Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Keeping It Simple! Google Docs + Google Classroom in Kindergarten

It's so simple - but exactly what they need to get started. I was so thrilled today when one of my Kindergarten teachers shared this basic Google Doc her students had worked on through Google Classroom.

Students identify the letter L amongst the sea of other symbols that they are just beginning to recognize, they move their cursor either with the touchpad or by using the arrows keys, and use the backspace key to delete the letter L. In completing this basic activity, the students have practiced a number of foundational skills on the keyboard that will set them up for success in writing and sharing their digital creations.

Sure, they don't walk in KNOWING how to do these things. It takes modeling and practice!  Little learners who haven't had much experience with computers struggle with the most basic skills - logging in, clicking, selecting, dragging and dropping, finding the letters, making sure not to push the keys too many times.  

For these reasons, the activities we plan for Kindergarteners should be simple, especially in the beginning. Click, point, find. Open the assignment, close the tab. Yes, it can be challenging to get started, but once the Google Suite door is opened for our little learners, an ocean of creativity is at their fingertips!  

Start with the basics. Find the box. Type the words. Practice something simple every day! Celebrate the successes!

What can our littlest learners create when we put modern tools in their hands? The possibilities are endless! We need to empower them with access and provide opportunities to practice so they can build foundational fluencies. We need to believe in what our littlest learners CAN do!

Letter L Practice - Credit to S. Haller

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Ten Smart and Safe YouTube Practices for the Primary Classroom

YouTube is an undeniable force in education. It has become among the top search engines! When people need information, they often turn to YouTube. Teachers also LOVE YouTube! There tens of thousands of videos of instructional content, songs, and fun. Whether it’s a song about short vowels or a lesson in fact and opinion, YouTube has resources to teach and reinforce many educational topics for all grade levels and subject areas.

As with many internet resources, YouTube has a dark side of potentially inappropriate content. This sometimes prevents our primary teachers, the teachers of our littlest learners, from using YouTube in order to protect their students from the questionable content and advertising. And while internet filters have a place in school, they aren’t the only answer. We have to teach even our littlest learners how to safely navigate through any danger they might encounter.

Below I have collected ten safe and smart practices for using YouTube in the primary classroom. Please enjoy these tips and tricks to help make YouTube safer, more accessible, and appropriate for our littlest learners.

1. Make sure your kiddos are connected/signed in through their Google accounts.
Youtube and the Google Suite work together to help make sure that the content available to students is appropriate and educational. Your Google Suite administrator can use the managed YouTube features to limit and customize access to non-educational or inappropriate content.

Video has been approved in the domain.
Video has not been approved in the domain. Your domain settings may allow you to approve videos that are appropriate for education. Some domains may required you to contact someone with access to your Google Admin Panel.

2. Have a system/procedure for distributing video links!

Use Google Classroom, QR codes, or your Learning Management System to distribute video links. This will get young students directly to the content you want them to see. Provide a clear path, and your little learners won’t get lost along the way!

3. Keep it short!
Primary students have tiny attention spans. Use the YouTube search filters to identify videos that are under 4 minutes. Skip past extra content by sharing a link to a specific starting time in the video. Tools such as Tubechop will also allow you to create links that play only certain parts of your YouTube video.

4.  A Clear View.
Add an additional layer of focus and protection by using tools such as or safeshare.TV. These resources embed the YouTube content into a cleaner screen, without the Up Next, Suggested, and video comments. These resources also allow you to create links to custom starting and ending times.
Before ViewPure, video screen shows comments and suggested videos.
ViewPure purifies the screen view, removing the things that can distract little learners!

5. Embed, embed, embed!
Embedding videos into Slides, Forms, and Sites is another way to hide some of the YouTube distractions. This allows students to view the content directly in the Google application instead of a new tab.

6. AdBlock for YouTube
Use the free extension AdBlock for YouTube to help minimize YouTube ads! This tool gets rid of all pre-roll advertisements on YouTube videos.

