Category Archives: K-12

Paper Circuit Valentines

This is a bonus post for those of you who keep track of my daily posts!  Our Maker Club made some paper circuit Valentines, and here are some of the results.  For instructions on making paper circuit greeting cards, you can check out this post.  If you are interested in more Valentine ideas, here are many that I have collected over the years.

The orange
The orange flower lights up.  I think the words say, “Disguised licorice penguin,” and “Squawk!”

Photo Feb 08, 3 54 31 PM

Sorry - this photo came out a bit blurry!
Sorry – this photo came out a bit blurry!
Can you figure out where the light is? (If you can't, that's because of my terrible photography skills!)
Can you figure out where the light is? (If you can’t, that’s because of my terrible photography skills!)

School-Wide Genius Hour

My days spent at #TCEA16 last week were motivating and extremely inspiring.  This week, I would like to select a few highlights to share with you.  First up, School-Wide Genius Hour.

Several members of the staff of Cottonwood Creek Elementary in Coppell ISD woke me up on Thursday morning with their incredible presentation about student-led EdCamps and Genius Hours at their school.  Not only did the teachers and administrators impress me, but some of the students also participated through Skype and videos, completely winning me over with their heartfelt comments about their school.

One significant “take-away” that I got from this presentation was that Cottonwood Creek offers a school-wide Genius Hour every Friday.  Regular readers of this blog know that I’m a big proponent of Genius Hour, and I even offer a page of resources here.  However, we do Genius Hour within my GT classes – meaning that a very small percentage of our school gets the opportunity to participate.  Cottonwood Creek sets aside an hour every Friday for Kinder through fifth to participate in Genius Hour, with students traveling all over the school to work with others of similar interests.

Some of the Genius Hour projects underway include a Culture Corner, gardening, basketball, broadcasting, and more.  The keys to making this successful seem to be a combination of several things: a great emphasis on students as leaders in the school, parental involvement, requiring students to declare a purpose for their Genius Hour time, and reflections after each Genius Hour.

You can access Cottonwood Creek’s presentation here.  The slides include a list of the amazing educators who presented at TCEA and some pictures and video that will convince you that this idea is good for kids!

image from
image from

I <3 My Readers!

Looking for ways to build on the anticipation and excitement your students have for Valentine’s Day?  Here are some of the activities I’ve recommended in past years.

I’m always looking for new ideas, though.  I ran across a couple from fellow bloggers that were posted last year around this time.

Christy at Creative Classroom Tools has these great forced association activities called, “A Very Venn Valentine’s.”  I’m totally using these (free download on TPT!) this year!

Minds in Bloom offers some fun “Would You Rather” questions of the non-mathematical variety.

Valentine’s Day Sudoku – I have some other links to online and printable sudoku puzzles here, but these free printables are particularly well-suited for Kinder and 1st graders.

Hopscotch Hearts – I thought it would be fun for my students to use Hopscotch (the iPad coding app) to make something Valentine-y, and they have been working on their own ideas on and off for a couple of weeks.  (You can see what a few of my 2nd graders have done so far here – most of them haven’t finished, yet.)  Then I saw a tweet from Hopscotch about a new tutorial they just posted to make a “Pixel Art Heart.”  My 3rd graders tried it out yesterday and really liked it.  A few of them finished the code and then started modifying it to make the heart bigger or smaller as well as different colors.  A couple of other students messed up on the code and I loved watching their peers working with them to try to figure out where they went wrong. (Because I had absolutely no idea!)

And finally, how about geeking up your day?  Check out these awesome paper circuit cards made by 7th graders! (You can find Chibitronics LED circuit stickers online, or you can use surface-mount LED’s.  Copper tape and coin cell batteries will help you make the circuits.)  For instructions on making greeting cards, visit this post. (UPDATE 2/8/16: Here is a link to the Valentine Cards our Maker Club made this year.)

Screen Shot from Hopscotch Pixel Art tutorial
Screen Shot from Hopscotch Pixel Art tutorial


Thanks to my unquenchable Kickstarter addiction, we have a new addition to our classroom called, “Bloxels.”  Bloxels will look familiar to those of you who have used the free Pixel Press “Floors” app on your iPads.  For that app, you can design video games using paper and the library of symbols provided, scan your design, and play it on the iPad.  The Bloxels kit (made by the same company who brought us Floors) makes this physical modeling even easier by providing a tray and colored cubes to insert to design your games.  With the free Bloxels app, you can take a picture of your finished product and play your game.

Two second grade girls who come to our Makerspace each Friday got to be the first to try out my Bloxels kit.  They absolutely loved dropping the colored blocks in and spent all of their time making their design, so they didn’t have time to actually play their game! The following Friday, they got to test out their masterpiece, and realized very quickly that they had made the game far too difficult to play.    They turned to the included booklet of suggested designs, and picked the first one.  That one, though, was way too easy, according to them.  So they “remixed” it to their complete satisfaction.  As the bell rang for school to start, they both cried out in disappointment, and informed me that they couldn’t wait to make new designs.

To get some more information for this post, I went to the Bloxels website, and was completely surprised to find a lot of support for using Bloxels in schools.  They’ve already created some curriculum integration ideas, and it seems promising that there will be more to come as the site has a link for potential contributors.  There are lesson plans based on the Design Thinking process, as well as recommended activities and a downloadable guide book.  I also love the 13-Bit Builders section that features a diverse group of young game designers.

