Thursday, September 7, 2017

Classroom Tour 2017-18! Flexible Learning Space Design


Don't you just love peeking into other teacher's classrooms to get ideas for how to design your space and set up your room? I know it's not just me. For the third year now, I've made a classroom tour video for my YouTube channel. 

Wanna take a tour? Check it out below!


I'm pretty proud of how I've been able to incorporate a whole variety of flexible seating options in the classroom: chairs, rocker stools, yoga balls, bean bags, sitting on the floor, or even standing! 

Some of these items were purchased via a grant, but others were total freebies or at little to no cost! 




I really love thinking about and designing learning spaces. I have a made up dream job in my head where school districts hire me to do just that. 

Have you done a classroom tour video? Please share!

- Mrs. L.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Google Classroom Tip I Didn't Know I Was Missing...


I love love love Google Classroom. I've been using it for the last three years (since I moved from art to computer literacy classes), and it is a game-changer in terms of going paperless and making classroom life in general so much easier!

There is a feature, however, in Classroom that I've never used... due dates on assignments. Maybe that sounds weird at first, so let me explain. The way that I grade, there's no such thing as "late" work. Therefore, I don't use due dates. I see kids for a 6-week term, and they either do the work, or they don't. I don't care when it gets turned in... as long as it gets turned in before the end of the term. My husband teaches art in another district, and he runs his classes the same way. We don't assign due dates, because there really aren't any. 


The first year I taught class, I tried assigning a due date based on when we would finish working on it in class, but it only confused students, and I had to keep telling them to ignore alerts from classroom that assignments were late or not done. It was annoying. 

So, for the next two years, I just kept creating assignments with no due date. The problem with this though, is that I never received alerts when students turned in work. Most importantly, if I graded an entire class and someone turned in their assignment AFTER I had graded the work, I never knew to go back and look unless a student took the time to personally email me. Seems like a simple step, but if you've ever taught (or parented) a middle-schooler, you know that every additional step is a huge deal that could possibly (and probably will) get missed. 

I struggled to keep track of work that was turned in after I had already graded the whole class. 

You might be reading this right now and thinking that you already know how to fix this. Well, try not to make me feel too stupid, ok? I'm really comfortable with Google Classroom, and I've even trained others on how to use it! So this was a real light bulb moment for me. 

I could still go in and create the initial assignment with no due date. Then, after I sat down and graded the class, I went back in and edited the assignment to give it a due date of whatever the day was that I graded the work. 


Because I made the date of grading my "due" date, I now receive email alerts after that any time a student turns in an assignment! Why hadn't I figured this out before? 

I was so mind blown by this discovery that I had to tell my husband all about it when I got home. It's a game-changer. So, I thought perhaps there are others out there that might find this helpful, too, and that I'd share. 

Are you familiar with Google Classroom? If not, I have a whole beginner's overview/professional development presentation all about Google Classroom! Check it out here: 


For those of you familiar with using Classroom, what's your favorite Google Classroom trick?

- Mrs. L.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Organizing Student Inboxes with Gmail Filters


One of the best things about being a computer teacher is that I get to teach students super practical skills that are often immediately relevant to a student's needs. This is one of those skills!

Now that most of the teachers in my building are utilizing Google Classroom (yay!), student email inboxes are being bombarded with automatic alerts from the service. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, because most of the information is good to be aware of, but it fills up fast!

I like to teach students how to create filters to automatically label those Google Classroom emails, which then allows students to quickly sort them out and archive or delete them.

Once students learn the technique, it's easy to apply filters to other emails, too: library notices, extra-curriculars, or sorting emails by subject areas - whatever method of organization a student prefers.

I searched on YouTube to find a tutorial, but I always end of creating my own because I'm so darn particular. If you're not like that, feel free to use mine in class:


Do you use Gmail filters with students? What methods work for you? 

P.S. Find my other Gmail tutorial about creating custom student email signatures here

- Mrs. L.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

DIY Techie Craft Ideas for Back-To-School


It's that time of year! I'm back after taking some summer time off to recharge, be a mom, and do some home improvement projects over the summer. It's been great, but it's time to start thinking about school again. My five-year-old starts kindergarten this fall, and he loves looking at school supplies. Hmm... I think he gets that from me?

So we were watching some YouTube videos about DIY school supplies and came across some super fun tech-related projects that Iggy and I had to make, and that I just had to share here.  Check it out!

Cord taco vs cord donut. Who will win?

Earbud cords are forever getting tangled, or lost/broken in your backpack or pencil case, amirite? We've got two new different solutions that you can try out this school year! The past couple of years, I was totally pushing the "mint-container-as-earbuds-holder" craft idea, but I've got a couple of new ones that I think are equally as functional and fun.

