My Circus, My Monkeys!

A looming Christmas break, Christmas concerts, parties, not enough sleep, too few hours of daylight, a full moon, Friday the 13th and report cards?! Seriously, you can’t make this stuff up! At this time of year, many teachers end up feeling like the circus master trying to control the monkeys! Everyone could use a couple of fun activities to calm the beas…er, kids! So, in what has become a tradition for me (2017, 2018), here are some fun things to do with your students in these last crazy days before school wraps up for 2019!

Wintertime Magnetic Poetry (thanks Eric Curts!)

Start by making your own copy of this template, then share it out with your students through Google Classroom (or some other way). On one side of the template there are 100 alphabetical non-themed words and on the other side there are almost 100 themed words. In the middle is a winter scene. The idea is that kids drag the words to the centre to create a poem! They can use a word more than once by right-clicking on it and copying; they can edit the word boxes and there are some empty boxes at the bottom to create new words! Once they’ve finished they can download it as a .png or PDF and share!

Google’s Santa Tracker

Okay, this site is seriously fun! The graphics are colourful and cute and even though the big guy hasn’t started his ride yet, there’s lots to do here. You can count down the time until he leaves the North Pole (awesome Math puzzle!), play games, do some basic coding with elves, and if you click on the Family Guide button, you can learn about holiday traditions around the world, translate phrases into different languages, take a map quiz or a holiday traditions quiz, create your own elf, help Santa get ready for a selfie and more!

Make a Holiday Emoji!

Also by Google, this site uses very basic block code (Grade 2 or 3 could manage but older kids would still have fun) to let visitors (no log-in required) create a fun, festive “emoji” of themselves or a friend! Once the kids are done they can download their emoji or take a screenshot of it!

Emoji Math

Still on the emoji idea, Solvemoji is a fun site that uses emojis the create math puzzles. The link above takes you to their winter/Christmas puzzles. There are a variety of levels here and some of them are quite difficult! Students SHOULD NOT create accounts on this site – this is the sort of site that I recommend you use to project puzzles for your class to work on, or screen capture a number of them and print them off for your kids to puzzle on!

Yep, More Emojis! (thanks again, Eric!)

Make a copy of this word doc and share it with your students. Encourage them to tell a winter or Christmas story using emojis. When I was little we called these “rebus” stories and they helped me learn to read! The kids will have fun figuring out how to replace as many words as possible with little images!

A Dickensian Christmas

Okay, so I know “The Gift of the Magi” was not written by Dickens but it always reminds me of Dickens. It’s a wonderful old story with great, mysterious vocabulary to puzzle out. It could provide a springboard for talking or writing about “the best gift we ever gave” or “the best gift we ever got.” Or have your students come up with a modern version and write it or act it out! 

Warm or Cold

Finally, sometimes it’s just nice to have a crackling fire in the background or to watch the snow quietly fall. Project one of these (fireplace or snowstorm) onto your wall, turn the lights down and give everyone a quiet activity to do (maybe one of the activities from Hour of Code?)

5 Tips for Powerful Presentations

We’ve all sat through THOSE slide presentations, right? The kind where the misguided presenter cuts and pastes their entire speech on to the slides and then proceeds to read them verbatim? Seriously, just give me the speech and I’ll read it for myself! Or the kind where the excited student realizes they can make words or pictures bounce or fly onto the screen one at a time and so creates a presentation that ends up leaving you feeling slightly motion-sick? 

A good presentation teaches or informs us but also entertains us. Easy to say, but not always easy to do! I’ve been creating presentations on a fairly constant basis for the last 15 years or so, and while I like to think I’m pretty good at it, I know I still make design mistakes and it still can take me an entire evening to craft a powerful presentation. So, here, after many years of learning the hard way, are my top 5 tips, to spare you (and your audience) from anguish!

Tip One: What’s A Picture Worth?

