Category Archives: K-12

National Engineers Week

February 18-24th is National Engineers Week here in the States.  Since my 2nd graders have been studying bridges, we did an activity from the Building Big website, which is still one of my favorite resources when we talk basics about man-made structures.  Yesterday’s activity was one I had never tried with a class before, the Suspension Bridge activity.  Despite prepping everything ahead of time, I went through my normal roller coaster of emotions during the lesson.

Fortunately, all groups eventually got their bridges built, and they were fascinated with the weight the suspension bridges could carry compared to the beam bridges.  I would definitely do this activity again for the wow factor!

For more resources to teach your students about engineering, you can head on over to  I’ve also embedded an awesome video from the National Science Foundation called, “What is Engineering?”



Global “Heart” Warming

One of the presentations I gave at TCEA was called, “Global ‘Heart’ Warming,” – a title that one of my friends later told me should be changed because it didn’t really describe the presentation very well.  (I’ll take new name suggestions in the comments below.) However, I thought I would share the presentation here for those of you unable to attend.  There are tons of links (especially in the “Project-ing” section) to different ways that you can collaborate globally.

Global _Heart_warming quote
Aaron Sorkin

Of course, some slides would make more sense during an oral presentation.  If you are ever interested in having me present to your school or at an event, please contact me at  You can see other available presentations on the top right side-bar of this site.

More News from TCEA 2018

I don’t want to overwhelm you with all of my take-aways from TCEA 2018 so far, so I thought I would give you a few new tools I’ve learned about with brief summaries and links to the presentations.   I am really cherry-picking from the plethora of resources I took notes on, so definitely click on any of the presentation links if you want to learn more.

I have a few more things to share in the near future, but I don’t want to be a “dumper” as Jennifer Gonzalez would say.

If you are still at TCEA tomorrow (Friday), I would love for you to join me at my session at 9:15 am in Room 12B.  We will be talking about making global connections, and I could use a few extra audience members to drown out the heckling I will have to listen to from my colleague, Angelique Lackey.  Also, I will be using Pear Deck so you can see it in action!

TextingStory Chat Story Maker App


Pear Deck

Hello everyone – reporting to you from TCEA 2018 in Austin, Texas!  My partner in crime, Angelique Lackey, and I arrived yesterday just in time to attend a session on Pear Deck in the morning.  JP Hale was the presenter, and he did a great job showing us the multiple uses of this tool as well as how to get started with it.  After we saw his presentation, we decided that it would behoove us to try Pear Deck out on our own presentation – which were giving at 2 yesterday afternoon.

Well, I say “we” decided, but Angelique tweeted this:

The good news is that everything went smoothly and the only regret that I had afterward was that we hadn’t added even more interactive options to our presentation.

What is Pear Deck?  It’s a tool that you can use to invite audience participation as you present.  Anyone with a device and your join code can interact by drawing, adding text, moving icons, etc…  (Some of these options are only included in the Premium version.  Two download a trial copy of the Premium version that will last you the rest of this school year, go here.)  Pear Deck has template slides that you can use, but the great thing is that you don’t have to create your presentation on the Pear Deck platform.  You can import Powerpoint, Slides, and PDF’s into Pear Deck, or you can do what we did- use the Pear Deck Add-On in Slides.

If you have a Google Slides presentation all ready to go, you can just go to “Add-Ons” in the top menu and choose to Get Add-Ons.  This will take you to a site where you can search for and download the free Pear Deck Add-On.  Once it is installed, you can access it through the Add-Ons menu to open a side bar as you work on your presentation.  The side bar gives you buttons to quickly add interactivity anywhere you like in your slides.

As you can see in the image below, we added a Pear Deck feature to the slide that would allow participants to drag an icon to any part of the slide.  During our presentation, we could ask the audience what the hardest part of teaching Design Thinking might be, or what they thought the students would enjoy the most.  We could get instant feedback from over 60 people as each of their icons appeared on our slide. (This picture shows how things looked as we prepared the presentation, not as we gathered responses.)


Once you are ready to present, you can choose to “Present with Pear Deck.”  Pear Deck will take a moment to process everything, and then provide a slide that prompts the audience to go to and enter the special code to participate.

One thing that I should note is that any special animations or transitions that you may have added in Slides will not transfer when you Present with Pear Deck.  However, that was not a crucial issue for us.