7. Preview EVERYTHING.
It’s important that you watch every video from start to finish BEFORE sharing it with students. Use the play speed controls in YouTube to save time during preview. Playing videos at 1.5 or 2X speed lets you check the videos quickly!

Check out this YouTube tutorial by Josh Harris @ EdTechSpec about previewing videos quickly.

8. Create playlists!
One way to organize your YouTube experience is to create Playlists of your favorite content. Playlists allow viewers to program what they watch next on the channel. Playlists will allow you to play a continuous set of videos in your chosen order. For example, you can make a playlist of related content such as short vowel videos or videos about the letter B. Create a 15-minute rainy-day playlist of your students’ favorite Just Dance videos for those days you have indoor recess and want to give your kiddos a chance to get their wiggles out!

9. Subscribe to your favorite educational channels!
There are educators from around the world creating powerful content. Subscribe to your favorite creators and channels to receive notifications when they add new content!

10. YOU be the YouTube star!
If you can't find just the right video to meet your young scholars’ needs, create it yourself! You can record videos using basic tools such as your device’s native camera or Screencastify in the Chrome browser. Video editing tools such as iMovie, Camtasia, or WeVideo let you add functional and creative finishing touches to your videos. Upload them to YouTube or Google Drive for sharing!

For more information, visit This website offers tips and tricks for leveraging video in the classroom.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Spreadsheet Fun in First Grade

First grade math standards ask students to organize, represent, and interpret data with up to three categories; ask and answer questions about the total number of data points, how many in each category, and how many more or less are in one category than in another. CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.1.MD.C.4

Recently, I visited a first grade class where we worked on some graphing and data fun using Google Sheets!

We started by taking a whole-class poll through a Google Form, through which we learned that CHOCOLATE was the favorite flavor. The students each used their Chromebook to vote on the form, which had been posted in their Google Classroom.


The students were excited to see their results instantly! Because they had voted, the data was meaningful and relevant to them! We had a discussion to dive into the results just a little deeper. We discussed a friend who was absent, and what the implications for the data would be depending on his vote. “What if Miguel voted for….?”

Next, I modeled how to enter our ice cream data into this spreadsheet template that is already set up to show results as both a bar graph and a pie chart. I showed how I could enter our vote totals into each of the cells, and how the charts adjusted automatically. Modeling is essential when working with little learners. They CAN do it! It just takes practice!

Blank Template

Our Ice Cream Data

Once I had modeled the process, we shared the template to Google Classroom. First the students replicated the model by using our class ice cream data. Then we started experimenting with the numbers. For example, I asked, “What if 100 people voted for chocolate? Predict how that graphs will change.” This kiddos enjoyed playing with the numbers and watching the data adjust on the graphs. This allowed them to further develop number sense as they witnessed that bigger numbers make the graphs grow larger.

Now YOU try it!

Pairs of students were tasked to develop a unique question to ask their peers. Some examples of the questions they created:

  • What is your favorite pet?
  • What is your favorite Pokemon Character?
  • Which is your favorite Superhero?

ELA Standards, including writing and speaking, were reinforced in this Math activity, as students had to develop their own questions and ask them aloud to their classmates.

Once we had all voted on each other’s survey, the students entered the data they collected and created their own graphs using templates linked in their Google Classroom. Because they are naturally curious, it didn’t take long for the students to click around to customize colors and other settings in their charts.

The kids had so much fun. The math conversations were amazing! I can’t wait to see what else these little learners will do with spreadsheets as they continue to develop their skills.

Tips for Little Learners:

  • Don’t hesitate to use proper spreadsheet vocabulary, including “rows”, “columns”, and “cells.”
  • Model, model, model! 
  • Use Google Classroom to distribute the templates.
  • Pair students up as necessary to maximize success for all! 

The links below will create your OWN copy of the templates we used. Feel free to use, modify, and share!

Google Forms and Spreadsheets with Second Graders: Representing Data

The Second Grade Common Core Math standards ask students to create picture and bar graphs to represent data sets with up to four categories. (CCSS MATH 2.MD.D.10)

Drawing bar graphs is plenty fun, but we decided to kick it up a notch and create some bar graphs in Google Spreadsheets!

