Learning Programming with the Headmaster

Last May, I met with our headmaster, Gary Krahn, about establishing a more formal coding program for our fourth graders. The exciting news from the meeting was that Dr. Krahn wanted to teach our fourth graders on a regular basis. We discussed some possibilities – whether to use Scratch or go with JavaScript. Dr. Krahn wanted to play with both before deciding what to do. A few weeks later, we met again. The decision was to teach JavaScript using Processing 2. Dr. Krahn would teach twice a week for the entire year!

Well, not all plans work perfectly – for whatever reason, our tech department couldn’t get Processing 2 to download correctly. With one day left before Dr. Krahn was to teach, there was a frantic search for some other application to use. Khan Academy was the choice. The students were quickly set up, we added a link on my web page,  and Dr. Krahn was ready to begin.

Dr. Krahn with the 4th graders

Dr. Krahn with the 4th graders

As Dr. Krahn introduced the lesson, the students listened intently (except for the tired boy in the corner!) and asked lots of questions. Dr. Krahn started with some basics:

  • Background color – Example:  background(181, 85, 85);
  • How to place objects on the screen (x,y axis)

And then the students explored. The first session of 40 minutes went by very quickly, much to the chagrin of the students!



In the next class, fill, strokeweight, and rectangle were introduced. Using an idea from Dr. Ginger Alford, our Director of Computer Science, Dr. Krahn discussed Mondrian paintings and how to create one using coding. This time, we had high school students come in so there were plenty of helpers to go around!

The students are extremely excited about learning coding AND having Dr. Krahn as their instructor. Many have continued working at home – anytime a child is inspired to learn on their own time is thrilling! I can’t wait to see how far they go this year!

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Lessons From an Incredibly Difficult Summer

After a long hiatus from blogging, I’m finally back! This was a summer I’d just as soon forget.



It started with a vacation to Virginia which was supposed to be a relaxing time before returning for back surgery. Unfortunately, we received a phone call from my in-laws on the second day of the trip. Our 13 year old dog was struggling to breathe. The diagnosis was congestive heart failure. He’s had a heart murmur for years so we knew this day was coming but to have it happen while we were so far away was horrible.

Our vet wanted to try a couple of treatments but warned us that if there was no improvement soon, we would need to “discuss some things.” After four agonizing days, much to the surprise of everyone, Nugget began to get better! By the time we returned home, Nugget was weak but very happy to see us.

As you can see from the picture, he’s looking good! He takes more medicine than most people (and he actually takes people heart meds!). We don’t know how much longer Nugget’s heart will last but we are thankful we get to enjoy his unique and loving personality for awhile longer.

Lesson 1: We know Nugget is special but others thought so too. Our vet and staff were unbelievable! They could hear in our voices how hard it was to be far away when our pet was so sick. They loved on him, called us a couple times a day, spoon-fed Nugget, and so much more. We found out later that Stephanie, one of the technicians who has always said Nugget was special to her, lined up 5 different types of food in front of him, trying to get him to eat. She would spend time holding him, petting him – often while sitting on the floor in uncomfortable positions. When a noisy cat in a cage above Nugget seemed to disturb him, she moved the cat! It helped us tremendously to know that he was well-taken care of.

A week after returning from our vacation, I had back surgery – not the minimally invasive surgery that is advertised on T.V. No, unfortunately mine was major – five hours long and four nights in the hospital (and it didn’t go as smoothly as the surgeon had hoped). I had been warned of the pain involved and the lengthy recovery but I still wasn’t prepared for the excruciating pain that accompanied the surgery. I also didn’t have a clue how dependent I would become on others. There was not much I could do on my own for several weeks. Fortunately, I have a fantastic caregiver – my husband, Joe. I was sent home for the hospital with the BLT instructions – no bending, lifting, or turning. (I’ll never be able to eat another BLT sandwich without thinking of those directions!) I’m doing much, much better now and have gradually been building up to returning to work full-time. I still have some pain but that’s common since it takes a few months for the fusion to completely fuse.

Lesson 2: Pets know when you don’t feel well and do their best to provide comfort. Thank goodness Nugget was still with us. When I walked around the house as I was told to do to help alleviate pain, Nugget followed behind. He isn’t normally allowed on the bed but he’d always jump up and rest with me; slinking down when he’d see my husband coming.

Lesson 3: Friends and family are wonderful! I had frozen a few meals before having surgery but many, many friends and family members graciously provided us with food and gift cards. We were set for several weeks which was a HUGE help as I am just now getting to the point where I can prepare meals. And it wasn’t just the food – cards, visits, phone calls, Facebook messages, and prayers from friends and people I didn’t even know all helped with the recovery.