You got it…a thousand words! The most effective presentations I’ve ever seen are the ones delivered by TED and TEDx speakers – they’re (by design) light on text and heavy on images. No one wants to read your slides – they want you to do the heavy lifting for them! Tell them a story or communicate your ideas using pictures/images and they’ll be interested. Make sure your pictures or images are clear, in focus and not distorted and make them as big as possible. The people in your audience will thank you!

Tip Two: Make the Words Count

If you are going to limit the words you use, make sure they have impact. Yes, there are literally thousands of cool fonts out there but you don’t need to use all of them! (I personally struggle with this one!) Choose one or two fonts that work with your theme and stick with them. Try not to choose fonts that are hard to read or too thin to have impact. And make sure the fonts stand out from the background – don’t use red font with an orange background unless you have a very compelling reason to do so.

Photo by Zainab Aamir on

Tip Three: Don’t Let The Crayon Box Throw Up!

There’s a reason that apps like Google Slides, Keynote and Powerpoint will “suggest” a colour theme. Some colours go well together and some don’t. While I don’t have the room here for a full explanation of colour theory,  I will say this: if you’re not confident with colour there’s nothing wrong with sticking to one background colour and making your font either white or black. If you like playing with colour, there are two sites that I find helpful (this one and this one. But really, try to limit the colours you use to 5 or fewer.

Tip Four: Meet My Team

Most people stick to one method of presenting. I use three as they each do different jobs well. I like to think of them as people and I choose different “people” to work with, depending on what I’m presenting.

Microsoft Powerpoint

PowerPoint is a business woman in a power suit and heels. One of the industry standards, Powerpoint works well and is great for “business” type presentations. I don’t use it if I want to do something more artistic. 

Apple Keynote

Keynote is kind of like the vegan programmer who rides an electric bike and works at the coolest start-up in town. After attending the Apple Distinguished Educators Institute last summer I have a new admiration and renewed interest in Keynote. It’s artistic, flexible and versatile. 

Google Slides

Slides is like that person we all know who is somewhat quiet and unassuming on the surface but the minute you dig deeper, you find they’re much more complex than you thought! Slides is not quite as artistic as Keynote and it doesn’t have all the functionalities of Ppt, but it’s an awesome middle ground. Perhaps one of my favourite functionalities of Slides is the ability to seamlessly collaborate with other people. 

Tip Five: Don’t Memorize

If you’re creating a presentation to teach your class about something, chances are that you already know that topic well and there is no need to worry too much about writing down what you need to say, as you’ve likely been teaching it for awhile!

But what if you’re presenting to parents? Or you’ve been asked to present to the school board or to a roomful of teachers at a Pro-D conference? For many people, these scenarios are intimidating. You don’t want to forget what to say so you write a script for yourself and then spend hours memorizing it. Don’t! It’s okay to write a script to organize your ideas but then pull out the main points that go with each slide and just use those. Know your topic well enough that you can “tell the story” but not so well that you sound like an over-rehearsed automaton. If you have important statistics or numbers, include those on the slide so you don’t forget them (but for heaven’s sake, don’t put all your info on the slide – see Tip One!) Practice your presentation for timing. I find about 20 slides gets me an hour long presentation but I’ve also done 5 minute, 15 slide presentations so you need to see what works for you.

Hopefully these tips can help you (or your students) become more confident presenters!

Hour of Code 2019

The local mountains have a dusting of snow, Starbucks has brought out their holiday cups and teachers are running around stressing about report cards. All of this can only mean one thing….it’s almost Hour of Code week (or as we Canadians say, Canada Learning Code Week)! Really, the week of December 9 to 15th is Computer Science Week around the world and there will be celebrations and learning opportunities happening everywhere!

I can hear what you’re saying now…yeah, yeah, yeah – you tell us about this every year, Cari! You’re right, I have (here, here and here). And hopefully those posts are enough to convince you to spend some time coding with your students, whether you teach Grade 3 or Grade 11! But just in case you need more convincing, here are 10 reasons why kids should learn coding (brought to you by Canadian educators Brian Aspinall and Sylvia Duckworth)

and then even more for those who speak and teach in French (brought to you by Coding Park). 