We started with a simple question from the whole class:

What is your favorite color?

All students voted by hand and then we worked together to make a bar graph of the results on the Promethean board.

The students then logged into their Chromebooks and used the same data to create a graph on their own spreadsheet.

Here are the steps for creating a bar graph in Google Spreadsheets:

So that was all fun, but now it was time to go even further! Students each wrote their own survey question and then created a one-question Google Form to collect their data. They pasted their form links into a Google Classroom announcement so all students could fill out each others' forms. After, they used their survey data to create individual bar graphs in Google Spreadsheets.

The students learned so much! And guess what? They wanted to repeat this project over and over again. Oh darn, the students want to take surveys and make graphs to represent data. I suppose we can let them!

So many people are terrified of spreadsheets, but this project proved that everyone has to start somewhere, and why not in second grade?!?!  By giving students a relevant purpose and some basic guidance through the tools, they can accomplish amazing things!

Even our youngest students can create using Google!

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Dr. Seuss, BreakoutEDU, Chromebooks, and First Grade... OH MY!

My title in my school district is technically "Instructional Technology Coach." But based on how I've spent a lot of my time this year, I should probably be called the #BreakoutEDU Coach. I've now had the pleasure of sharing BreakoutEDU with over 1400 different students, and many more than once!

Really though, I do want to retitle myself as the "Innovative Learning Specialist," because it covers all the random things I do and because it certainly doesn't always take a computer to innovate in the classroom! #jobgoals

Since I am the Tech Coach, I often do feel like I need to try and spread technology fairy dust everywhere I go. This week, I worked up some puzzles and clues for a Dr. Seuss-inspired, technology-enhanced BreakoutEDU game for Read Across America next week. I included multiple activities that would require the students, even kinders and first graders, to log into their Chromebooks to solve their puzzles and clues.

Some of the tasks for this game were inspired by or copied from the existing Dr. Seuss Breakouts In the BreakoutEDU collection by both Knela Newton and Patti Harju. This Breakout we are doing is the ULTIMATE Dr. Seuss mashup! I love how willingly everyone in the BreakoutEDU Facebook community shares their resources! I will try my best to give credit to the borrowed items.

It all starts with this letter from Thing One and Thing Two:

Letter by Knela Newton

Those silly little dudes STOLE the Cat's Hat and LOCKED it in the Breakout Box! We have to get it back to him!

The QR code leads to a YouTube read aloud that isn't necessary for the game, but is a good distractor :)

I changed up one of the tasks from the original lost hat game to include these apples in honor of the Seuss book, Ten Apples up on Top. I cut the apples out individually and spread them around the table. The number of apples indicated the 3-digit combo to the small lock box. For the first graders, I also included the three colored circles and taped them to the box as a hint for the order of the apple numbers.

Inside the small lock box, there was a UV flashlight, a strip of paper with a website link for a later task, and a Seuss ABC chart to solve the next puzzle, which was inspired by a couple of Patti Harju's games. 

Inspired by the "old snowman" puzzle by Patti Harju. 

I wanted to make sure the text and task were appropriate for the little ones, so I only had them decode part of this message: Oh a place you should look... is in a book! I put a key to a key lock inside of a copy of The Cat in the Hat which was hidden nearby.

Also inspired by Patti Harju

To bring in some technology, I put an image of the Google Classroom logo on the table to indicate there would be a clue linked from Google Classroom. 

Those first graders sure knew what that symbol meant! When they got to their Google Classroom, they found a link to this puzzle at Jigsaw Planet. Find it here:


The first graders frequently use the website for researching everything! This is a paid subscription, but it's a great, safe place where little ones can search and learn. The first graders knew that Pebble Go would be the perfect place to find the answer to the question on the Jigsaw Planet puzzle. Those first graders browsed to that familiar website, typed in the keyword SEUSS, and found the information they needed about when Dr. Seuss was born! The year of his birth opened a 4-digit lock.