Lesson 4: Asking others for help is hard. I am the type of person who is used to doing things for myself. Asking for help is not easy for me. One reason is that I just don’t like to bother others. It’s been a humbling experience to know that there are some things I just cannot do right now. Simple things – like getting down to plug in a flash drive.

Lesson 5: Blue Bell ice cream makes a wonderful comfort food (particularly Peaches and Homemade Vanilla). Unfortunately, it isn’t a diet food! Many people lose weight after surgery; not me! Apparently, I asked for lots of ice cream. Joe says I ate it in the middle of the night and for breakfast. I hate to admit it, but I just don’t remember much from the first couple of weeks.

Lesson 6: There are all kinds of unique ways to accomplish tasks without bending! For example, a toe or the tip of a shoe is perfect for turning on a computer that sits on the floor. Those reacher grabber tools are handy and can really do a lot.

Lesson 7: Patience is NOT my virtue. My family knows I’m not a patient person but it was embarrassing when the surgeon’s nurse remarked, “No, you haven’t been very patient. Back surgery has a long recovery.”

Lesson 8: Don’t sweat the small stuff. People that know me know that I am a worrier. And, yes, I was extremely worried about this surgery. After going through the surgery and getting through the worst of the recovery period, I am learning that the little things in life just aren’t worth working myself into a frenzy!

Despite the fact that this was a summer I hope to never repeat, I am blessed to have a loving family and caring friends. They are the ones that pulled me through painful and challenging times and I am incredibly thankful for them!

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Examining Pourquoi Tales

What is a pourquoi story? Ask Mrs. Garcia’s second graders and they’ll be able to tell you that it is a type of story that tells why something is the way it is. In fact, pourquoi means why in French. Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories is a classic work of this genre. One well-know tale is How the Camel Got His Hump. Many cultures have pourquoi tales that have been passed down through the ages.

In a collaborative effort with technology and art, Mrs. Garcia’s students explored some of these stories using the “making smaller circles” principle (zooming in on details).

Josh Waitzkin, an eight-time National Chess Champion in his youth, attributes his success to learning techniques he developed to bring his mind and body to peak performance. In The Art of Learning, Waitzkin reveals his self-study to define techniques to maximize student achievement. One of those techniques he calls “making smaller circles.”

photo(2)Mrs. Garcia introduced her students to the pourquoi genre by discussing the elements found in this type of tale. She shared the camel story from Rudyard Kipling, complete with a camel stuffed animal. As she talked, Mrs. Garcia asked the children to pretend they had a magnifying glass to use to zoom in on just the camel’s hump.

zooming in

Zooming in!

The students also played the “I Spy” game which is a fantastic reinforcement to understanding how to zoom in on details. In addition, the students wrote clues about an object to allow their classmates to guess. Each additional clue provided more details.


What is my object? Guess my clues.

After looking at a variety of books, the students then decided on a pourquoi tale. They examined main characters, problems, outcomes, etc and wrote their rough draft.

block change paper

Determining Problem, Block/Change, and Outcome

At this point, the students were ready to begin their illustrations. Mrs. Black, our art teacher, worked with the children on how to look at the “big picture” then zoom in on the smaller details. Each child had a picture of their object and a black “window” that was used to helped focus in on a specific part. Oil pastels were used to create the colorful illustrations.

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Focusing on the armadillo’s head


How the chipmunk got its stripes

For the technology part of the project, I used the Book Creator app (available from the App Store and Google Play) to create an ePub book to share with parents. I love this app because it is extremely easy to use and it has a wealth of features!

Normally, I would have each student create a page in the app then email it to me where I would combine all into one class book. However, because we wanted the formatting to be the same throughout the book, I typed the students’ work and then we recorded each child.



After photographing the completed drawings and adding them to the corresponding page, I previewed the project with the students. I wanted to make sure each picture went with the correct story and that the drawings were inserted in the direction the child wanted. (We had to change a few!)

Checking for proper orientation of illustrations

Checking for proper orientation of illustrations

Below is the link to the finished book. While on an iOS device, click on the link to download then choose to open in iBooks. To read the book using the Google Chrome browser, click here for instructions. The file is large so it may take a few minutes to complete the download.

Pourquoi Stories: Making Smaller Circles by Mrs. Garcia’s Second Graders (ePub book)

New! The Book Creator app now allows the book to be exported as a video file. Here is a link to the book in the video version.

Video overview of the process

Extension ideas from Mrs. Garcia:

After the children completed the examination of their pourquoi stories, Mrs. Garcia asked them to create their own tales. They also worked as a class to write poetry.