The Pear Deck creator can choose to make the presentation student-paced, allowing everyone to move through slides on their own,  or only allow the audience to see on their devices what you have on the screen.  As you project, you can also decide if you want to show the responses on the screen in real-time by toggling an icon on the bottom right of your screen.  Responses are anonymous, but the teacher can access the names through a teacher dashboard.

We had great fun during a brainstorming activity in our presentation as we scrolled through drawings and text responses. Pear Deck was also an excellent way to give the audience a chance to ask specific questions anonymously at the end so we could respond immediately.

When you are finished presenting, Pear Deck gives you the option to send the entire presentation and responses as a Google Doc to all participants.  This is not only great in situations like ours, but could be wonderful for test reviews in the classroom.

If you want more specifics on Pear Deck, I highly recommend this article by Eric Curts of Control Alt Achieve.  You can learn more about the 21 Pear Deck templates included in the Google Slides Add–On in this post.

Thanks to JP Hale for introducing us to this great tool, and to our patient audience as we tested it out!



Disruptus is one of my new favorite games.  It’s great for Brain Breaks and to jump start brainstorming sessions.  I’ve used it with my younger and older students, and it has been a hit with all of them so far. Like Anaxi, which I reviewed here, it is produced by Funnybone Toys.  You can find it at specialty toy stores and periodically on Amazon.

The game consists of heavy-duty cards that each have a picture on them, a cube, and a timer.  You can read the instructions on the Funnybone website.  There are different versions of gameplay.  So far, my students have enjoyed just watching me roll the cube under the document camera and selecting random cards.  Then I set the timer (I think it’s about 2 minutes), and they scramble to draw or write ideas on scratch paper.  Then we share the ideas.  If you want to make it competitive, you can play it similar to Apples to Apples, where one person is the judge and selects what he or she thinks was the most creative idea.

Here are the options on the faces of the cube that you might roll:


My first graders were playing the “Create 2” and we pulled out a picture of a toilet and a picture of a steering wheel.  You can imagine the ideas they generated for combining those!

You know those early finishers who don’t have enough time, really, to start something else – but still have enough time to distract the students still working?  Put this under the document camera to think about when done, and tell them you will discuss everyone’s answers as an exit ticket, in the line for the bathroom, or any other transition time during the day.

There are lots of grins and laughs when we do this.  Most importantly, the students are exercising their divergent thinking skills which, too often, don’t get enough use during the school day.

For more activities similar to this, check out this post on Mockups, how to use Flippity for Makerspace Challenges, and these 5 Resources for Design Thinking Challenges.


Virtual Valentines 2018

Last year my 1st grade GT students got to participate in the Virtual Valentines project.  When you sign up for the project, you can choose whether to participate at a Level 1 or Level 2.  We decided to do Level 2, which meant we would find a partner class to exchange virtual valentines with and Skype with them.  Our partner class turned out to be in Canada (we are located in San Antonio, TX), and it was quite a learning experience for both classes.  The Canadians were stunned to see that most of our students were wearing shorts in the middle of winter – not an uncommon occurrence here.  And my students were thrilled when the Canadians turned their camera to show us the snow falling outside.

In making their valentines, I encouraged my students to add a little “Texas Flair” to make them unique.  You can see some examples here.  The Canadians made an adorable slide show for us.

I am definitely planning to participate again, and I hope that you will consider signing up as well.  Even as flat as our world has become through the internet and social media, there is still much to learn about people who live somewhere else.


Using Flippity for Makerspace Challenges

Although it’s great to allow students to use their imaginations, they will generally feel overwhelmed if you give them infinite choices.  For example, if you say, “Build something out of Legos,” many students will either spend most of their time figuring out what to build or attempt to build something they have already done in the past.  So, a couple of years ago I thought I would randomize some Makerspace Building Challenges for my students by using a tool called Flippity.  Instead of building “something,” they might be urged to build an amusement park ride or a shelter for a natural disaster, for example. You can find my post on using the tool here.

In this recent post from Laura Fleming, you can find even better Makerspace Challenges using Flippity.  Her first version randomly selects building techniques and materials to spark the imagination.  Her second version uses S.C.A.M.P.E.R., which is a great innovation tool that I describe a bit more in detail in this blog post.  Laura gives full instructions for how to use her Flippity challenges and how to modify them for your own use in her post.

I have a post on 5 Resources for Design Thinking Challenges here.  For my list of Makerspace Essentials, including Laura’s book, Worlds of Making, click here.  (Laura also has a new book, called The Kickstart Guide to Making Great Makerspaces.)

image from Pixabay