Screenshot of Pebble Go by Capstone

For the answer to the directional lock, students had to solve this maze. I made this puzzle some time ago and don't remember if the maze came from another Breakout. I can't seem to find it anywhere to give it credit! I know I added the Seuss images. This maze requires seven directions, so the new multilock won't work. You'll either need a regular directional lock, or perhaps you can adapt the maze? Maybe you can start the students off by drawing in the first two legs of the route, and then they need to draw the other five. Their drawings would be five directions, which would fit on the multilock.

We used one of the posters from Patti Harju's game, Oh the Places You Will Go! I wrote the word AUTHOR on the poster in invisible ink. Without fail, the students always first try to spell out AUTHOR on the 5-letter lock. Once they realize they don't have enough letters to spell out that word, they usually come to realize WHICH author we are talking about!

Poster and task by Patti Harju
I put this crossword puzzle out on the table as a distractor with some kids, and had to use it as an alternative task for the older kids because many of them had already played Oh the Places You Will Go. I highlighted five random letters from the puzzle solutions as the combination for the five-letter lock.

Since we have played so much BreakoutEDU this year, I have purchased some additional locks along the way. One of those locks is a 4-letter lock. I used the copy of a page from Knela Newton's game and highlighted the letters R-E-A-D randomly on the page. Even the little ones were able to put them together to open that 4-letter lock!

Clue by by Knela Newton

The last puzzle is for our 5-digit locks, but could easily be adapted to be used with a 4-digit lock. The website link that was in the small lock box reads and will take students to a force-copy link of a Google Drawing. If kiddos are logged into a Google account, the item below will appear, and they can drag the character images into the table. The students should use the rainbow clue on the page to determine the order of the numbers. So far, the rainbow hasn't been anyone's first guess! They usually try to put them in by value from smallest to largest. I added a sixth unnecessary image to keep the students on their toes!

Google Drawings Rainbow Sequence

This Breakout has SEVEN LOCKS! The kids did amazing though, and all of the groups broke out in under 45 minutes. I tried this game with first graders, fourth graders, and with kindergarteners this week, and have a long list of classroom visits planned for our Read Across America celebration next week! 

My messy collection of resources for this version of the Dr. Seuss games can be found in one doc here: Find Patti Harju and Knela Newton's original games at

See my previous post, Little Learners Love BreakoutEDU, for tips and tricks about using BreakoutEDU with primary-aged students.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Little Learners LOVE BreakoutEDU!

We’ve been having so much fun playing Breakout EDU in our classrooms!  Many people wonder if this exciting game can be used with primary-aged students. It certainly can! Breakout EDU is a great way to get our littlest learners communicating, collaborating, and thinking critically!

What is Breakout EDU?

If you’re not yet familiar with it, Breakout EDU is a fun way to get your students out of their seats to try, as the Breakout EDU creators say, something different!  In this game-based learning activity, students work together to find clues and solve puzzles.

Where to begin with young students?

As with any activity with little learners, there are unique considerations that have to be factored into the planning of your Breakout EDU:

  • How do I keep the little ones engaged and on-task?
  • What scaffolds can be embedded?
  • What if the students aren't yet readers?

For your first experience, you may want to try browsing through the shared games on the Breakout EDU website. The games can be filtered by age and subject area. There are a number of great games designed with young students in mind, and are 100% ready to go with primary-aged kiddos.

These are just a few of the games I’ve had a chance to run with little learners, all found on the Breakout EDU website:

If you Take a Mouse to School - Patti Harju

Puzzles, colors, sorting manipulatives, and a fun, familiar text make this a great first game for little ones!

Help the Cat Get Back His Hat by Knela Newton

Thing One and Thing Two stole The Cat’s Hat! Can you help him get it back? The puzzles and clues in this game are appropriate for K-2 students. This game also offers a few challenges for ramping up the difficulty.

Turkey Trouble by Patti Harju

This game is masterfully designed! There are multiple variations of some of the tasks so the game can be adapted for early or non-readers. We played in First Grade and had a blast!

