Category Archives: Teaching Tools

More End of the Year Stuff

This is a reblog of a post that I did a couple of years ago, but it was originally titled, “Alternatives to Showing the Movie Frozen for the Next 14 Days.”  Since that movie is kind of over now, I came up with a more fitting title for my recycled material 😉

image from Live Life Happy on Flickr

You know how it goes.  Grades are turned in.  Textbooks have been collected.  The computer lab is shut down.  But the activity level of our students has gone up.  What’s a teacher supposed to do?

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I’ve been trying to get my students to reflect on the year.  Using our class blog as a reference has helped tremendously.

Yesterday, with my GT 1st graders, I also asked them to look through the blog posts for their grade level.  They used a simple printable I found from Laura Candler to write their favorite moments of the year.  Here are some examples:

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Using divergent thinking for activities like the Squiggle Challenge and S.C.A.M.P.E.R. were very popular with this class.  Speaking of S.C.A.M.P.E.R., here is what some of them did with a page from my Summer Pool Party S.C.A.M.P.E.R. packet – Put an inflatable pool cushion to another use. (By the way, all of my grade levels, K-5, love doing S.C.A.M.P.E.R. drawings!)

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One of the blog posts the first graders “re-discovered” as they reflected was this one.  Try showing the Kid President video at the bottom of that post, and see if your own students can add to the list.  We used Padlet, but old-fashioned pencil and paper works, too!

Here are some other ideas from past posts for making the last couple of weeks fun and engaging:

I would also recommend checking out the Not Just Child’s Play blog by Joelle Trayers for ideas.  That woman always has creative suggestions that can be modified for any elementary grade level!


The Guru of Everything Google, Alice Keeler, partnered with Matt Miller to publish the DriveSlides Chrome Extension, which is available for free on the Chrome Web Store here.

Near the end of the school year, many teachers like to make slideshows of pictures from throughout the year.  With DriveSlides, Keller and Miller have given us a tool that will make this process much faster if you want to use Google Slides.  Once you install the DriveSlides extension, open the folder in Google Drive that contains all of the pictures you want to put in your presentation.  Click on the extension icon in your toolbar, and watch the magic happen.  (You will need to allow permissions the first time you use the extension.)  After a slight pause, a new window will open and automatically create a Google Slideshow with all of the pictures in that folder.

My whole family gathered around as I made this quick demonstration with pictures of our family bulldog, taking mental notes so they could use the extension too. (I added the background after the pictures were all imported, using suggestions from the Google Explore Tool.)

If you want to add audio to your slideshow, here is some advice from Richard Byrne.

Keeler also has another Chrome Extension called, “Slideshot,” which will take screenshots every minute and create a slideshow out of those when you hit “Finish.”

Want some more ideas for the end of the school year?  Check out this post!

Give Them a Surprise Ending (Reblog)

As the conclusion of another school year approaches, I thought it might be fitting to re-publish this post from last year with suggestions for ways to end the year “strong.”

I always laugh when people say that we should end school earlier in the year because the last few weeks are a waste.  What do they think would happen if school stopped in April?  Somehow I doubt the teachers or students would be any less eager for the last day.  The way I see it, the only way to fix this problem is to never have a last day – or to never tell anyone when it is.

“Ok, boys and girls.  Bus riders are dismissed and so are car-riders and walkers. Oh, and by the way, there’s no school for the next 2 1/2 months.”

Yep.  That would go over well.

A surprise end-date probably won’t get the approval of any school board on this planet, so I recommend a surprise ending, instead.

What do I mean?  I mean, don’t resort to the predictable, let’s-show-movies-and-wear-pajamas-and-read-all-day plans that are the fallback for so many teachers this time of year.  This is your time to M. Night Shyamalan your way into teaching fame!  (But not in a spooky “Guess what, you’re dead, too,” way – more in a “School is way more than filling in bubbles on a piece of paper” way.)

How can you surprise them?  Here are some activities that could make the highlight reels of your students’ year.

What suggestions do you have to make these last days memorable for your students?  Put them in the comments below!

End the year like this... (image from Tetsumo on Flickr)
End the year like this!
(image from Tetsumo on Flickr)

Class Dojo Mindfulness Series

The Class Dojo “Big Ideas” series is growing.  Up until now you could find videos on: Perseverance, Growth Mindset, Empathy, and Gratitude.  The latest theme is, “Mindfulness.”  So far, only the first video has been released.  In the past, the schedule has been to publish one per week.  As with the other videos, there are discussion questions to use after viewing the short video.  There is an also an option to share the video through “Class Story” with parents.  The first video is a timely one for me as my students are currently practicing presentations of their Genius Hour research.  I’m kind of curious to find out how Mojo solves his problem of “The Beast,” one that I grapple with quite a bit!

