What Can You Do With a Squiggle?

More than you think! I drew a squiggle in the Book Creator app, added an “About the Illustrator” page and airdropped the book template to each student iPad. When finished with their creations, the children airdropped their books back to me so that I could combine them into class books.

The directions were simple:  Look at your squiggle. What could it become? You can rotate it and copy it if you want. Make something recognizable from your squiggle.

The students provided so many interesting and creative interpretations of their squiggle! I love this one from Jack, a 4th grader, who used what he had learned in art to create an illustration based on an artist named Mary Casssett from the 1800s who painted mothers and children. (To hear his narration, listen to Mrs. Wright’s class book.)

Click on the links to view the class books.







  • For the 4th graders, I told them they could resize and rotate their squiggle. A few children made the squiggle so tiny that it is barely recognizable! I made the mistake of not telling students to make sure the original squiggle could be seen. In several of the 4th grade illustrations, it’s very hard to tell what and/or where the squiggle was.
  • As a result, I changed the directions for the 3rd graders. They could rotate the design but they couldn’t resize. I also told students to make sure the squiggle could be identified.
  • Some of the designs were created from making copies of the squiggle. Those turned out really well!
  • I asked that the squiggle be seen in the picture. Some did that but others covered it up with another color.
  • It’s helpful to lock the squiggle once it’s decided where it will be on the page.

I used to do this all the time when I was little (on paper, of course!). It’s fun to watch the students create digitally!

Genius Hour Continues!

My previous post was about the start of Genius Hour.  The students are now beginning to complete their first projects so I’d like to share a bit about what they’ve been doing. From coding to collecting recipes to cooking to various kinds of slime to lava lamps, and much more, the fourth graders have been researching a wide variety of topics!

Our fourth graders are in a Music/Art/Technology rotations. Each class comes to me every third week for the entire week. My original thought had been to have Genius Hour just a couple of days a week. After we started, I quickly realized that was not enough time. Judging from the excitement, my initial thought was, “Why didn’t I do this sooner?” Below are a few anecdotes from the three classes:

  • One of the boys was walking out of the room with his paper on which he’d narrowed down his topic. I mentioned that he could leave the paper with me. His response, “I just might want to do some work at home!” This from a boy who has trouble staying focused!
  • A kindergarten assistant came to the room to bring some supplies while the 4th graders were there. I heard a “Oooh” and glanced up to see her do a little leap. She started laughing and  exclaimed, “Two little ball things just rolled out the door!” A few of the students were busy programming the Sphero SPRK+ robots. The door opened and out they went!
  • One girl started her research on guinea pigs three weeks ago. She took some things home to work on. The next time her class came for the rotation, she brought in her finished poster containing facts on guinea pigs; all done at home!
  • And, then there were the two boys who rushed in one morning with ingredients to make some type of candy. Apparently one had raided his pantry and collected items (I got the impression that his mom had no clue that items were going missing from her kitchen) although he didn’t bother to check the quantity needed for the recipe. That afternoon they appeared with a hot plate and very large beaker. My room is really not set up for cooking! Keeping a close eye on them and hoping nothing would spill or burn, I walked over as they were trying to figure out how to take the beaker off the hot plate (no pot holders). Fortunately, they had a towel so, to avoid spills, I took care of that. They kept looking at their mixture, saying, “Hmmm. It’s supposed to be thicker.” Well, turns out they hadn’t quite followed the recipe! Not enough sugar, cornstarch! They’re eager and don’t give up easily so I know they’ll try again.
  • From the mouths of babes . . . Two students were interested in Starbucks so they gathered some facts, made a sign, and fixed frappaccinos for the class. As they were sharing facts about Starbucks, the said that the company planned to hire several thousand “veterinarians” over the next few years. Well, veterans – veterinarians; the words are kind of close!

Then, I received this sweet note from a parent:

Hi Karen,

Olivia was inspired to make a movie related to her genius project. This is the trailer she made tonight. So impressed with how she jumps right into technology. No fear! Thank you for inspiring her! 

Her first trailer included her last name so I asked her to redo it so that I could post on this blog. Within minutes, her mom had emailed the new video.