Run Turkey Run by By Ann Kozma and Cari Baylie - Found Here

Using Technology and Google Tools with Breakout EDU

When playing Breakout EDU with students of ALL ages, I often use various apps from the Google Suite to supplement the games, increase engagement, and incorporate modern tools into the various Breakout EDU scenarios:

In this sample, students used a QR code to open a force-copy link of a Google Drawing. ( When the images are arranged in the correct food chain order, directional letters reveal the combination to the directional lock.  

Google Forms are another great way to include technology in your Breakout! Use a QR Code, Short URL or Google Classroom to send students to a Google Form to get a clue! Using page breaks, data validation, and customized response pages, students can answer questions and solve problems! Here are a couple short YouTube tutorials by Mike Nye on how to do this:

Many games in the Breakout EDU collection use Jigsaw Planet, which is an online puzzle tool that can be accessed with a laptop, Chromebook, iPad or other tablet. Students arrange puzzle pieces like this one by Patti Harju, often to reveal a clue or lock combo. Little learners love puzzles!

Productive Struggle

As an instructional coach, I get to play this game with students, but the core of my role includes supporting the teachers! Since Breakout EDU is new, this year I bring the boxes and games into the classrooms and co-facilitate with the teachers.

I love the moment when a teacher realizes that it’s okay to NOT help their students. That it’s okay to let even the little ones get frustrated and struggle! Hyperdocs Co-Creator Lisa Highfill sometimes shares this video when she speaks. It (adorably) illustrates the power of letting students learn on their own.

It’s so easy to give our kiddos a gentle nudge, because we feel like they could reach success with just a little help. What we often don’t realize is that usually, NOT helping our students is the best way to lead them. Let the grow and shine and figure it out on their own!

Jo Boaler, author and Professor of Mathematics Education at Stanford University, speaks on this topic as well. Her research shows that in the human brain, more growth occurs when a person gets something wrong and then figures out, than if he or she just answered correctly the first time. Are we allowing our students enough opportunities to struggle? Are we giving them safe spaces to fail? We have to provide our students with opportunities to try, fail, and learn on their own to NOT give up. Breakout EDU is a great opportunity to teach even our youngest students these important learning skills, especially perseverance!

It is my hope that the Breakout EDU experience leads teachers toward giving their students more opportunities to take risks in all content areas throughout their day. Let them have fun, let them struggle, and give them a chance to learn and experience trials of failure and the thrill of success!

Some Tips for Little Learners:

Model, model, model.
If it’s your first time playing Breakout EDU with little ones, take a few minutes to show them some basics of how the locks work. I’ve seen many students spell out the correct letters or combination on a lock, but didn’t realize there was a specific place/mark on the lock where the dials should be lined up. The directional lock can be a challenge for learners of all ages! It’s a good idea to show the kiddos the mechanics of how to make the lock work!
Small groups work well!
I prefer to have the students work in small groups, and usually bring three boxes to the primary classrooms. If you don’t have access to multiple boxes, consider using a lock combo recording sheet with each team. Many of the games on the Breakout EDU website include some variation of this recording sheet for playing with teams:

You could also run the game like you would centers. Have a different puzzle/clue/task lock at each station. Either have each group work on a separate lock, or have groups rotate through the clues and reset the lock or puzzle when the groups move to the next table.

Get help, especially the first time!
It might be a good idea to plan your Breakout at a time when you have an aide or parent helper in the room. Consider inviting instructional coaches or administrators in for the fun, too!  
Everyone plays! 
To maximize engagement and keep kiddos on-task, include some activities that EVERY student needs to accomplish (a great example of this would be an instructional video on how to draw the Cat in the Hat, and when ALL members of the team share the drawing to the Breakout Facilitator, the team gets a key, hint, or clue!)

Most Importantly, Have Fun!

Breakout EDU is a fun, active way to learn, especially with primary aged students! Give them a chance to show you what they CAN do! And then try your hand at designing your own Breakout EDU games!

Have you played Breakout EDU with little learners? Please share tips and tricks you've learned or links to your favorite blogs or games in the comments below!