K-12, Teaching Tools


Clay Smith’s Twitter profile (@ClayCodes) states that he is a “Former Talent Agent turned Tech Educator.”  Fortunately, he is kind enough to share some of his technology skills on his blog, “clayCodes.”  Specifically, he has created some helpful Google Add/Ons and Extensions that make teaching easier.   One of them, Record to Slides, may be of particular interest for teachers who are working remotely.  Once you’ve installed the extension, you can click on the blue camera icon on the top right near the comment icon in your Slides presentation.  It allows you to record a video, and add your recording immediately to a slide.  You can give quick instructions, add a surprise message for your students, or maybe give them a reminder to pay attention 😉  Of course, be wary of the amount of recording time you add to your presentation overall, as it can cause loading problems for students with lower bandwidth at their homes.

Slide Record Example

I haven’t tested it out, yet, but another cool tool by Clay that you can try is, “Classroom Assist,”  which allows you to use your voice to create documents, add assignments, and make other useful changes in your Google Classroom.

Thank you, Clay Smith, for making Google Slides and Classroom even more teacher-friendly!

Just a quick word about Google extensions – most of them do ask for permission to access your drive.  This means there is potential for hacking your information, so be cautious about the number that you add, and delete ones that you’ve added but don’t use.  Here is a recent article on this topic.


Computer Science, K-12

Girls Who Code At Home Activities

Girls Who Code at Home is the perfect way to keep your young programmer happily engaged while social distancing.   So far, I count 14 free activities that can be downloaded, and the site promises a new one will be added every Monday.  You can register to be notified each time the page is updated.

The activities range from beginner to intermediate/advanced.  Different programming languages are used.  Some are even “unplugged” activities, meaning that you do not need to use a computer to do them.  Also, although Girls Who Code is an organization that was formed to narrow the gender gap, these resources are available for anyone who wants to use them.

The downloadable worksheets include a lot of scaffolding, so don’t be worried if you and your child/student are new to coding.  From making a digital memory book to designing a simple chatbot, you are sure to find an activity that will appeal to your interest and skill level!

Children Using Technology
Image by April Bryant from Pixabay
K-12, Teaching Tools

Dear Ed Tech Companies

Dear Ed Tech Companies:

Many of you came through for educators in the spring of 2020 by providing your tools for free to school districts.  But, let’s face it, you need to make money.  When school re-opens in August or September, many things will need to change – and that means you will likely have to go back to trying to make a profit.  Here are some things that I hope you will consider as you assess your services and their costs:

  • Please make sure that your company is COPPA Compliant – and more.  Though COPPA applies to children 13 and under, we don’t want you tracking or selling information from any of the students using educational platforms.
  • Ads are irritating.  Keep them out if you can.  If you can’t, make them short and appropriate for kids.  And not gross.  Toes with fungus on them can quickly derail a class of any age.
  • Your educational tool needs to work on multiple types of devices and any size screen.  Bonus if it allows for both online and offline use.
  • If you are tiering your pricing, please offer a free version.
  • If you had a free tier pre-pandemic, do not move some of its features to paid.  Keep those same features free.  I can tell you that any company that pulls this trick immediately ends up on my list of never-use-again-no-matter-how-good-it-is ed tech providers.
  • Offer an affordable, browser-based plan, that is available for teachers who just want to use your product in their classroom.  Affordable – b/c a lot of teachers are willing to pay out-of-pocket (even though we shouldn’t) to avoid district bureaucratic obstacles.  Browser-based – b/c a lot of districts don’t allow teachers to download their own software or apps.
  • If a teacher contacts you because you are not an approved district vendor, do the work to become one.  Don’t expect the teacher to do the legwork.  I’ve had to do this numerous times, and it is a nightmare.
  • Accept Purchase Orders.
  • Play nice with other ed tech companies.  Include features that allow educators to import work they have already done, such as flashcards or slide shows, into your platform – and allow for export as well. If applicable, allow for direct assignment to Google Classroom or other Learning Management Systems.
  • Keep a list of potential grants that teachers/schools/districts can apply for in case they are unable to afford your product.
  • Make it easy for teachers to get help with your product or to offer feedback.  There is a 3d printer company that made it to my never-use-again-no-matter-how-good-it-is list b/c it was impossible to get in touch with a live person, the website was a mess of labyrinthian proportions, and of course there was no e-mail contact or online chat.



