Category Archives: K-12

Sapphire the Fairy

I don’t expect a lot of people will be reading the blog this week, so I thought I would just post some of the inspiring Tweets, videos, and random pics I’ve collected recently today through Wednesday. Thursday will be my last Gifts for the Gifted post for 2020.

This Twitter thread from @saysthefox at the beginning of December about someone who found a way to delight a 4-year-old stranger, and created a new friendship along with an imaginary world completely enchanted me. I hope you will find it as heartwarming as I did. (Click on the Tweet to open Twitter and be sure to read the whole thread!)

I am Every Good Thing

I Am Every Good Thing is a picture book, written by Derrick Barnes and illustrated by Gordon C. James. The beautiful words and accompanying breathtaking images represent the ultimate Black Boy Joy, as the young child narrates his delight in life and ideas for the future. In a Q&A about his book, Barnes said that he wants, in part, for people to take from the book that, “No matter where Black boys come from, I along with the people that love them want them to win in life. They are not living breathing stereotypes that fit like jigsaw pieces into your biases, only useful for your entertainment, and to justify your ridiculous fears. They are human beings capable of extraordinary feats.”

This book, with its fantastic metaphors, reminds me of the “I Am” poetry my own young students would author – celebrations of uniqueness and life. But, of course, there is another dimension to this work as we not only see a child seeking to be accepted for his remarkable traits, but one who some unjustifiably view as threatening merely because of the color of his skin. James, who used his own son as the model for the oil painting on the cover of the book, says in this NPR story that he wanted to portray his child “looking like how I feel he sees himself and how we see him as his family.”

I Am Every Good Thing is a book for boys, girls, and families of every color. It is also for every age. Many educators can tell you the value of picture books grows in secondary classrooms, where new experiences and understanding can help teenagers see reading as both an enjoyable pastime and an invitation to think deeply. For discussion ideas and other reading suggestions, use this Learning Guide created by Tiffany Jewell (author of This Book is Anti-Racist) along with the book. Whether using the book in a history class as you discuss civil rights, or a language class where your students are learning about writing devices (see this mashup of Song of Myself and I am Every Good Thing shared on Twitter by @PaulWHankins) this book will be a gift to everyone who reads it.

This post is part of a weekly series of anti-racist articles. For previous posts in this series, please visit this link.

Blob Opera

It’s that time of year when no one feels like concentrating on something serious. So, what better activity can you do in the classroom than study opera? Well, maybe not study it exactly. How about play with it instead? One of the newest Google Arts and Culture experiments is “Blob Opera,” and it’s definitely going to catch your students’ attention if you bring this up on your screen. Your students will entertain themselves to no end as they drag the blobs around to create operatic masterpieces. It feels a bit like you are conducting somewhat refined Muppets. They can even record and share the link of their favorite productions. For those who need a little inspiration, there is a small tree in the bottom right-hand corner so you can switch on to “hear some festive songs.”

For additional artistic adventures, visit the Games page of Google Arts and Culture, where you can solve “Visual Crosswords” or play “Puzzle Party,” or find another amusing diversion!

How to Do More With Less Screen Time

I’ve observed a disconnect between the length of time schools and districts are requiring distance learning teachers to be on screen (many expecting it to be the entire school day) and the number of daily hours that parents and teachers believe to be beneficial to virtual learners (definitely not 6-8 hours). In my latest post for the NEO blog, How to Do More With Less Screen Time, I’ve offered some “workarounds” to avoid or combat screen fatigue. I hope that some of the suggestions are helpful.

My previous NEO articles have been:  How to Facilitate Meaningful Discussions in Hybrid or Virtual Classrooms, Top Ed Tech Tools for DifferentiationFrom Normal to Better: Using What We’ve Learned to Improve EducationApplying Universal Design for Learning in Remote ClassroomsHow Distance Learning Fosters Global CollaborationHow to Use Design Thinking in the Classroom, and How to S.T.E.A.M. Up Distance Learning.

Next month’s NEO post will be a fun surprise with many entertaining ideas. I can’t wait for you to see it!

Photo by Lena Helfinger on

S.C.A.M.P.E.R. Through Winter and Some New Jamboard Updates

I was excited to find that Google Jamboard updated last week, allowing people to upload our own backgrounds so we don’t have to worry about students accidentally moving our designs. I worked on re-designing one of my S.C.A.M.P.E.R. resources so I could offer it to you for use on Jamboard. S.C.A.M.P.E.R. is a creative thinking tool developed by Roger Eberle, and each letter stands for suggestions to spark innovation: Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Modify, Put to Another Use, and Rearrange. I am working on revamping all of my S.C.A.M.P.E.R. materials, but currently have S.C.A.M.P.E.R. Through Winter available on Jamboard for you to copy and use.

