The Great 3D Design Challenge!

At a recent meeting a colleague and I were discussing the idea of 3D design. How could we get kids and teachers more interested? How could we give them a purpose for learning how to use 3D design software and get them excited about 3D printing when many teachers are unfamiliar with the software and many elementary schools do not have a 3D printer? And so the idea of “The Great 3D Design Challenge” was born!

We are challenging Grade 4 to 7 students in West Vancouver Schools to think up and design a new crest or shield for their school. They will design it using Tinkercad, (an easy to use 3D design software) following these simple directions:

  1. The design needs to be original.
  2. It should fit on the Tinkercad workspace.
  3. The design needs to incorporate the name of the school.
  4. The design needs to include either the words “SD45” or a lighthouse.
  5. The rest of the design should showcase something special about their school.

When the designs are done, each class that participates can vote on the best design in their class. That file will be sent to Mr. Trask at Rockridge and he and his STEM students will print out the winning designs and return them to the schools!

The contest starts today and will continue until May 1st. At that point, the winning design from each class will need to be sent (more info on how to do this later) to Mr. Trask.

Sounds cool, right? Here’s what you need to know.


Please create a teacher account and add your students in. It takes very little time to do and they have revised their site so that you don’t need to use student emails and really don’t even need to use their real names! Here’s how:

  1. Go to
  2. Click Join Now
  3. Choose Educators Start Here
  4. Click the I am an educator box and then click 
  5. Click Sign up with email – DO NOT choose Sign up with Google
  6. Follow the steps for creating your account (Note – this is MUCH easier for the kids!)

Once you have your teacher account up and running, it’s super easy to create a class and add your kids. Here’s a link to the slidedeck that shows you how.


As excited as you might be, don’t dive straight into Tinkercad! Talk with your class about what a crest or shield is – show them some. 

Then move into design mode. What shape will their crest or shield be? What is interesting about their school and how could they show that on a shield? This brainstorming stage is critical in the design cycle, so don’t leave it out!

Playing with Tinkercad

Before students finalize their shield designs, I would advise getting them into the Tinkercad space and playing with it a bit, so they can see and experience for themselves! Here are some getting started videos I created – you can either watch them yourselves or make them available for your students to watch!

Once you’ve watched the videos, give the students time to just play for a while, so they get used to the interface. When they’ve seen what Tinkercad can do, have them go back to the design process and really start planning out their shields!

A couple of tips:

We All Need A Good Laugh!

Seriously, between what we deal with in our daily lives as teachers and what we see on the news every day…sometimes it’s tough to be a “glass is half-full” kind of person! To top it all off, it’s report card time and I am feeling a little overwhelmed!

So, rather than write a serious or instructional blog, I thought I’d provide you with some laughs (you’re welcome  in advance!)

I discovered this “erducator” a while ago, while mindlessly surfing the Youtubes. His channel is called “Go See the Principal: True Tales from the School Trenches” and his short vlogs are hilarious (especially once you get the hang of his southern accent). His take on the crazy lives of erducators is insightful, often silly and generally bang-on. 

Here’s his advice for fun staff meetings:

This one is perfect for report card time:

Here’s what principals do on snow days:

And here’s some ideas for Valentine’s Day cards:

And then every once in a while he reminds us of why we all teach: 

See you next week!

Classroom Jeopardy!!

My favourite kind of games are generally board games or puzzles but I have to admit that when Jeopardy comes on the tv, I am completely engrossed. I love the whole thing – the categories, the questions, the strategy involved in Final Jeopardy and, of course, the host, Canadian Alex Trebek!

Some years ago I learned how to create a Jeopardy style game on Google Slides. Here is a link to the template, created by Eric Curts. It works but seemed a little clunky to me.

Then recently I heard about a site called Factiles, that allows you to create a more realistic Jeopardy game as well as use games made by other players.

As a teacher, you create an account, create the game and then pretend you are Alex, guiding your students through the game to Final Jeopardy. Like many sites, there is a free and paid version of Factile but in my opinion, the free version is totally fine! The only major limit with the free version is that you can only have 5 teams playing at once and in a class of 30 that can get kind of crazy! Then again, if you have a class of 30, isn’t life kind of nuts already!?

For those of us who teach other languages, you can play in French or Spanish, too! Here is a video that goes over how to build a game:

And here is a video that goes over how to play a game:

And, hey, if you like playing games in your classroom, here is a post that outlines several other games you can play to help students internalize the learning!


I often spend time searching the internet, looking for cool ideas to bring to you on this blog and, boy howdy (I was listening to country music this morning) have I found a good one! The idea’s a few years old but I think it still resonates and if I were still teaching ELA I’d use this idea right away!