I just love the following project about tying flies. Tappan is an avid fisherman and watching him tie the flies was amazing. Even more incredible, though, is how he overcame a problem with his presentation. He used the time-lapse feature in the iPad’s camera app then pulled the videos into Book Creator. More content was added, the project was saved as a video, and uploaded to Seesaw. That’s when he noticed a major problem – the time-lapse videos didn’t play properly, they were running just out of view of the main frame in Seesaw. I couldn’t figure out why this was happening and suggested transferring everything to iMovie. Here’s his finished project:

And, here is his reflection that he wrote in Seesaw.

He came to me to ask how to spell my name. “I don’t want to get it wrong,” he said. Needless to say, it’s little things like this that make a teacher’s day!

Genius Hour Begins!

A few years ago, after reading a bit about genius hour, I decided to give it a try. Well, it didn’t go as expected – it was noisy and chaotic and I really struggled with, “Are the students really learning anything??” What that taught me was I needed to make sure expectations were clear to the students while still allowing freedom of choice.

Fast forward a few years . . . last July I attended Alan November’s Building Learning Communities conference and was able to take a workshop presented by Joy Kirr, the guru with Genius Hour. Joy has collected a vast number of resources over the years (visit her Genius Hour Livebinder). Between this fantastic information and her encouragement, I began to believe that Genius Hour was something that I needed to try again. Am I glad I did!

What is Genius Hour? We started with this excellent video by John Spencer. 

Genius Hour is a time where students are allowed to learn about something in which they are passionately interested.

The students were amazed that they were being given time to learn something of their choice! But, trying to zero in on a topic proved to be a bit more difficult than expected. Some had so many choices that they weren’t sure what to choose, while others couldn’t seem to think of anything.

First, I had the children define genius.

Next, we brainstormed things we wonder about. These thoughts were written on post-it notes and added to a chart.

The hardest step was to narrow down exactly what their interests were. Students were asked to jot down three topics that they were most interested in researching. To the best of their knowledge, they had to let me know about materials and costs. We had a serious talk about NOT going home and telling parents that they needed all kinds of supplies!

The guidelines were simple:

  • You must research something.
  • You must create something.
  • You must present something.
  • You must reflect on your learning.

Oh, my! I have NEVER seen so much excitement! In several cases, students stopped by in the mornings, arms filled with supplies as they chattered away describing their plans.

One afternoon, I glanced across the room to see a boy who usually had a difficult time staying on task, sewing away. He’d found the plastic needles and yarn and was stitching a word into a scrap of acoustic foam! I’d never considered that to be a tool for sewing and I certainly was proud of his ingenuity!

The joy experienced when what you’re working on actually does what you want it to do!

Student Reflections:

I’m having a difficult time getting the reflection time in because the students only have 40 minutes with me. Add in short group meetings and clean-up time, we’re lucky to get 30 minutes of work time. My plan of reflecting every day has had to be adjusted. I’m thinking a quick blog reflection at the beginning of the week and then another at the end of the week might be better. It’s a critical part of the process, though, so it’s very important to include this step!

Here’s one post that I absolutely LOVE! This girl had an idea in her mind but when she attempted to build it, nothing went right. She realized that failure was absolutely OK!

Here’s another post about building a gumball machine. She’s not sure if it will work but she’s eager to try out her ideas.

So far, not many students have reached the presentation stage. Most are still hard at work. Does everything always run smoothly? No! Are there students who are often off-task? Are there students and/or topics that need a lot of guidance and direction? Yes! But, that’s okay – we are ALL learning!

What are they learning? It’s not necessarily the content or even the topic. Instead, it’s the research skills, the ability to compile information and find the best way to present, the figuring out what to do if something doesn’t work the way you expect, the confidence that comes from speaking with assurance in front of others or on camera – these are what will help students succeed in life!

Resources to Help Implement Genius Hour:

Incorporating Coding Language with Book Creator

Last month, in preparing for Hour of Code 2017, I came across a post by Beth Holland titled, Teach Coding with Book Creator. Two things drew me to the article.

  1. I met Beth a few years ago while attending an EdTechTeacher conference and she is one of the most creative and knowledgeable persons I know. I ALWAYS learn so much in her sessions! Her focus is on pedagogy first; using technology ONLY if it is the correct tool to help meet the objective. So, I knew whatever she had to say would be well-worth reading!
  2. Since Book Creator is my go-to app and coding is an area I feel is important for all ages, the title certainly caught my eye!

