nests. These are great projects to get kids out of the house for a while and are exactly the kinds of activities I had planned for the coming weeks in my STEM classes. The coolest benefit for kids is that they are contributing to real-world research. Kids doing actual science is so much better for them than just learning about science. 

Learn to code. While keeping an eye on screentime through these times is important, some tremendously engaging and free computer science activities can grow all kinds of math and critical thinking skills over the next few weeks. has a whole series of courses for kids as young as kindergarten through high school. With a free account, the site will save progress as users make their ways through a series of puzzles and instructional videos. Here is another way you and your child can learn something cool together. I include coding in STEM class, not because I expect my students to become game designers or programmers, but because the exercise involves so much critical thinking, math, and problem-solving. 

Practice Typing. I struggle with whether or not to use the little time I have with kids in my STEM classes to practice typing skills. On the one hand, my time with the kids is so short. On the other hand, many learning activities involve the need to type. I am not a believer that elementary-aged kids are developmentally ready to tackle typing the way high school students are. Where I do see where younger students can improve is in key awareness. Becoming more familiar will improve efficiency if nothing else. Practice also improves stamina as well as hand-eye coordination. For K-2 students I like the Keyboard Climber series. Keyboard Climber is a good starter for locating keys while Keyboard Climber 2 works on lowercase letters, uppercase letters, and numbers. For older students, an all-time favorite is the racing game NitroType. "Racers" make cars go faster by typing a given selection faster It is a multiplayer game so kids compete against other real users as well as computer-driven cars. Winning races means winning virtual dollars. For users who create free accounts, those virtual dollars can be used to improve their cars or buy new ones. Moms and dads might just improve their typing as well if they challenge their kids on NitroType. 

Read. Duh! The "reading teacher police" will probably take great offense that I put this last. I will counter that by stating that many writing teachers told me to leave my readers with the most important point. So, find as many ways as you can to get your kids reading as many different kinds of sources as possible. Fiction, non-fiction, recipes, food labels, magazines, instructions, travel reviews of dream places you'd love to take them, whatever you can expose them to will make them better readers. 

Great stuff. Finally, let me wrap up with some great products for keeping the learning going. Many have been already mentioned and others are off of my Christmas lists over the years. 

Best of luck to everyone as we all face uncertain times. We will get through this and take advantage of the time you have as a family. Further questions can be sent to Andy Losik, STEM teacher at via email. 

Friday, March 13, 2020

Covid 19: When Virtual School Is Your Only Option

When Shanghai, China educators Dennis Grice and Daniel Mendes suddenly found themselves stranded amidst the Covid 19 outbreak and far far from the Concordia International School they faced the duel fears of an unknown virus and how they would continue the education of their students.

Millions of teachers across the globe are in their shoes right now. Luckily for most of us, we are at least at home with access to our school-issued technology. Dennis was on a beach in the Philipines with not much more than a gym bag of shorts and t-shirts and an iPad. We all still face the unknown.

Thankfully, these two gentlemen were recently in Grand Rapids, Michigan at the MACUL Conference to share their journey and provide the rest of us with tremendous insight for moving forward with virtual learning. They were also joined virtually by a true sage in the educational community, Rushton Hurley. Rushton has been working with schools in Asia to help their teachers make the same adjustments.

Honestly, this was one of the best conference sessions I have ever attended and the trio was gracious enough to record their session for all of us. I cannot recommend its viewing enough. First, it lays out a set of realistic expectations and secondly it is reassuring that we will are all capable of figuring out how to do something nobody learned in some undergrad methods class.

Check out as well their very helpful file of resources. 

We can do this everybody. We just need to be huge for our kids and incredibly empathetic. Thanks again Dennis, Daniel, and Rushton.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

MACUL 2020: 25 Insanely Great Ways to Use Keynote

Watch this session virtually via Zoom. 

Whether on a Mac or on an iOS device, no app is more versatile than Keynote. This fast-paced session will detail 25 innovative ways Keynote can impact learning, ramp up student engagement, and add production value to anything you or your kids create. Whether it's creating professional-looking images, creating animated GIFs, high-end videos and a bunch of cool other stuff you'll never see Keynote as just Apple's version of PowerPoint ever again.

MACUL Conference session: Thursday, March 12, 2020, 1:00 PM - Vandenberg B
Follow-up time in up Amway lobby immediately following the session. 

Saturday, March 7, 2020

If you like then you're going to love

When hopped on the scene, arduous hours in Photoshop to remove backgrounds from photos disappeared in an upload and a quick. Now, the same folks are back with, a tool to instantly remove backgrounds from video clips and then easily layer in a new background. Final products download as .Gif files.