So, are you ready to give it a try? To register your class in Hour of Code, click here. To get the Hour of Code Educator’s Resources, click here. To register for Canada Learning Code Week, click here. And for Canada Learning Code lesson plans, click here. And hey…..while your kids are spending some time having fun with code sometime that week…make yourself a big mug of tea, sit down with them and have a go! You might just enjoy it!

What Can I Believe?

At a time when (some) political figures lie as a matter of course, studies show that many people use Facebook as their primary source of news and even scientists can’t agree on what is happening to our world, how on earth are kids supposed to know what to believe? It’s a tough question and even adults struggle with knowing what news sites and websites are accurate and (relatively) unbiased.

The good news is that there are lesson plans and aids out there to help teach kids some of the critical thinking skills required to navigate the information overload.

To start with, it’s important to teach kids what types of websites they should trust and how to look at websites with a critical eye. Many of us have seen the brilliant “Pacific Northwest Octopus” website, which looks real at first glance (I’ve even fooled teachers with it!) but upon further examination proves to be a clever hoax! You can use websites like this to teach students what to look for in a website. I use this lesson with students in Grade 4 to 7. I start by showing them the TRAAP video (see below) and we go over what is being taught in the video. I then put them in groups of two and give each group the address of a website, along with this sheet to collect information on. They need to become detectives, looking for evidence of whether or not their website is real or fake! At the end of the class we go over their findings to see if they thought they had a real of fake site and why.

Older, more capable students could use this video (which calls it the CRAAP test – can you understand why I chose the TRAAP test for younger kids?!) and then use this worksheet to find a good and not-so-good website on any topic. Younger students could be led through this lesson, which introduces the idea of whether or not a website seems to be a good website based on whether or not the website seems reliable and why.

So, once kids understand that there are ways to critically examine websites, you can introduce the more difficult topic of bias. Elections provide a great way to introduce bias and you don’t need a political election to teach this. For instance, tell the class that the next free block they get can either be spent outside playing in the playground or inside playing games. The catch is that the entire class will have to do the same thing, based on a vote. Have the class split into three groups: an “outside” group, an “inside” group and an “undecided” group. Give each of the first two groups 10 minutes to develop reasons why their choice is better and then they present their reasons to the whole class. Then vote. But before you count the vote and present the results, ask the explain bias and ask the undecided group is they noticed any bias in the presentations. What did they notice? Why do they think people are biased? How could this affect the presentations and vote?

As part of this, help your students understand some of the vocabulary of bias with words like bias, claim, evidence, exaggeration and reason.

Here are some lesson plans to help teach bias:

Choosing Reliable Sources Grades 3 to 5
Exploring Bias and Exaggeration In News and Magazine Articles – Grades 5 to 8
Analyzing How Words Communicate Bias Grades 6 to 8
Navigating the Media Minefield Grades 5 to 10
Can You Beat Cognitive Bias? Grades 7 to 10
Bias in Media Grades 10 to 12

If you have equipped your students with the skills to judge the reliability of websites as well as an understanding of what bias is, why it exists and how to spot it, you will have given them a great skill set for being a thoughtful digital citizen!

All The News That’s Fit To Read!

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So, you’ve decided to do a “current news” unit with your students. Or you want them to debate whether or not the Amazon rainforest is burning down and what that could mean. Or your Canadian History class wants to understand impeachment and whether it could happen here. Or someone in your Grade 5 class met Greta Thunberg at the climate strike last week and now the whole class wants to know more about Greta. Where do you look? Most of us turn to the internet, especially for the most current news. But what’s trustworthy? What can we use with students?

Following is a list of sites where you can get news articles that you and your students can use. I have focused on sites where students do not need to sign in, sign up or sign on. However, in some cases the site works better if you, as the teacher, has an account. So…start the presses!