As it turned out, I focused on a variety of coding activities using Ozobots (to the delight of all the students) and ran out of time for other options. This month, I revisited Beth’s post and incorporated it into the fourth grade lessons.

Take a look at Beth’s video, Teach Coding as a Language with Book Creator.

Following Beth’s ideas, I started with these instructions, telling students I could only speak in concise sentences:

  • Add > Shape > Rectangle
  • “i” > Color > Red
  • “i” > Border On > Color > Black
  • Add > Shape > Circle
  • “i” > Color > Purple
  • Move Circle > x=238; y=338
  • “i” > Move to Back

The next step was to ask the students to pair up and set up their iPads so that they couldn’t see the partner’s drawings. They were to alternate directions, giving one line only for each turn. They could create whatever they wanted.

Oh, my goodness! I honestly don’t think I’ve ever had EVERY SINGLE student on task for the entire class period! Talk about fully engaged!! The only complaining heard was when the bell went off for the end of class – no one wanted to stop!

Here are photos of the partners with their drawings. They did a pretty good job giving and following instructions!

Of course, the “coding” we do in the lower grades is not the same as what programmers do for a living. However, it is an excellent way to teach problem solving, perseverance, computational thinking, communication skills, and so much more.

Beth Holland says this quite well in the second paragraph of her post, “However, after speaking with computer science educator, Douglas Kiang, I learned that the real power lies in teaching computational thinking and creative problem solving – not any specific type of code.”

I was amazed at how well this activity went and how quickly the students picked up the concise “coding” language as they directed their partner what to draw.

Thank you, Beth, for sharing this valuable idea!

I Wonder??

Recently, I purchased Design Dots from Ellen Deutscher. These are Design Thinking activities for grades K – 12.

For this activity, I chose “I Never Noticed That!”

I adapted this to include technology by having students search for 6 to 8 items that they had not noticed before OR that they might have seen but had questions about. They were to photograph these, make a video that included their questions or “I wonder” statements, and post to their Seesaw (digital portfolio) journal.

Telling the students this was an individual search for the unusual, we headed outside. With about 10 minutes to take 6 to 8 photos, they wandered around, searching for just the right object. 

Once they completed the search, they were to start cropping their images. Many discovered the new feature in iOS 11 that allows the user to draw on photos.

I’d thought we could complete taking the photos, cropping, and uploading to Shadow PuppetEDU in one 40 minute session. It turned out that the group had such a good time exploring things they’d never seen before, that we were lucky to finish just the photography and the cropping! But, the activity was designed to focus on observation skills so that was fine.

The following day, I introduced the free Shadow PuppetEDU app; a video-creation app in which narration, text, and music can be added. (*Be sure to get the EDU version of Shadow Puppet which is licensed for educational use.) This app works seamlessly with the Seesaw app which we are now using in the Lower School, so I had students sign in to that before we started working with Puppet EDU.

We then worked together to add photos. I demonstrated how to record, save, tap the Seesaw icon, and automatically upload to their Seesaw journal. Before dismissing the students, I shared expectations:  They were to ask thoughtful questions about the objects they found OR create “I Wonder” statements.

Below are some sample recordings.

To wrap up, students shared with their table groups what they’d discovered. The area we explored isn’t that large so there were many who had similar or the same photos. It was fun listening to the children as they participated in their own brainstorming session, trying to determine the purpose of some of their findings!

Perhaps this appears to be a “simple” activity for 4th graders. Before heading outside, some of the students stated, “I’ve been out there a lot and already know exactly what is there. I won’t find anything new.” Guess what? They did! That is, once they decided to really search! Were all of the videos what I’d hoped to get? No, some were silly but, some of the students did ask great questions!

Learning to observe is an important skill that we sometimes assume students have no trouble doing. After all, little ones are very observant. Think about the never-ending questions from toddlers and pre-schoolers. However, it seems that the older we get, the less we question. This activity was a fun way to get children to go back to their observing and questioning days that they first thought they were too “old” to do! We’ll definitely do an adaptation of this again.