Simply upload a clip and then pick either a stock background or upload your own. Here the site is preparing a clip of me irresponsibly lighting 30-year-old Mexican firecrackers I had bought in junior high from a lady who sold these homemade dandies on the beach in Puerto PeƱasco. They were in a bunch of junk my mom had recently cleaned out of my old bedroom...but I digress.

After the upload was complete, I picked one of the stock backgrounds to gauge how the clip looked.

I could have stopped right there as the project was pretty cool, but I thought, "Why not make this video doubly ridiculous?". For my background, I upload a dumb clip of me dunking a basketball on an eight-foot and somewhat leaning basketball hoop. I think it turned out pretty cool.

Now I am thinking, "How many other videos of me doing silly things could I layer into this?". There have to be five or six floating around my Google Photos.

I am sure there are a ton of curricular applications for Unscreen, but I always have the most fun learning a new tool by creating something of absolute little use to the educational advancement of this.

Thanks, as always, to the incredible Brian Briggs who shared Unscreen with me this week by mashing up other videos that were "of absolute little use to the educational advancement of anyone."

Friday, March 6, 2020

Check Out What's New in macOS Catalina

For whatever reason, it never seems like I utilize Apple's free online help enough. After updating to macOS Catalina on my Air, I took a few minutes to swipe through the tour of updates and changes to Cupertino's latest operating system.

Apple's quick tour is just a click away. 

macOS Catalina Delivers Convenient Editing of Screenshots

One of the things I like about iOS devices is that when you take a screenshot, a thumbnail hovers for a few seconds, allowing you to crop and annotate it. That convenient feature is now available on Macs as part of the macOS Catalina update. 

I discovered it quite by accident while taking a screenshot this morning in preparation for a different post. 

When clicked upon, the same annotation and editing tools previously found in Preview appear. What is different though about iOS and Catalina is that on the mobile platform, screenshots are saved to the Photos app. On Macs, the screenshots automatically save to the desktop just as they have in the past. 

Annotation and editing tools now are easier to access while working with screenshots on a Mac. 

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Engage Learners with Ryan O'Donnell's Bevy of Templates

Whether it is a template to edit of a mock Time cover and article or it is a fake social media profile to doctor, the Templates section of Rocklin, California media-arts teacher Ryan O'Donnell's is sure to hold a number of engaging activities you will find your kids can't enough of editing.

As part of my upcoming "25 Insanely Great Ways to Use Keynote" presentation at next week's MACUL conference, I wanted to include the George Washington Time template Ryan generously shares on his site. He creates them in Google Slides, but they can be downloaded and then used with PowerPoint or Keynote.

The main instructional idea behind the templates is that any content can be used for students to show their knowledge in a way far more creative than the standard typed report. Besides this George Washington one, there are a number of other magazine templates as well as some very clever social media profiles and posts templates.

During the #CreateWtihChrome holiday advent calendar that Ryan, Brian Briggs, Jen Giffin, and I hosted, Ryan created a template challenge. I chose to do a Twitter profile for fictional baseball player Crash Davis, from the marvelous movie Bull Durham. 

It was a lot of fun to go through the exercise and really analyze four characters from what is often correctly heralded as the greatest baseball movie ever made. It made me think about the depth of knowledge this activity would elicit from high schoolers analyzing a novel like To Kill a Mockingbird.

Check out Ryan's templates and lots of other great offerings at his website

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Find Amazing Royalty-Free Video Clips at

If you are not listening to the Shukes and Giff Podcast, you are missing out on really corny jokes, witty banter, and incredible resources to use in the classroom immediately. In their most recent episode, Canadian educators Kim Pollishuke and Jen Giffen shared that a treasure trove of royalty-free stock video footage can be found at Both Unsplash and Pixabay are great for still stock photos, but this now adds a great repository of video for creative student projects.

All clips are completely free and all that is required to download one is a one-time email subscription to the site's updates. There's no verification required so enter your mother-in-law's Hotmail account. Seriously though, this is a great site providing great footage, so give them the courtesy of a follow.

One search for "Beach" turned up 127 videos. What a great way to assemble a relaxation video montage to chase away the winter blues.

When you download, you receive a .ZIP file that contains the clip in .MP4 format and a still .jpg. I ran my beach clip through Keynote and turned it into a "Spring Break is Coming" .gif. opens a world of possibilities when it comes to student video production. My mind immediately goes to digital story-telling, where students could use these video clips as the story's setting. Conversely, teachers can stimulate analog story-telling by using a clip as a writing prompt.