CBC Kids News

This bright, energetic site has lots of current news and high interest articles and videos, with a decidedly Canadian focus. The reading level is more elementary than secondary.

Photo by PhotoMIX Ltd. on

Teaching Kids News

Started by a Canadian teacher and a freelance journalist, this site is aimed at kids from Grades 2 to 8. Every Monday, during the school year, they publish a news article based on what’s going on in Canada and around the world.

News for Kids

This site has a variety of articles and although it is American, it does cover World news. The site has ads, which you can “subscribe” to remove, but even with the ads, there’s lots of great news here.

Smithsonian’s Tween Tribune

This site is created by the people at the Smithsonian and features newsy articles about a wide variety of topics. Each article is written at 4 levels, to accommodate students from Grades K to 12. You and your students do not need to log-in to access the articles and for teachers who are interested, there is a weekly email you can sign up for that includes lesson plans, resources and other stories.


Youngzine is a cross between newspaper and magazine articles aimed at students in intermediate grades and above. There is a log-in function but you can access most of the site without logging in.

Photo by Public Domain Pictures on


This is a New Zealand website with news from around the world. It’s a great way to show kids what people are thinking and talking about on the other side of the world.


This great website is not really a “hard news” site but the articles are high interest with videos, vocabulary words and great images. Each article is based on a “wonder” someone had, like “Can You Beat Box?” or “How Do Dolphins Use Echolocation?”

There are other great news sites that ask you create accounts or pay for subscriptions but for this post we tried to stay relatively anonymous and free1

Next week we’ll take a look at lesson plans for helping students determine the reliability, truthfulness and bias of news stories.

The Case for Cross-Pollination!

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Last Friday was a province-wide Professional Development Day for BC teachers. I spent the day, as I usually do, at the CUEBC (Computer Using Educators of BC) Conference. Aside from listening to some interesting speakers and talking to the vendors about new technology, the best part of the conference was meeting and chatting with other teachers from around the Lower Mainland and beyond.

As teachers, we often talk about the importance of collaboration. We teach our students how to collaborate and we plan our schedules to try to make collaborative time with our grade or subject-alike colleagues. “Two heads are better than one” as the saying goes. It’s great to be able to compare lesson plans and work together on assessment.

But as great as collaboration is, cross-pollination is just as important and one of the best places to experience it is at a conference! What is cross-pollination? It’s the act of chatting with teachers from other schools, other districts….maybe even other provinces. We can learn so much from each other! New ideas or old ideas with a twist. How do they communicate student learning? What assessment strategies do they use? What crazy things happen in their district?

Cross-pollination of ideas makes everyone stronger. So the next time you get a chance to go to a conference or meet with teachers from other districts, do it! Staying in your school on a Pro-D day might be a great chance for collaboration but getting out and meeting with new people leads to cross-pollination!

“Everyone Can Create” Guides – A Shiny Apple for Educators

When my mom gets any new tool or technology she likes to read the instructions and how-to guides. She likes being informed and she likes getting the most out of whatever it is she’s bought. My dad, on the other hand, generally ignores instructions. He dives in, putters around, often making mistakes, but eventually he figures things out. I’ve generally prescribed to my dad’s methods, but lately I’ve realized I can learn a lot from well-written how-to guides. A really great example of this is Apple’s “Everyone Can Create” guides.

Apple created the guides to help students and teachers use the creative apps available on the ipad. For older learners (Grades 4 to 12) there are 4 student-centred books. One on drawing, one on music, one on photography and one on video. There is also a teacher guide to support those. The apps used in all of these are the basic Apple apps like Garageband and iMovie and they are all free.

The Teacher Guide explains the basics of all of the lessons and then gives you ways to use the concepts in curricular areas. For instance, after the section on photo collage, integration ideas include a Poetry Collage and an Ecosystem Collage. 