Pourquoi tales from students

Pourquoi tales from students






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A Tech Genius Hour

In between having to work very quietly while our Upper School students took AP Exams, Mr. d’Auteuil’s class was able to fit in one more genius hour in the technology lab before the end of school.

Due to a lack of time, I established some parameters. The students could work in small groups and could choose from:

  1. Khan Academy (programming)
  2. Scratch programming
  3. Any of the coding apps on the iPads (Hopscotch, Kodable Pro, Lightbot)
  4. Stop Motion Studio
  5. Makey Makey kits (linked to their instruction page from my website)
  6. iMovie

This was basically the same list as used for Mrs. Malone’s class but no one chose #1, 3, or 4 from this group! Interesting how preferences vary!

Here is a brief video of the day’s activities:

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Alliterations in Book Form

book creator newMy favorite app happens to be Book Creator – I absolutely love how easy it is for students of all ages to use! And, I am a HUGE believer in having kids write in all types of genres. Students are thrilled when their book is “published” for all to see.

Recently I worked with the 4th graders to create an Alphabet Alliteration video using the Drawing Box and ChatterPix Kids apps (see Alphabet Alliterations post for more details).

The videos are great but I thought that our younger children would love to read an interactive alphabet book at their own pace! So I pulled the ChatterPix videos into the Book Creator app. What a fun way this will be for the 4th graders to share their alliterations with the younger grades!

Click here (or on the picture) to download the book to your iOS device. Then choose to open in iBooks.


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Wow! Young Artists at Work!

Every year I start the year off with the 2nd – 4th grade students making self-portraits using Microsoft Paint so that we can use them for avatars on our blogs. I like to wait till later in the year to do this with the first graders so that we have time to do a variety of drawing activities to get used to illustrating on a computer.

Drawing self-portraits is one of the few times I truly focus on direct instruction. During the first session we draw the head, neck, shoulders, and an eye. The children are always thrilled to see the copy feature – SO much easier than drawing a second eye (which never quite looks like the first!). The second session is when the students really create! All I do is show ways to add hair and then remind them to add all their features (nose, eyebrows, etc). Mirrors are provided. It’s really cute to watch them look at a mirror then examine all the colors to get that perfect match!

I am always floored at what these 6 and 7 year old students produce! Their drawings are incredible and what’s always fascinating to me is how closely their self-portraits resemble each child.

When the students have completed their work, I use PhotoScape (free) to make a class collage. These are printed and given to the children as a keepsake.

Here are the self-portraits of the class of 2025:


Kee 1

Orehek 2

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1st Graders Demonstrate Different Ways to Show Numbers

After discovering a tweet from a student in Kristen Wideen’s class telling how the children were representing 2-digit numbers, I shared the idea with the 1st grade team. They were excited to have another way for the children to practice number sense.

After brainstorming with the teachers, we decided to use a combination of manipulatives and apps to represent numbers. The children use concrete manipulatives throughout the year so they had lot of experience working with money and base ten blocks before moving to apps.

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Individual White Boards
- to draw tally marks of their number.



photo 3Dice – We first started out with 2 regular dice (1-6). Those students who had chosen a number with digits greater than 6 quickly discovered regular dice didn’t work! This turned into a perfect problem-solving activity. Should we change the number? What else could we do to show our number?

photo 2Hundreds Chart - We chose the free, easy-to-use SchoolKit Math app. The hundreds chart is one of 10 activities within this app.



photo 1Base Ten Blocks - We used the Number Pieces app. (Thanks to Mrs. Wideen’s class for recommending the free app!) We asked to draw a T-chart and label it with tens and ones.




photo 5Money – One of the choices of the SchoolKit Math app is money so this is what we used. The students were asked to represent their numeral using a couple of different money combinations.




Before starting, we reviewed how to use the camera and tips on taking a clear picture. Then we practiced taking a screen shot. We also talked about cropping images and I was amazed at how quickly the children picked that up!

Next, we went through each method and “built” our numbers.

pic collage appFinally, we were ready to pull everything together in Pic Collage. The students LOVED building their collage and trying out the wide variety of backgrounds!

Because we ran out of time during our first session, we met later to have the children post their collage to their blog.

The children loved the activity (as did the teachers). Plus, it was a great way to check to see how students were doing with their number sense using 2-digit numbers.

The students at work:

Hutchinson collage









Kee collage









orehek collage

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Another Amazing Alphabet Alliteration!

Mrs. Malone’s fourth graders came to the lab for their music/art/computer rotation last week and they went all out on the alphabet alliteration creation! (see previous post describing the activity)

Here is their alliteration video created with the Drawing Box and ChatterPix Kids apps:

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