Book Talks!

Today we did Book Talks with one of the 4th grade classes using Flipgrid. I asked the children to choose a picture book, read it, then post a 30 second review on Flipgrid. We’ll share these with our younger children to help them discover new books to read.

Here are some samples:

I LOVE flipgrid! What a quick way for students to share content, books, what they’ve learned, and so much more with others. I purchased the paid version so that I could have different grids. If you discover that you’ll be using this often, that is the way to go!

Table Blogging

What is more fun than writing on a table? You sure can’t do that at home – at least it probably shouldn’t be done!. This year, new round tables with a whiteboard surface were purchased for the Digital Learning Lab and the students could not wait to start writing!

To take advantage of the desire to write on the tables, we chose table blogging as a way to prepare for our online blogs.

First, we brainstormed traits that make a post one that people will want to read. 

The topic, because everyone enjoys food, was:  Favorite Food. Students were to consider these questions as they wrote:

  • Why do you like this food?
  • Where is the best place to get it? or “Who makes it”

The students set to work, making everyone hungry in the process!

When all were finished, we moved on to comments. Several years ago, I heard someone talk about penny vs dollar comments. Just as a penny doesn’t buy anything, a penny comment is basically worthless. It may be only one or two words. It doesn’t provide any feedback for the author. What we want to do as a commenter is to continue the conversation. A dollar (and up!) comment provides helpful feedback (I always have to say that does not mean you correct spelling!), asks questions, makes connections. It’s more than just a sentence!

To comment, we play a quick version of musical chairs. The students walk around then sit as soon as I have them stop. They are told to read the post as well as any comments that have already been written before writing anything. We do this about three times. Finally, they return to their seat to read their comments. I ask them to reply to at least one of their comments.

To wrap up everything, we discuss the types of comments received (without naming names). I want the students to determine the “value” of the comment mentioned and, if worth a penny, how it could be improved to become worth a dollar.

We hope this exercise will transfer to online blogs!

Here’s a sample of 4th graders working on their blogs and comments. 

More Table Blogging Videos: 

We Love Dot Day!

What a whirlwind week we had as we celebrated International Dot Day 2017! As students are beginning the school year, it’s such a fun way for them to remember that we ALL are creative in our own way and we can also “make our mark” in so many ways.

I’ve compiled quite a few Lower School activities in Thinglink, TVS Celebrates Dot Day 2017. Below, I’ll provide more detail than you’ll find in the above link.

Design Thinking and Dot Day in Grades 2 – 4:Like last year, I used The Launch Cycle, as a framework for a Dot Day Design Thinking project. Students were given a blank circle on a paper and partnered with a classmate. They were to interview each other and then design a dot for their partner that described that person. My goal in doing this was to get students to look outside of themselves. Sure, it’s easy to create something for yourself. It requires good listening skills to create for another person! (Click here to get a much more detailed explanation of the process.)

To be honest, I was a bit concerned that the children would complain that they did this last year and wouldn’t want to do it again. Over and over, though, I discovered that not only were they excited about repeating the activity, they remembered exactly WHO their partner was last year. AND, they could describe precisely WHAT their partner designed for them! I was amazed!!

One pair had worked together last year and somehow managed to end up as partners again. When I discovered that, my response was, “Oh dear! I’m so sorry that I didn’t catch that!” In a very matter-of-fact voice, one of the two replied, “That’s okay. We’ve changed in the past year so we’ll have different answers!” WOW!!

Another class came in rather loudly and I was having a some trouble getting their attention. I told them that we didn’t have to do the Dot Day activity. From the back of the room came a small voice, “Noooo! We have to do this!” I was amazed that one activity from a year ago made such an impression! 

Making Dots Come Alive with the Quiver App:

Our first graders used the Quiver app for their Dot Day activity. Because it’s difficult to color the dot and use the app in just 40 minutes, the children did their coloring before coming to class. When they arrived, we talked about how to use the app and I demonstrated with a dot I’d drawn. As the quiver app brought my picture to life, there were lots of oohs and aahs and they couldn’t wait to get started! I asked the children to do two things:

  1. Take a photo of the dot.
  2. Video the dot moving around.

Both are really easy to do within the app. Later, we uploaded the videos to their Seesaw portfolio to share with parents.


