Education, K-5, Language Arts, QR Codes, Reading, Research, Science, Social Studies, Student Products, Teaching Tools

It’s a Zoo Out There – #TCEA17

Just to clarify, “It’s a Zoo Out There,” was a presentation I saw at TCEA this year; I’m not making any kind of commentary on the people attending the conference¬†ūüėČ ¬†In fact, I was so blown away by the incredible sessions I was able to see over the course of my three days in Austin that I tweeted something about how TCEA reaffirms my belief that there are so many unbelievably passionate, gifted teachers in our world working to improve education each and every day.

“It’s a Zoo Out There,” was a TCEA presentation by Dina Estes and Kerry Woods from Lewisville ISD in Texas. ¬†They teach a multiage K/1 class, and have done this particular project based learning unit for a few years. ¬†The students research animals, draw pictures, ¬†and use digital tools to record information to present. Then, they create a virtual zoo in the hallway to display what they have learned. ¬†Zoo visitors can scan QR codes to watch and listen to the students present. The zoo looks different each year because these awesome teachers allow the students to plan it. ¬†One group wanted to group the animals by habitats, and other groups had their own ideas. ¬†No matter what, the display is open to the rest of the school to visit – giving the students a genuine audience for their hard work.

Anyone who balks at having students this age do research, participate in project based learning, or make use of technology needs to look at this presentation.  The teachers provided tools, including a timeline, that show how all of these things can be done successfully.

Thanks to teachers like these, hopefully even more educators will be inspired to try this project!

image from: Pixabay 
3-12, Art, Augmented Reality, Careers, Education, Parenting, QR Codes, Science, Teaching Tools

Hill Country Science Mill

Across from the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park in Johnson City, Texas, a mill that was built in 1880 closed its doors after one hundred years.  It was briefly revived as entertainment complex, but then fell into disuse again for another 20 years.

Once again, however, the mill has been reincarnated.  With the vision and determination of a unique team of scientist/educators, the mill has gained a new life as a venue for students to learn about and participate in science.  While maintaining the integrity of the old building, including outfitting the original silos as exhibit spaces, the mill has now become a different kind of food provider.  Instead of the flour and grain it once produced for the local community, the mill is now a source of food for curious and eager young minds.

Hill Country Science Mill, Johnson City, Texas (image courtesy of HCSM)
Hill Country Science Mill, Johnson City, Texas (image courtesy of HCSM)

The Hill Country Science Mill opened its doors in February of 2015. My 3rd-5th  GT classes were fortunate to visit the complex in April. After spending a school day at the Mill, they were all eager for even more time to explore its many interactive exhibits and amazing BioLab.

A couple of weeks after our trip, the 5th graders got the chance to Skype with one of the founders of the Hill Country Science Mill, Dr. Bonnie Baskin.  She graciously answered their questions, and gave them insight into the design and carefully-selected exhibits.

Dr. Bonnie Baskin, one of the founders of the Hill Country Science Mill
Dr. Bonnie Baskin, one of the founders of the Hill Country Science Mill

One student asked Dr. Baskin about the motivation behind the digital avatars each visitor can personalize when he or she arrives. (Using a “Passport” with a QR code, patrons can scan the code and create their own avatar at the entrance on one of the many iPad mini’s. ¬†Once the avatar is created, there are many opportunities throughout the Mill to scan your passport, and¬†you can learn from your avatar the science behind particular exhibits. ¬†You can also “favorite” exhibits and follow up on your visit using the QR code once you get home.)

When asked why the staff chose to include the avatars in the experience, Dr. Baskin replied that they really wanted to appeal to an older group of students. ¬†Many interactive museums are aimed at the toddler/pre-school set, but the Mill targets middle and high-school students. ¬†This is not to say younger ones won’t appreciate the experience, but that there is a great interest on the part of the staff to keep the attention of older students.