A Teacher Who Set Up The First Internet-Connected (Dial-Up) Computer in Her School, Donated by a Company That No Longer Exists

Dear Ed Tech
Image by StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay
Apps, K-12, Teaching Tools

TCEA 2019

If you happen to be attending TCEA 2019 in San Antonio, TX, next week, I hope you will swing by to say, “Hi!” or even attend one of my sessions.

You can thank my partner-in-crime for the name of my first session about using green screens:

02/04/19 12:00 PM – 12:50 PM 191115 Fifty Shades of Green

Despite the title, it will be a G-Rated session.

My other session will actually be co-presented with the aforementioned partner-in-crime, Angelique Lackey.

2/05/19 01:15 PM – 02:05 PM 190802 Step Away from the Slideshow

The title is not quite as provocative as my green screen session, but considering my colleague’s direct involvement there will probably be more of a chance we will end up being banned from ever presenting at TCEA again 😉

Hope to see you there!

3-12, Computer Science, Education

Sketch Kit from Wonder Workshop

With two posts in a row related to Wonder Workshop it might appear that I work for them or get a commission.  I don’t!  The Undercover Robots Camp curriculum I wrote about yesterday could technically be used with a variety of robots, but I do like to use the Dash robots because they are so engaging and user-friendly for younger students.  Today I wanted to review one of the newest products from Wonder Workshop, which is customized for their Dash and Cue robots – Sketch Kit.

Students love to program their robots to write/draw, but anyone who has tried to rig contraptions for this purpose knows what a nightmare this can be.  It’s a good problem-solving experience, but not the best use of time if programming is your main goal.  Wonder Workshop has solved this issue by designing a unique harness to attach to Dash or Cue.  This harness allows the robot to lift a marker up and put it down – and the free app updates include these accessory options for coding.

The $39.99 Sketch Kit includes the harness, 6 dry-erase markers, and 6 project cards.  The markers are customized to fit the harness, as you will note in the picture.  Marker Refill Kits (6 markers) are $14.99.  We haven’t had our kit long enough for me to tell you the typical number of uses you will get out of a marker.

As nice as it is to have the Sketch Kit, the whiteboard mat that I purchased for $99.99 is even more worthwhile to me.  Mats for robots are expensive, unless you DIY, and this one screams out versatility.  It rolls up fairly easily, but it is definitely durable.  With measuring guides on the side (100 cm x 200 cm), there is plenty of programming potential.  The marker erases nicely without leaving residual color on the mat.  Knowing I will be using it with several groups of students, I feel that it was definitely a good investment.

Programming the robot to draw what they wanted proved to be more challenging than my students expected.  I put my 5th graders in pairs and they had about 7-10 minutes in each group to create a program in Blockly.  Before we ran the programs, we projected each one on the board so the students could try to predict what the robot would draw.  This was great visual/spatial practice, and it was funny to hear the opposing ideas that were thrown out at the beginning.  No one’s program was perfect the first time, so I also gave them time to “debug” after each initial run.

So far, the programs have been fairly simple – drawing a letter or two, or a few shapes.  With a little practice, I’m hoping my students can advance to this free lesson that Wonder Workshop just sent in their most recent newsletter, which involves using Cue to draw mandalas.

Photo May 01, 10 07 54 AM
Can you read what Dash wrote here?  (Hint: this pair of students loves math!)
Computer Science, K-5

Spy School

As regular readers know, I share a lot of freebies on this blog.  Usually, if I’ve made a lesson or activity, I post it here for anyone to download.  However, I sometimes create collections of my work and sell it on Teachers Pay Teachers.  My “Undercover Robots – Spy School” packet is one of those collections.  I developed it over two summers of doing Undercover Robots Camp using the Dash robots from Wonder Workshop.  This packet is a 38 page PDF that contains activities that can be used in an after-school or summer camp with robots that can be controlled by mobile devices. It is designed for use with a camp that has 6 teams of students (2 or 3 to a team) from ages 8-11. The Dash and Dot robots from Wonder Workshop are perfect for this camp, but other robots could be used instead. There are 10 missions included in this packet with unique puzzles for each team. (Note: Most of the missions depend on using a vinyl map of the world on the floor. I have a link to the one I purchased from Amazon in my packet, but you can also DIY if necessary.)

I’ve found that younger students love to get involved in stories around these robots.  There are ample opportunities for creativity (you should see some of their spy outfits!), and problem-solving as they work on the puzzles I provide as well as the programming.  I give some ideas for differentiation in the packet as well.

I have other curriculum that I am still testing out, but will post as soon as I work out the kinks and get it organized.

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