The Student Guides cover the same lessons but in more detail, so that students could use them independently.  The lessons are written in simple language with easy to follow instructions and images. They could be used as a centre activity, with students reading and following instructions on their own, or as a whole class activity. I’m not at all musical and I have always found Garageband intimidating, yet I was easily able to follow the directions and create my own piece of music!

For younger students (K through 3) there is a Teacher Guide for Early Learners. It also covers music, drawing, photography and video. The guide gives you an overview of each chapter, along with activities, projects and extensions. It uses many of the same apps as the older student guides do, but it also includes Tayasui Sketch School (a fantastic, free drawing app) and Apple Clips, a great tool which I reviewed here. Once you and your students get used to using the tools mentioned in the guides, there is no limit as to what you can create!

To access the guides, as a teacher, you just need an iTunes Store account (the books are all free) and you can download them from this page. For students, you can either project the necessary pages on your projector, or depending on how iPads are managed in your district, you can download the guides to student iPads.

While I do think these teacher and student guides are awesome, there are two downfalls, in my opinion. The first is that the drawing activities work best when you have access to an Apple pencil, which only works with the newer iPads and at a cost of over $100 is not manageable for most schools situations. This hurdle is manageable though. Most elementary students will be happy enough with the precision they can get using their own fingers to draw with! 

The second downfall is that there is no way to download a PDF of the guides to make them available on, say, Google Classroom. While not a showstopper, it is a little inconvenient.

Downfalls aside, if you like being creative with your students, if you like having a guide to help you, if you like using Apple apps, then the “Everyone Can Create” guides are just the shiny apple you need for your desk!

Digital Citizenship Week!

Photo by Ylanite Koppens on

This week is special for two reasons. For Canadians, it’s special because it’s a short week, due to Thanksgiving being on Monday the 14th (Happy Thanksgiving!!) For educators and students everywhere, it’s a special week because it is Digital Citizenship Week. The more time that our students, their parents and society in general spend in a digital world, the more important it becomes to make sure that we are equipping our students to be conscientious, thoughtful and safe digital citizens.

I’ve written about digital citizenship before (here, here and here) and last year I created a digital citizenship scope and sequence for our K to 7 students, as well as a website with lessons collected from around the internet. The website is set to get a refresh this fall, with new lessons and links!

In the meantime, how will you and your students celebrate Digital Citizenship week? Common Sense Media has done a great job of providing resources. If you teach Grades K to 5, here is a link to some great videos to watch with your students! If you teach Grades 6 to 8, here is a link to 5 great video discussion activities you can do in class. Finally, if you teach Grades 9 to 12, here is a link to 5 videos you can use to get teens thinking about social media. 

And for those of you who teach high school and use Kahoot!, here is a great Kahoot to try with your class.

Ideally, as teachers, we would weave digital citizenship lessons in and out of everything else we do all year! However, even if all you can do is incorporate one of the lessons or discussions from this post, your students will benefit!

Marie Kondo and Your Google Drive Part 2

If you read last week’s blog and followed the advice given therein, you now have an organized Google Drive! Congratulations! I bet that feels great! Now we’re going to tackle some of the more arcane Google stuff, like ownership and Shared With Me, so that your relationship with your Google Drive sparks joy for you!

Marie Kondo organized drawer! from PopSugar

Up first, let’s tackle the secrets of “Shared With Me”. One of Google’s strengths is how it lets you share and collaborate with other people. However, the Shared With Me section of your Drive is like the proverbial junk drawer in your kitchen – unorganized, never-ending and a bit frightening at times. I mean…where does all this stuff come from?

Any time someone shares a file with you, it goes to the Shared With Me “drawer”. You can not sort or organize your Shared With Me drawer.You can throw things out by right-clicking on them and putting them in the trash (note that this throws out your copy but the person who shared it with you still has their copy). You can move files into your drive by right clicking on them and then choosing Add to My Drive. The original owner still owns them but you can now organize where you would like to put that file. If the person who owns that file makes a change to it, your version will also update. It’s a living document. If the person who originally owned it deletes it from their Google Drive, it will be deleted from your Google Drive, too. 