A latecomer to Flipgrid, I’d just started exploring it when International Dot Day rolled around so I really didn’t get to do as much with it as I’d hoped.

A few of our fourth graders added a video telling what they liked about Dot Day.

“Hi, my name is Julian and I loved the dot day project because you get to meet new friends and learn more things about them.” ~ comment from a 4th grader on our Flipgrid Dot Day grid.

Día Internacional de Puntos:

Once again our Spanish teachers incorporated Dot Day in their lessons. Sra. Ross worked with first graders creating Maya Spirit Animal Shields.

Using an idea from the Painted Paper in the Art Room blog, Costa Rican Oxcarts, Sra. Nedrelow guided her fourth graders to design oxcart wheels. Third graders designed beautiful flores!

Kandinsky Dots in Art:

Mrs. St. John, our art teacher, even had students create dots based on the work of Wassily Kandinsky. Her bulletin board displays were gorgeous!

There are SO many more activities that were done by our teachers! Be sure to view the Thinglink, TVS Celebrates Dot Day 2017, to see videos and more!

We LOVE celebrating International Dot Day!

4th Grade Fun with Ozobots and Dr. Seuss!

I’m not sure why but I hadn’t pulled out the Ozobots for the fourth graders this year so when they arrived at the lab and discovered Ozobots set out, they could hardly sit still to get instructions!

Needless to say, I presented the instructions in record time! Their job – add color codes and paths to the outline of the Cat in the Hat’s hat. iPads were set out so students could video their Ozobots. A few did that and then air dropped video to me so that I could add to what I took. Here’s a glimpse at what happened.

4th, Seuss & Ozobots from Trinity Valley School on Vimeo.

I would hear groans from students who couldn’t get their Ozobot to follow the code they thought they’d drawn. Then, I’d hear from someone else who announced that their code worked and they were more than happy to share tips on how to better draw effective codes.

Lesson learned for me – I need to do MUCH more of the exploration time for the students. Yes, there are times when I need to do direct instruction but watching the fourth graders interact reminded me how important it is to allow time for uninterrupted learning to occur.


Blogging with a Twist

img_6687Although our students have been blogging since first grade, I always like to have the fourth graders start off with a paper blogging activity. After working with this age over a number of years, I’ve discovered that many become lax in their posts and comments; submitting writing that isn’t their best!

The paper blogging idea is not my own but comes from a post entitled, Workshop Activity: Paper Blogs, by Leonard Low. He used it with teachers to show that blogging is a “powerful strategy for empowering and engaging learners.”

Usually, the paper blogging takes two 40-minute sessions but I only had the students for one 30 minute class so it was a challenge to fit everything in, but we did it! We began with a quick review of what is okay to share and what should be kept private.

From the time we began blogging in first grade, I’ve discussed penny vs dollar comments/posts so the children can quickly tell me that just as a penny is worth hardly anything, penny writing is just as worthless. A penny comment might be only one word. Or it could be something like “great” or “wow” – words that don’t really tell anything to the writer. Penny posts lack detail or don’t make sense. Dollar posts paint a picture for the reader; adding details that help the reader make connections. Dollar comments ask questions, make specific compliments, keep the conversation going.

Using the food idea from Mr. Low’s post, I asked the students to think about their favorite food. What was it? Where was the best place to get it (home, restaurant)? What made it so special? I gave them 10 minutes to write and most were able to finish.


We then discussed tags. Everyone could tag this as “food” and then they could add additional tags.

The next step was commenting. Each student had 3 sticky notes. They were to move around the room till I told them to stop. Once at that spot, they were to read the post then write a comment on the sticky note.


Normally, we’d have time for 4 or 5 comments but with our shortened class period, two was the limit. The third sticky note was for each student to return to their post to respond to one of their comments.


An important part of the lesson is to discuss the quality of comments. I asked for volunteers to share what they considered to be “dollar” comments. And, there were many! We then moved on to “penny” comments with the rule that no names should be shared. As this was discussed, we also brainstormed how to transform a penny comment to a dollar one.


I’m eager to see if the quality seen in the paper blogging transfers to our online blogs next week!