The first one is a "cord taco" made from craft foam and velcro dots. My son decided to try his hand at the "cord pizza," and loved it so much that he made one for his dad, too. Here he is, hard at work:


He's not exactly coordinated enough for painting (or patient enough!) just yet, so Iggy opted to decorate his foam cord keepers using colorful permanent markers. I used acrylic paint though for mine.

The second item was a "cord donut" made from Perler beads. This is actually where our crafts all started. My son is hooked on these tiny plastic beads that you place onto a pegboard, and then melt to fuse together using an iron. He started out making flat images of Ghostbusters and monsters and such, but has started to graduate to 3-D creations. I was researching the best glue to use when I came across the DIY for a cord donut. How could I NOT try it out? It's a donut!


And once you go down the YouTube rabbit hole of ideas, it tends to snowball. I became obsessed with the idea of a lipstick USB drive, and had to try to make one for myself:


The trick here is finding a USB drive that's small enough to fit into your empty lipstick tube! I got mine on Amazon, but still had to do a little tweaking via a sanding block to get mine to fit just right... but it's super cute, don't you think? 

Here's my complete playlist with the DIY directions on how to make these (and other) fun tech and school supplies!



BONUS CRAFT: 
If you follow me on Instagram, you probably saw how I made myself the ultimate finger pointer stick for my whiteboard this school year, inspired by one of my all-time favorite movies, School of Rock:

Heavy metal rock hand for the win!

Hope your school year gets off to an awesome start!

- Mrs L.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Slider Images, and How to Use Them in Class


I recently discovered a really fun new (to me) tech tool, and typically when such a discovery happens, I like to brainstorm on HOW I can use this tool in the classroom. Well, this one is no different. I first saw slider images in action on Tony Vincent's blog when he talked about how he uses Adobe Illustrator to create his own clip art.  The original photo and his graphic version were layered on top of each other, and there was a vertical "slider" bar that could be dragged right or left to reveal either of the two images. It's a really good way to show a comparison between two images

Well, I do a very similar graphics project in my 8th grade classes, only using Google Draw (see here). I was showing these "slider" images to my husband (you all know he's a teacher too, right?) and he decided to investigate and figure out how to make them for ourselves! He came across the website Juxtapose, which allows you to create these image overlay "sliders," which I think are extra fun:


Left photo via / Right photo created via Google Draw

Having recently seen Guardians of the Galaxy 2, I had to make myself a little Baby Groot illustration using Google Draw. But besides the photo-vs-drawing comparison, what else could I do using this slider concept? And I started brainstorming:

 Left photo video still / Right background photo by Arno Smit

In Computer Literacy class, I could demonstrate how green screen technology works during our WeVideo project unit by overlaying an original video still over the same still with color keying added to it, in order to create a fun reveal.

But that benefits myself and my own class. I starting thinking about how OTHER classes and subject areas could also incorporate this into their lessons:

  • You could use this technology in a Visual Arts class to reveal basic shapes in a still life, or reveal the path of movement that a viewer's eye travels within an artwork. You could overlay two color wheels: one "blank" version, and one labeled, for students to quiz themselves on color theory.
  • You could use this technology in a Social Studies class to look at maps: either a blank vs labeled map for locations of geographic features, or two maps of the same area to show changes over time in borders and countries. You could also do a comparison of Presidential portraits showing the contrast between the beginning and ending of a term. Pretty interesting!
  • In ELA classes, you can use sliders to show grammatical corrections of a sentence by using screen grabs or even just photos taken of a white board before vs after corrections. For early readers, you could use sliders as flash cards: a picture of an object could slide over to reveal the word name. 
  • A flash card concept using sliders would also be fun for World Languages. Use the same technique as the early reader concept, only utilize basic vocabulary terms for students to learn!
  • Science classes can use this concept for all kinds of curricular concepts, like cause/effect, before and after, inside/outside, and "virtually" peel away the outer layer of pretty much any object! Think about how fun this could be for biology and anatomy, or earth science!

The Juxtapose site is pretty easy to use:


You copy and paste the URLs of the images you want to use for your slider, adjust any settings as desired, and click "publish!" I like using Google Photos for making slider images, as I can right-click on an image, select "copy image address," and then paste into the URL field in Juxtapose. You can even instantly preview your slider before you click "Publish!"

Once you publish your post, you can either share the link to your slider image, which shows it in a really nice full-screen mode (like this), or you can use the provided embed codes to put it on your webpage.

You can see some examples of slider images embedded into a web page in a Chicago Tribune article here.

What other fun classroom ideas can you think of where teachers could utilize slider images?

- Mrs L. 

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Green Screen Tricks w/WeVideo


My 8th graders are currently working on their major video unit (I've talked about it before here and here), and we spend several class periods just shooting and editing... which gets me thinking about fun new things to do with WeVideo, and ideas that I haven't seen students try out yet. 

