Category Archives: Critical Thinking


myRebus is a fun tool that teachers can use to create picture sentences for students to solve.  For example, I made the one below for the students who signed up for my summer Google Classroom.  Can you tell what it says?  The site allows you to type in any sentences and it will generate the rebus for you.  It does ask for you to input your e-mail to have the rebus sent to you, but I just take a screenshot.  This could be a fun alternative for spelling practice or even a strategy to get students to pay attention to directions on an assignment.  Another great use is for Breakout Edu clues! For students who want to create rebus puzzles, they can use this site, or you might want to take a look at this lesson plan I wrote for Canva.

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Not a “Math Person”? Wrong!

When it comes to math and mindset, there are two #eduheroes I refer to on a regular basis:  Dr. Jo Boaler, who is a professor at Stanford and the genius behind the YouCubed website, and Alice Keeler, who many know to be a Google wizard but also has a published book called, Teaching Math with Google Apps: 50 G Suite Activities.  You can imagine my excitement, then, when I learned that they would be presenting a session together at ISTE. (Dr. Boaler joined us through Google Hangouts).

Dr. Boaler wrote the book, Mathematical Mindsets.  Not surprisingly, it includes a foreword by Carol Dweck, the leading expert on growth and fixed mindsets.  Dr. Boaler’s main points are that we need to value the different ways that people see math and have more class discussions about math – rather than repetitive questions on worksheets. According to her research, people become proficient in mathematics when their brains have the opportunity to make connections between visual and numerical representations – not because they are born “math people.”  The least effective way to teach math is through lecture, while the most effective is with Project and Problem Based Learning.

Both Boaler and Keeler agree that we need to dispel the myth that those who can do math quickly are better thinkers than those who reason through problems.  In fact, Boaler says, “I’m unimpressed that you worked through it quickly because that tells me that you are not thinking deeply.”

Another controversial topic we all agree on – homework.  Recent studies have shown that assigning elementary students homework is ineffective.  Boaler and Keeler (and I agree) both believe that this is true for all ages, particularly when the homework is a worksheet of repetitive practice.  A better way to think about math is to do an activity like the one below, where students think about one problem in multiple ways.


When an audience member asked about the problem of spending time on conversing about math when there is a scope and sequence to follow, both Keeler and Boaler expressed the feeling that it is actually a waste of time to “plow through” topics despite lack of understanding.  In Boaler’s words, “Pacing guides are the worst evil in education.” Amen!

Keeler shared several “Googlized” adaptations of activities from Boaler’s Week of Inspirational Math, including a nice Slides template for the Four 4’s challenge which includes links to individual slides for students to explain their work.  You can find links to more of Keeler’s templates in her presentation here.

Overall, I was so energized by this session that I was tripping over my words when I debriefed with my colleagues that evening.  I had stayed later just to attend this session, and it was definitely worth my time.  Thank you, Alice Keeler and Jo Boaler!

I want to close this post by helping Alice Keeler to honor her book’s co-author, Diana Herrington, a passionate math teacher who recently passed.  You can read more about Diana and her influence on Alice Keeler here.   One of many great quotes from Diana Herrington on Twitter collected by Alice Keeler is, ““I teach students not math.”

Terry Stickels

Do you crave brainteasers?  Do your students delight in them?  (Many of my students do!) Terry Stickels is a world-renowned puzzlemaster who has published several diabolical books of challenges and authored weekly puzzle columns in many newspapers.  You can find out more about him here.  One type of “stickler” that has made him famous is called, “Frame Games,” which are like rebus puzzles, but placement and size of the text give clues as well.  For example, the picture below would translate as, “I understand.”

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On the Terry Stickels website you can find many free brainteasers, including a series of “Frame Games.”  There are coin puzzles, variations on sudoku, and several other types of challenges.  Some can be downloaded in tremendous zip files, and others are meant to played online.  Whenever you are looking for a way to pass the time, (such as during the summer break) and still exercise your brain, this is a resource you should definitely consider!


EV3 Vending Machine

I just had to share this Lego/EV3 vending machine created by one of my 5th grade students.  He is in my GT class as well as our campus Robotics Club.  He owns an EV3, and spent his spare time last week making this contraption to dispense Starburst candies every time you deposit a quarter.  There are other versions on the internet, where he got the idea, but he apparently created his machine using his own design.  Super cool!