I added some animated gifs from to create some more visual interest, but those are not part of the background so they can be deleted if you like. If you prefer, I also have the same prompts on a Google Slides presentation in case you want to make multiple copies of one prompt by downloading as a .png or .jpg. I slightly modified the prompts so that they are “holiday-neutral.” For some examples of some of the creative responses I’ve gotten from students in the past, you can look at this post and this one. I am adding this post to my Winter Holidays Wakelet, which has over 65 resources now. In addition, I will post the link on my Jamboard Wakelet, which is also gaining more resources every day.

One of my recent additions to the Jamboard Wakelet is a nice image of keyboard shortcuts to view a Version History in Jamboard. This image was tweeted by @MariaGalanis. Until yesterday, I had no idea it was possible to do this. Unfortunately, you cannot see who made changes on the Jamboard, as you can with other Google products, but being able to return to earlier versions when mistakes are made or you forgot to make a copy before students used it is extremely helpful.

Alice Keeler (@AliceKeeler) wrote a post about these shortcuts, suggestions for naming your original version history, and a sticky note short cut for Jamboard that she published today, so be sure to check that out for more good advice.

I hope everyone is having a great Monday, and this week, which will be the last for many before the Winter Break, is going smoothly!

Gifts for the Gifted – Chicken War and Domino Maze

 A few years ago, I thought I would help out the parents of my gifted and talented students by writing about some games, toys, or books that I thought might make good purchases during the holiday season.  I called the series of posts, “Gifts for the Gifted,” and I have continued to do it annually on every Friday in November and December.  These gifts are suggestions for any child – not just those who qualify for a GT program. Sometimes I receive a free product for review, but I am not paid for these posts, and I never recommend a product that I wouldn’t buy for my own child.  For past “Gifts for the Gifted” posts, you can visit this page. I also have a Pinterest Board of Games and Toys for Gifted Students. You may notice that I missed 2019, but I’m making up for it this year with a post every Thursday in November and December up until Christmas Eve.

Today’s Gifts for the Gifted entry is a guest post from my friend, Emily Mayes. She and her three children are the perfect sample group to review Thinkfun games. Although my family, students, and I have always been a big fan of Thinkfun (as you will see from previous Gifts for the Gifted posts), my retirement from the classroom last December prompted me to seek some other expert opinions!

“My three kids (ages 15, 12, and 8) have been playing Thinkfun games since they were in preschool and they are some of our favorites.  We recently tried out Chicken War and I was impressed that all three ages really enjoyed it. That can be difficult to find in a kid or family game! It does take some time to go through all of the rules and they can be confusing. We had to reread the instructions a few times and refer back to them as we started the game. But by our second game the next day we were old pros. 

Chicken War from Thinkfun Games

The game starts out with you having to choose a leader for your ten chicken army and while that may seem easy to younger players, older players will understand they should put thought into choosing as the first army with all matching chickens wins. The leader has to share two, and only two, characteristics with the rest of the chicken in their army. You can either infiltrate an enemy army, steal a chicken, or lob an egg at an enemy chicken you think may be their leader. That is how the strategy and planning are involved. My older two kids really enjoyed that part of it and did better ultimately than their younger brother who was more concerned with just his army and not paying attention to the other player’s armies. My oldest won both times and wasn’t a fair match to my youngest who really loved just matching the chickens and “lobbing” chickens when he could. Everyone really enjoyed it and we have reached for it again. 

The next game we tried out was Domino Maze. This is a solitary game -which we like to have on hand for when one child is bored but others are preoccupied. I am always on the hunt for games that increase their problem solving and critical thinking skills and really hone in on executive functioning skills. Domino Maze was another game that kept all three kids engaged and happy.

Thinkfun Domino Maze

 My oldest started with the more difficult challenges in the book while my younger one started from the beginning. The challenge book starts at beginner and tells the child which game pieces are needed for that particular challenge. Unlike some of the other Thinkfun solitaire games, your child will know if they did the challenge correctly if the dominoes fall the way the challenge indicates. However, the challenge book also gives correct answers if needed. My two oldest stuck to the challenges but my youngest started making his own creations and own challenges. I love that the game is so open-ended that it should keep kids of all ages busy and happy for quite some time. My 8 year old said, ‘I love that it comes with a staircase and a blocker that makes it more challenging. I liked playing with the staircase-  trying to make the dominoes go up and down!’ ” ~ Emily Mayes and her Superstar Family

Thanks to Emily and her family for their reviews! Both games sound like tons of fun. Who wouldn’t want to lob eggs or topple dominoes? Also, don’t forget you can always go to the Thinkfun home page to access resources for parents and educators that will take learning and games to the next level.