By the way, you can find more Growth Mindset videos and resources here.

Screen Shot from Class Dojo’s “Big Ideas” page

Robert Kaplinsky’s Real World Problems

Robert Kaplinsky uses images from everyday life to pose interesting math challenges for students in Kinder through high school.  You can choose problems by grade level on his site, or you can look at this spreadsheet that identifies the Common Core Standards covered in each problem.

Questions like, “How Many Combos are there on a Coke Freestyle?” are sure to elicit curiosity from your students.  Kaplinsky shares the image, a challenge, questions to be asked by the teacher to encourage discussion, and background information regarding the facts and the math related to each image.

Robert’s site inspired me to look for some other free images that might spawn some intriguing math questions, and I found this one on Pixabay:


Can you think of math questions for your own students that would correlate to this picture?

By the way, I’ll be adding this to my, “15 Math Sites that Won’t Make You Fall Asleep” post – which will actually make the current number of recommended sites 17 at this point 😉

Using Video Clips

Sometimes a video is just too long.  Or, maybe only part of the video is really applicable to a lesson.  I recently ran across a couple of options that can help you when you need something short, but powerful, to show your class.

The first option is called, “Class Hook.”  Unfortunately, this site may be blocked in your district. (It is blocked in mine.)  If it isn’t, then you may want to search the site by topic for short clips from all kinds of videos that might make the statement you need.  The library seems to be fairly large.  You can search by subject, show, subject, or grade level. When you choose a clip, it will list Common Core connections.  As always, preview videos before showing them to your class to be certain they are appropriate for the students you teach.

The second option will take a bit more time, but works well for videos you have already found on YouTube if you are using them in Google Slides.  You can copy the YouTube link for the original video, then go to Insert-Video in Google Slides.  Once the video is on a slide, you can then click on “Video Options” to choose the part that you would like to show in your presentation. (If you don’t see “Video Options in your toolbar, click on “More” to display it.)


If you are not using Google Slides, or it doesn’t seem to be cooperating with you, there is a third option.  One of my students wanted to show part of a TED video for his Genius Hour presentation, and Google Slides would not embed the short clip we kept inserting from YouTube. (When you click on “Share” in YouTube, you can choose an option for where the video should start, but the link generated did not work in Google Slides for us.)  There are, of course, many options for downloading YouTube videos to edit – but quite a few are unreliable, costly, or unsafe for your computer.  I was frustrated with how to help my student – and then I remembered EdPuzzle.

EdPuzzle is a free tool for creating “interactive” videos.  You can assign video clips with questions, record over the video, and keep track of student progress.  You can learn more about EdPuzzle’s features in this nice presentation from Travis K. Wood.  The option that saved a couple of Genius Hour presentations for us this year, though, is that videos can be “cropped.”  You can choose a specific ending and beginning of the video that you have imported, and then share the link of that newly cropped video.  Although Google Slides does not allow for us to actually embed the cropped video into a slide, we can include the link and go directly to the video that imparts the relevant information.

Let me know if you are aware of any other easy way to find and/or create video clips for class!



Note: As I was looking up resources for this post, I realized that yesterday, the day that I introduced Guernica to my current 4th graders, was the 80th anniversary of its bombing. I’m sure I probably knew that somewhere in my subconscious, but it still sent a chill down my spine when I saw the date.

Every year my 4th grade gifted students study masterpieces of all types – literary, mathematical, and artistic.  “Guernica,” by Picasso is one of the artistic masterpieces that we examine as we discuss the empathy that the visual arts often reflect on the part of the artist.  It is a difficult piece to confront, particularly once you know the history behind it, but I think that it is important to study for many reasons.  Picasso’s internal struggle as a man who disdained using art for political reasons but also a man who felt compelled to convey his emotions with every brushstroke make this painting into an engaging topic of conversation with my students.

Gavin Than recently created another one of his fabulous Zen Pencils comics dedicated to Picasso’s “Guernica,” illustrating a famous quote from Picasso about the piece.  It would be a great way to start a debate in your classroom about whether or not the students agree with Picasso’s stance.  Another philosophical discussion that stems from the painting is the love/hate relationship we have with technology, as symbolized by the light bulb in the center of the painting.  The same technology that allows many people from all over the world travel to see this work of art by air also doomed the Spanish town to being blanket-bombed by the Germans.

For more on teaching with Guernica, here is a Pulitzer Center lesson on interpreting global issues through the lens of the painting.

Older students might also want to take a look at this video, which gives a 3d perspective of the painting.

And, here is a current event news article from Newsela that makes the connection between Guernica and recent tragedies in Syria. (You must log in to view this – registration is free.)

You might also want to try one of these lessons from Read, Write, Think, which also includes links to other Guernica-related sites.

image from Manuel Galrinho on Flickr