Hill Country Science Mill Avatar
A guest creates an avatar (image courtesy of Hill Country Science Mill)

My students were fascinated with one of the silo exhibits Рthe Fractalarium (designed by two San Antonio artists), and asked Dr. Baskin about this inclusion of an artistic work.  She confirmed what my 4th and 5th graders had already observed, that math, art, and science often converge in amazing ways.  This piece of scientific art, based on the design of the broccoli, is a perfect example.

Fractalarium (image taken by one of my students)
Fractalarium (image taken by one of my students)

Many of the students told Dr. Baskin that the BioLab was their favorite room.  Dr. Baskin agreed that this exhibit has a special place in heart due to a background in biology, and told the students they specifically designed this room with its zebrafish, mud battery, and microscopes, to resemble a real research lab.

BioLab picture taken by one of my students
BioLab picture taken by one of my students

Another field trip favorite was the Augmented Reality Sandbox. The sandbox has a projector above it that shows the contour lines of the “mountains” and “valleys” in the box. ¬†It also simulates rain when you hold your hands over the sand. ¬†Dr. Baskin shared that this is one of the harder exhibits to keep in working order because so many students enjoy it that the calibration gets off on the projector. However, she said that, like all of the exhibits, the staff finds that the maintenance¬†is well worth it to provide so many interactive experiences for visitors.

Augmented Reality Sandbox
Augmented Reality Sandbox (image courtesy of the Hill Country Science Mill)

The only complaint that I heard from my students about this trip was that there wasn’t enough time to do everything. ¬†That’s a good problem!

Many of my students said that the field trip to the Hill Country Science Mill inspired them to seriously consider a career in one of the STEM fields, and most of them definitely intend to return to the Mill for a visit.

You can see a gallery of some of the other pictures my students took below.  Of course, if you are planning a visit to the Hill Country Science Mill, you should definitely get more information from their website.

Congrats to Tom Kilgore, winner of the Family 4-Pack to the Hill Country Science Mill!  He and his family headed for an awesome experience!

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Art, Augmented Reality, Education, K-12, QR Codes, Student Products, Teaching Tools

LMS Blog Challenge: Interactive Bulletin Boards

So, lesson learned – never beat Laura Moore in a small little Twitter kerfluffle¬†unless you’re ready for a bigger challenge.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, Laura and I fought over who would blog about Lisa Johnson’s most recent amazing contribution to teachers everywhere – Customized Padlet backgrounds. ¬†Laura countered with her own post yesterday, and she has thrown down the gauntlet. ¬†Here is her challenge: “What is one idea worth stealing that made you a better educator/blogger? Share your experience through a blog post, tweet, or whatever platform you prefer. Make sure to pass on the challenge so we can all benefit from new knowledge. Use the #LMSchallenge. GO.” (By the way, her blog is “Learn Moore Stuff.” ¬†Hence, the LMS.)

Do I steal stuff? ¬†You bet I do! ¬†I try my best to give credit where it’s due, but sometimes I don’t even know where an idea originated. ¬†If you want to see a list of the people I regularly steal from, check out my Engaging Educators page¬†ūüôā

As I tweeted to Laura, the hard part is choosing just one thing I’ve stolen! As you can see from the title of this post, though, I’m going with the idea of interactive bulletin boards.

I hate doing bulletin boards. ¬†But I love showcasing student work. ¬†When I read this article by Sylvia Tolisano on the Langwitches blog, I got a seed of an idea – to use QR codes with art. ¬†But I feel less guilty about stealing ideas if I kick them up a notch. ¬†So, the result was a bulletin board with poetry, art, QR codes, a quiz, and an opportunity for student feedback. ¬†Students were invited to guess which piece of poetry matched which artwork. ¬†Then they could scan the QR codes and listen to an audio file to see if they were right. ¬†Finally, they could scan a 2nd QR code that took them to a Google Form where they could vote on their favorite one. ¬†You can find more details in this guest post that I did on Richard Byrne’s blog.