What I love about this kit is the potential it has for students in any grade level and with a variety of interests to immediately engage. Although my upper grade levels enjoy the “Floors” game, some of them got frustrated when their drawings weren’t recognized by the app because of imprecision, but that doesn’t seem to happen with Bloxels.

The Bloxels app is free, and available on most mobile devices.  You can actually design your games in the app (without the kit), but I think the kit really enhances the experience.  One set is about $50, and there are classroom packs available as well.  Purchase orders are accepted, and you can find more information here.

image from Bloxels home page


OK. Seriously. How DO You Get to Sesame Street?

Today’s Phun Phriday post is a series of adorable videos in which Jimmy Fallon collaborated with the Sesame Street characters.  In this one, Jimmy and the Roots get together with the gang to sing the theme song for the show.  There’s a cool rap added in the middle to make it a bit more 21st century :)

screen shot from Sesame Street Hashtags
screen shot from Sesame Street Hashtags

Maybe, when you were a kid, you got very frustrated by that unanswered question, “Can you tell me how to get to Sesame Street?”  If so, you’re apparently in good company.  You can see the Sesame Street characters read a tweet about this and some other #WhenIwasaKid tweets on this next video. (By the way, #WhenIwasaKid, I totally believed that people lived inside my television set just so they could perform for me. I couldn’t understand how they all fit.)

Tonight Show Celebrity Photobomb with Sesame Street Characters is my favorite video of the 3.  Jimmy and several other puppets deliberately photobomb some photos of extremely cute youngsters. The photobombs are hilarious, but the reactions of the kids once they find out are particularly priceless.

Have a great Friday!

Reverse Brainstorming

I feel like teaching children to brainstorm has become more and more difficult as my teaching career progresses.  Even my younger students who, in theory, should be less inhibited, barely manage “brain drizzles” until they’ve had lots of practice.  It is very hard to encourage them to understand that quantity can be better than quality when that is the opposite of what they are told most of the time.  (See this article that cites an example of the importance of quantity in an interesting study.)

I recently ran across the technique of “reverse brainstorming” in this article from Edudemic.  Mind Tools also has an article about using reverse brainstorming here.  I have never tried this with my students before, but it looks like a lot of fun.  I decided to try it myself first.

Problem:  How can I get students to increase the quantity of ideas when they brainstorm?

Reverse Problem: How can I get students to generate the least number of ideas when they brainstorm?

  • tell them their ideas have to be perfect or they can’t come to class anymore
  • refuse to give them a writing utensil
  • tell them that no silly ideas are allowed
  • take away 5 minutes of recess for every idea they write
  • don’t let them talk to anyone
  • count down the time out loud while they are brainstorming
  • distract them with a snake or candy (both are equally distracting)
  • emphasize handwriting and spelling
  • make them sing their ideas to the rest of the class

So now that I have a list of what not to do, how can that help me think of something I can do?

Well, reverse brainstorming was fun, so I’m going to definitely have the students give that a try.  Also, looking at the list I notice that a few of my ideas have to do with writing. Students are allowed to draw but that seems to hamper them more. One thing my students seem to have no trouble with is talking – so maybe I could put them in small groups and let them record their idea.

Do you have any creative ideas for brainstorming?  Feel free to add them in the comments below!


Makerspace Essentials – Design Thinking

I’ve been talking about using 3d printers this week – how to choose one, how to integrate them into the curriculum, and a website that offers project ideas with tutorials.

I didn’t put any of those posts into my Makerspace Essentials list. The reason for this is simple; I don’t think 3d printers are essential for a successful makerspace – yet.  They can be nice to have, but still need to come down in price and up in user-friendliness before I would say every makerspace needs to include one in its inventory.

What is essential, though, is helping the students to learn the steps in the Design Thinking Process.  This life skill is not generally fostered by the traditional school curriculums where there is only one right answer and there is no time for repeated iterations and revisions.  But it is my opinion that every student needs to learn about it.  A makerspace is the perfect place for that to happen.

Design Thinking may look a bit different according to the model you choose, but all of them have commonalities.  Brainstorming (often called ideation) is always included.  Prototyping and testing also appear in all of the models, though those particular words aren’t always used.  Iteration (repeated efforts to fine-tune a project) and revision are also vital.

My colleague and I use the City X curriculum with groups we meet with each day.  Provided by IDEACo, it includes a Design Thinking model that the students learn to identify as they participate in each stage.  With our Maker Club, we use the basic TMI (Think, Make, Improve) model that was recommended in the book, Invent to Learn.  You can find other resources at Design Thinking for Educators.

If your makerspace does not have formal lessons (hopefully you are able to offer pure exploration times), you can still guide students in the use of Design Thinking. Use posters on the wall to point out the steps in the process.  Encourage them to learn from mistakes and to make changes and adjustments.  Show them what brainstorming looks like, and allow for a lot of collaboration.

Being able to create is a skill that was becoming far too rare.  I feel that I am witnessing a revival of it.  However we may have to undo some of the damage already done by our consumption-focused world.  So, don’t forget to give your students one of the biggest “real-world” skills that will impact their lives in a positive way – Design Thinking.

image from Wikimedia Commons
image from Wikimedia Commons
image from: Dean Myers,