But what if you want to keep that document and don’t want to worry about someone deleting it? Then Make A Copy of it. The copy will now be your document and your can edit it and share it with others. The former owner will not see any changes you make and any changes they make to their original will not show up on your “new” document.

So…”Marie Kondo” you Shared With Me drawer. Make copies of the things you want to keep for yourself, add things you want to organize to folders in your Google Drive and trash the rest! Doesn’t that feel great? Now, make a plan to deal with your Shared With Me drawer twice a year and you’re set.

Now that you’re feeling all soshiki sa reta (organized, in Japanese), what about all of those files you have that are taking up space on the hard drive of your computer? The ones you made in Word?  Well, you can upload them to your Drive and then organize them! How you upload them is important. If you just go to the New button and click File Upload, they will be uploaded as Word docs (or PowerPoints or what have you). That’s fine, but any time you want to edit them, you will need to download them and open them in their original format again. Instead, if you make a small change in your Google Drive settings, any file you upload to your Drive will automagically be converted to its Google equivalent! To do this, click the little gear in the top right of your Drive. Then click the word Settings. After that, toggle the little  “Convert Uploads” box and you’re good to go!

While there’s always more to learn with Google, between last week’s post and this week’s post your Google Drive should now spark joy in you when you work with it!

Marie Kondo and Your Google Drive

A few weeks ago I was working with the staff at Cypress Park Primary School. We were looking at how they could more effectively and efficiently use their Google Drives. As I showed them how to organize, one of them said “It’s like we’re Marie Kondo-ing our Google!” And that, dear readers, is how a blog post is born (thanks CP)!

For those who don’t have Netflix or who have been hiding from popular culture for awhile, Marie Kondo is the Japanese organization guru whose advice about only keeping things that “spark joy” has helped millions of people re-organize their possessions. Now, I realize that deciding which of your 18 lesson plans on mapping “spark joy” might be a bit far-fetched, but organizing your Google Drive is definitely (to quote another organization guru) “a good thing!”

So…where to start? First off, you should be using your Google Drive as your hub for all things Google. And learn how to toggle back and forth between your personal Google Drive and your school one.

Start your cleaning and organizing with Folders. Decide which folders you should have. If you are a Grade 6 homeroom teacher, you might need a Math folder, and ELA folder, a Socials folder, a Science folder, an Inquiry folder….get the idea? On the other hand, if you teach high school Science, maybe you need a Science 8 folder, a Bio 11 folder and an IB Bio 12 folder.

To create a new folder, click the New button, chose folder and give it a name. Once you’ve created the folder, you can share it with people, rename it or even choose a colour for it, by right-clicking on the folder icon.

What about nesting your folders (putting folders inside folders)? You might teach 3 blocks of Science 8. Create a folder called Science 8 and then inside it, create a folder called Science 8 2-2, Science 8 2-4 and Science 8 1-2. The picture below shows that I am in my Dystopian Lit Circles folder, which is in my Lit Circles 2015 Folder, which is in my LA7 folder, which is in my Google Drive.

Once you have created the folders you need, you can drag all of those “orphaned” documents and slide decks and PDFs that are in your drive into the folder they belong in. Or, you can right click on the doc/whatever, chose “Move to” and then move it into the folder in which it belongs.

Once you have all of that organized, take some time to go into your files and (here’s where the “spark joy” part comes in) look through them. Get rid of duplicates, get rid of files you no longer need. Only keep the things you know you will use! Give yourself a bit of time to do this. Once you’re all organized it shouldn’t be too hard to stay organized! And while you’re at it – help your students get organized!

Next week we’ll look at permissions, ownership, the Shared With Me mess, Trash and finding lost files!