Of course, that led me to more interactive exhibitions, like ones that use the augmented reality app, Aurasma (which I stole from Richard Byrne).  In this post, I mention one of my favorite activities, where the students made videos of themselves in snow globes to go with a writing piece. (If you want some more augmented reality ideas, check out my page of resources here.)

Thanks to all of the people who share their ideas, because I would be an awfully boring teacher without them!

And now I must challenge three more people to carry the¬†baton. Joelle Trayers, Brad Gustafson, and Todd Nesloney – consider yourselves tapped! ¬†Follow Laura’s instructions above to share the ill-gotten gains that make you such great educators!

Augmented Reality, Behavior, Education, K-12, Motivation, Parenting, QR Codes, Videos

You Matter Parent Videos

Since many people are returning to school during the next couple of weeks, I thought I would re-visit and share some of last year’s more successful projects in case you want to try one. ¬†

Today’s post is about something I tried last year with the goal of impressing upon my students how much they matter to others – in this case, their parents. ¬† What I did not realize was that¬†I would also develop new and deeper connections with my students and their families with this project.

The basic concept was this: ask parents to secretly record videos of themselves telling their children how important they are to them and what they hoped the children would accomplish in school that year. The parents would send me the videos, and I would use Aurasma Studio (here is a link to Aurasma tutorial videos in case you need it) to attach them to still images of the parents. ¬†When my students scanned the images with the Aurasma app on the iPad, they would see and hear their parents’ videos. ¬†They kept the photos in their folders all year so they could scan them whenever they wanted, and as a reminder of their parents’ personal¬†messages.


You can read more about the project specifics here.  There were definitely some problems (be sure to click on the links for the project updates so you can avoid some of them, if possible), but the positive results made every bump along the road worth it.

One huge obstacle was getting a video for every child. ¬†I have a GT pull-out program, and had approximately 45 students in 1st-5th on my class rolls at the time I sent out the request for videos. ¬†For obvious reasons, I didn’t want anyone to end up without a video.

I had a hard time tracking down one particular parent.  When I finally reached her, she apologized for not getting a video turned in yet.  Her best friend was dying from cancer and she had been dealing with that for several weeks.

We are often so quick to judge when we don’t get immediate support from parents. ¬†We forget that there are many other reasons for lack of responsiveness – and most of them have nothing to do with neglect of their children.

I had a few conversations with parents during this project that gave me so much more insight on the backgrounds of my students than I had ever known.  So did their videos.  Every single one (and I did end up getting at least one video for each student) told me how precious their children are and that I, indeed, have a huge responsibility as their part-time caretaker.

If you are not comfortable with using Aurasma Studio, you can always do a variation of this project that does not include augmented reality. (You could upload the videos to Google Drive and link them to QR codes, or just share individual links with the students.) The value of this activity is strengthening the bond amongst parents, students, and the teacher.  It is a great way to develop a supportive community in your classroom.

(For more Augmented Reality Resources, check out this page on my site.  Also, I have a brand new packet on Teachers Pay Teachers with suggested Augmented Reality activities.)

Apps, Creative Thinking, Critical Thinking, Education, Games, K-12, Motivation, Parenting, QR Codes, Student Products, Teaching Tools, Websites

Don’t Leave it to the Goonies


I have been devoting this week to ways to engage young minds over the summer. ¬†Here is the breakdown so far: Camp Wonderopolis, Maker Camp, Making Movies. ¬†Last summer, I also did a series of posts on avoiding the “summer slide”, and you can access all of those links, including a ton of suggestions for using the ubiquitous pool noodle, here.