I was reading @chucktaft’s recent blog post on Social Studies Out Loud about his recent Breakout Edu experience, and almost missed a list of new-to-me digital tools near the end of the article (click here to see my blog post explaining Breakout Edu).  Taft offers a few different ways to leave clues for fun Breakout Edu experiences that I hadn’t seen, and one of them is Snotes.*

Snotes allows you to make short hidden messages.  The only way to read them is to turn them certain ways – both horizontally and vertically – which can be done physically or digitally.  There is a Snotes app (for both iOS and Android), which allows you to digitally send Snotes secret messages, and there is a Snotes Quotes app, which is a trivia game.

After trying out Snotes, you can register for a free account, which will allow you to make more Snotes. Or, you can pay $1.99 for a bunch of extra features like an “expanded secret decoder.”  Not really sure what that means, but it might be worth two bucks to find out.

It’s quite possible that I typed “snots” instead of “Snotes” somewhere in this blog post, although SpellCheck seems to have found enough “Snotes” to make that unlikely.

There are some other great clue suggestions on Chuck Taft’s site that you might want to check out.  You could use them outside the classroom, too.  My daughter hasn’t had a Christmas or Easter, yet, when she hasn’t had to solve puzzles to find at least some of her treasure…   (She’ll probably get her revenge on me when I die by encoding an evil message on my tombstone.)

*Unfortunately, the website may be blocked in your district, but you can always create Snotes at home to use for school, or use the app.


Cultivating Communication in the Classroom

In this recent article from Huffington Post, the writer poses the following questions to students preparing for their future careers:

  • “Are you adaptable?
  • Can you quickly learn a new skill?
  • Can you draw on different, seemingly unrelated knowledge and then connect that knowledge in a meaningful, creative and effective way?
  • Can you throw yourself into a job or career and learn quickly without needing a supervisor to hold your hand?”

In essence, employers are rarely interested in how well potential employees can memorize or fill in the right bubbles on standardized tests, but in their abilities to be flexible problem solvers who are able to leverage available resources (or create new ones) to meet unprecedented challenges.

Lisa Johnson’s new book, Cultivating Communication in the Classroom, offers teachers tools they can use to prepare secondary students so that they will thrive in the “real” world that will envelop them after high school, and be able to answer the each of the above questions with a confident, “Yes!”

Lisa Johnson is well known in the ed-tech community as TechChef4U.  As an instructional technologist, writer, presenter, and even jewelry-maker, Lisa’s creativity and massive portfolio of shared resources have already made a huge impact on innovative educational practices.  She continues to add to her legacy with her new book, a practical but fun guide to infusing curriculum with important 21st century skills.

In each of the 7 chapters in Johnson’s book, you will find great visuals, industry insights on the value of each topic, and plenty of use-it-right-now resources.  One of the unique features is the inclusion of  “Communication Catchers,” which can be printed and folded just like those fortune tellers that seem to fall in and out of fashion as often as tides ebb and flow.  The Communication Catchers, designed for student use, are great tools for reflection and review of the key topics covered in the book.

Throughout chapters on topics such as e-mail etiquette and social media involvement, Johnson is careful to remind us that educators who ignore or ban technology in the classroom will not be doing their students any favors.  Instead, we should be teaching our students how they can benefit from responsible use of unlimited information and the ability to communicate in so many ways.

Although Johnson’s book is targeted for a secondary audience of teachers and students, much of it can easily be adapted to students in higher elementary as well.  To be honest, many adults, whether or not they are educators, could benefit quite a bit from its wisdom.  I would even recommend this book to parents so they can guide their children through the complexities of our digital age.

If you want to learn more about how to prepare your students for a world that requires critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and communication, then I highly recommend you purchase and read Cultivating Communication in the Classroom by Lisa Johnson.

Full Disclosure: I did receive a digital copy of this book to review.  However I received no compensation, and all opinions are my own.

Click here to purchase.

Make a Manifesto with Canva

As our school year begins to wind down, my 5th grade gifted students are attempting to synthesize all that they have learned by determining what they “know for sure.”  While browsing the examples on Laura Moore’s TCEA Hyperdoc website (click here for my original post about her Hyperdoc presentation), I found this “Manifesto Project.”  When I showed it to my students, they were excited about designing their own manifestos. We did a lot of brainstorming and discussion before the students started working on Canva.  The examples I am showing you are just rough drafts (including mine), but I think they are off to a great start!  Knowing the personalities of these students, I am very impressed by how the students were careful to choose words and designs that really reflect their values and beliefs.

I remarked that it might be fun to make each manifesto into a t-shirt, and the students got super excited about the idea.  So, if anyone has done something like that before, please give me suggestions in the comments below!

If you are interested in more ideas for using Canva in the classroom, here is a link to their lesson suggestions.