I started messing around with green areas in videos and still photos (like putting green paper over my computer screen, inserting a green panel into a picture frame, or even just holding green construction paper in my hands) and layering and re-combining them in different ways. 

We always think of green screen as removing the background and putting yourself into a different environment... but have you thought of green screen patches as "portals" into another video or object? Or using green objects to reveal what lies underneath? Or stacking green screen upon green screen, allowing you to have an entire conversation with yourself?

...and those are just the first things that came to mind. Check out my sample video here:


I used WeVideo to make this movie - the green screen feature (aka color keying) is probably my most favorite feature of the whole service! Not sure how it's done? It's so easy - I demonstrate the entire process here in under three minutes.

I'd love to hear some of your ideas for using green screen in new ways! Please share below!

-Mrs L.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

My Top 5 Classroom Hacks!


I love finding fun, easy, and inexpensive ways to transform a classroom or organize supplies. You can find a bunch of ideas on Pinterest (see my board here), but I'm going to tell you about a few of my very most favorite classroom hacks that I've actually used in my own classroom!

Go figure - these tables already had the ability to be raised to countertop height!

1. STANDING DESK
I'm all about flexible seating arrangements and letting students choose and customize their learning environment to maximize comfort, motivation, and overall learning. You can read more about my tips for flexible seating here.

I wanted to get a standing desk for my classroom, but dollars for purchasing new furniture aren't exactly flying through the door. So I thought about it, and envisioned a possible solution for raising my existing tables, like this, using those bed risers commonly found in college dorms. But then... I looked closer at my tables, and it seemed like I may have already had the solution right in front of me. The existing tables could be adjusted and raised to a standing height without any modification at all! So before you go spending money (even a small amount, like those bed risers) on equipment or furniture, be sure that you've already ruled out the possibilities of your existing items!


2. DIY WIPE OFF TABLES
One of my most popular blog posts is this DIY on how I painted my own wipe-off tabletops. I love them so much! We use them for group work, brainstorming, and even filming title/caption sequences using WeVideo for our video projects!

I am happy to report that these tables have really held up over time! Sure, there are a very few tiny nicks here and there, but nothing that one quick refresher coat couldn't fix for next year. And even if I didn't feel like fixing them, they're still good enough to use as-is!


3. MOUSE AND MIC STORAGE
I'm kind of obsessed with efficient storage and having a place for everything. Tangled cords drive me crazy. Therefore, these wall-hanging shoe pouches are PERFECT for USB mice, microphones, and digital cameras. And because they're clear, I can quickly and easily see that everything is accounted for. For more on my organizational/storage tips, check out this blog post here.


4. CONTACT PAPER "CURTAINS"
So... this hack really doesn't do a whole lot except make your room look pretty, but I believe that a nice-looking classroom is more inviting and comfortable for students, therefore improving the work ethic and motivation of the class overall. Schools often don't allow fabric curtains because of fire codes, or maybe you don't want that hassle of them getting all dusty and gross, or (in the case of my classroom door) getting caught in your doorway.

I bought some fun contact paper via Amazon that had a horizontal zig-zag print, and cut it to look like a valance. Then all I had to do was peel and stick to the windows! It looks great on my classroom door as well as my "fishbowl" window along the wall that looks out into the hallway.


5. EASY DIY WHITEBOARD PANELS
A super easy way to create large whiteboard panels in your classroom is to laminate sheets of posterboard! You can mount them to your wall, or use them like giant placemats on desks or tables. In the picture above, I've laminated a posterboard sheet and drawn an X- and Y-axis (using permanent marker, so it won't erase) for the purpose of illustrating location coordinates for sprites in Scratch. The scratch cat cutout is stuck to the poster with sticky tack so that I can move him around as needed, but I can also draw and take notes on the posterboard that can be wiped off later!

These posterboard panels are also fun to use for group projects, in place of those disposable giant sticky note sheets, where a group can write on it on a tabletop to work, but then hang on the wall for display and sharing out their work later on.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Those are my top 5 current fave classroom hacks... But wait, I've got one more BONUS hack!


BONUS! 
6. WIPE-OFF WINDOWS
Have you considered using your whiteboard markers on your windows? I used to work with a 6th grade math teacher who let students work out their equations on the windows using wipe-off markers. It was cute because his room faced the front of the building, and I'd pull into the parking lot and see the work done by students in class on the previous day. This extremely low-tech "hack" is smart purely because it's likely going to be something NEW to the students, the same way that my tabletops are exciting to them because they "get to write on the furniture." They're still learning the same content, the same standards... but because they're using an exciting new method, they will be motivated and more likely to remember the whole experience!

Have you tried any of these classroom hacks in your own classroom? Do you have any other favorite classroom hacks to share?

- Mrs L.
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