I don’t know about you, but one of my favorite movies of all time is The Goonies. ¬†I think it appeals to the inner child in all of us – the quest for adventure and the ability to figure out the answers to diabolical clues. ¬†Of course, we don’t want to expose our children to the danger faced by the movie characters. ¬†But we can still give them a taste of the fun – and even join in on it, too. ¬†Here are some various levels of “hunts” that might get the entire family involved:

Make Your Own

  • Klikaklu – You can use this iOS app to create scavenger hunts that are triggered by¬†images you choose.
  • QR Codes – You can use this easy QR Treasure Hunt Generator¬†¬†to develop a fun mission for any child with access to a mobile device that has a QR code scanning app.
  • GeoSettr – You can create a fun geography challenge using this web-based site that utilizes Google Street View and GeoGssr.

Provided For You

  • Geocaching – If you have not tried this free adventure that is fun for the whole family, I highly encourage you to give it a try. ¬†It will get you outside, and you will often learn more about the area that you are in than you ever realized you didn’t know! ¬†For a great introduction to this sport, I recommend: “How to Have a Family Treasure Hunt: Geocaching with Kids.”
  • Brain Chase – This is not free ($199), but looks quite intriguing. ¬†It’s an innovative concept from some parents based in Austin, Texas, but it is designed to be global. ¬†According to the site, Brain Chase is “a 6-week summer learning challenge disguised as a massive global treasure hunt for 2nd‚ąí8th¬†graders. A golden globe has been buried somewhere on earth ‚Äď and it contains the key to a safe deposit box holding a $10,000 college scholarship fund.” ¬†Because it’s new (and $199), I have no experience with it. ¬†If you participate, I would love to hear your thoughts!

Remember, it doesn’t have to be up to the adults to create the fun. ¬†Older children enjoy creating scavenger hunts just as much as participating in them! ¬†Just make sure you go over internet safety as well as outdoor safety (particularly if you are geocaching – we were attacked by a turkey vulture guarding her eggs one time when we poked around in a hollow tree!) before the exploring commences!


Apps, Education, K-12, QR Codes, Student Response, Teaching Tools

Take Your Pick with Plickers

Sample screen shot of Plickers app in action
Sample screen shot of Plickers app in action

I love getting informal feedback from my students during lessons, and usually use the Socrative app for this in my classroom.  Socrative is wonderful, and works on practically any device, but it certainly works better if you have more than one device in your classroom.  Obviously, not everyone has this luxury.  So, I was very intrigued when I ran across a post about a student response system that works quite simply with just one piece of electronic equipment required РPlickers.

I read about Plickers on a “Who’s Who and Who’s New” post by Debbie. ¬†She does an awesome job of detailing the use of the app, so please head over to her post if this brief summary piques your interest.

Basically, you set up a free account with Plickers (either online or in the app; the app is Android or iOS), and then set up a class.  You can set up multiple classes if you choose.  Then, you give each of your students in the current class a card with a barcode.  You can print your own from their site, or order a set from Amazon. The barcodes are numbered, so you can be sure that the same student always receives the same one.  If you look carefully at each card, you will see that each side of the barcode has a letter: A, B, C, or D.  When you ask the students a question, they hold the card in front of them with the letter of their choice on top.  Using the app, the teacher scans the room, and the app records the responses on a graph.  The scanning takes seconds, and the teacher can see with a glance who understands the concept or feels a certain way about any multiple choice question.

For a free service, this is a pretty slick little app. It does not have all of the options that you will find in Socrative, but it certainly beats having your students do the old “thumbs up, thumbs down” response to help you get a feel for their understanding of a topic. ¬†And, it requires only one piece of technology. (Unless you want to count the printer used for the bar codes and the laminator you will probably want to utilize if you plan to use these on a regular basis.)

I tried this with my 4th grade class yesterday, and they loved it!  Some of them are already planning to incorporate it into their Genius Hour presentations Рalong with the Free Game Show Soundboard app that I threw in just to make things even more exciting.

I’m not a big fan of using multiple choice questions frequently, but Plickers doesn’t have to be used just to quiz students on facts. ¬†You can have the students rate their feelings about something or vote quickly with their cards, too. ¬†Plickers are a great, inexpensive way to give students another alternative for showing what they know.

Sample Plickers Card
Sample Plickers Card