What am I talking about? Booksnaps! Booksnaps were dreamed up by Tara M. Martin in 2016 and in her words, a Booksnap is “…a digital, visual representation used to annotate and share reflections of any excerpt of a book or text.” Martin originally envisioned using Snapchat as a way of sharing these but the reality is that there are many safer ways of creating and sharing Booksnaps. My top suggestions for creating Booksnaps? On an iPad try BookCreator or PicCollage. On a laptop try Google Slides (or PowerPoint or Keynote) or Google Drawings or Book Creator on Chrome. Really, the list of apps or sites you could use is quite long!

So, to show you a variety of options, I took a picture book I love (“Dear Greenpeace” by Simon James) and “booksnapped” it 4 ways with a different focus each time. Here goes!

BookCreator – Main Idea

PicCollage – Personal Connection

Keynote – Personal Reflection 

Google Drawings – Connections with Other Literature

Each example is a little different but none of them took very long to create. And, they’re fun to make!

You could display students’ booksnaps a variety of ways. You could create a Book Creator book that all of the students’ snaps get added to during the year. (Then at the end of the year you could share it with everyone!) Students could share their booksnaps with you by adding them to Google Classroom or putting them on their eportfolios. If you had a class Twitter or Insta account, you could post one or two every week (just remember to remove any personal info first). Use the hashtag booksnaps (#booksnaps) and you could join teachers around the world who are creating booksnaps with their kids.

Don’t teach Language Arts? Maybe your students could create MathSnaps or ScienceSnaps! Really, the only limit is your imagination! Have fun!

Classy Rubrics, Classroom!

As one of my colleagues, Dr. Chugani, likes to say “Do you want the good news or the good news?” Well, I’m a glass-is-half-full kinda person, so of course I want the good news! So, the good news is…Google Classroom now allows you to incorporate rubrics when marking! And the other good news is…they’re pretty easy to create, use and you can even (with a bit of cut and paste magic) use old ones! Yahoo!!

You will first notice the “Create Rubric” option when you go to create an assignment. It shows up on the bottom right side of the screen. You will see both the option to create and the option to reuse.

Rather than trying to explain how to create and use the Rubrics I decided to try my hand at creating a Youtube tutorial for you. So, here it is!

There are lots of us who have been waiting a long time to have this functionality be a part of Classroom, so I hope you’re as excited as I am to see this being added to the Google for Education toolkit!

Digital Bell Ringers

Photo by Mike on

You know that time of the day/class that’s kind of “lost” time? Kids have started trickling in but announcements haven’t happened, the bell hasn’t rung, etc. Some teachers use that time as silent reading time, some have their students answer writing prompts, some have their students practice typing or doing Math or logic puzzles. Many teachers call these activities “bell ringers” and their students have a bellringer notebook where they keep all their work. Several years ago I did this with my class as a way to calm them, review learning and get them all on the same page at the start of class and it worked well!

Rather than doing our bell ringers in a notebook I decided, inspired by something I saw on Pinterest, to create a digital bellringer notebook using Google Slides. I started by creating a new slide deck and I re-sized the slides to be “regular” paper size (8.5 inches by 11 inches). If you’re not sure how to do this, see the information on flexible sizing in this post. I then created a basic title page (I wanted them to add their name, division and a picture of themselves) and beyond that they could decorate it as they wished. I shared that out on Google classroom, asking each student to make a copy for themselves.

From then on, every time we did a bellringer, we added a new slide. Sometimes the students created a new slide and sometimes I sent one out via Classroom.

What sorts of things did we do? Writing (from prompts, images, cartoons or questions), French practice, logic puzzles, word puzzles, Math puzzles, meme creation, quick coding “challenges”…really, the sky is the limit!

How often did we do bell ringers? As often as we could, although I will be totally honest and say some days we just didn’t get to it!

I assessed the bell ringers several ways. I had each student keep track of how many they had done and I then checked in periodically, to keep them on the straight and narrow! Additionally, each term I chose a few bellringers to mark for knowledge or content. We mostly used French bellringers as a way to practice vocab and sentence formation. I used the ELA bell ringers to both practice skills (fix punctuation, edit sample paragraphs, etc.) and to give me a quick idea on how students were doing with current lessons (writing haiku, descriptive paragraphs, letter writing). Puzzle, logic and “fun” bell ringers were often discussed but rarely marked.

There are lots of great bell ringer activities on the internet. This Edutopia post has some great ideas and links and there are some other great ideas here. And if you search Pinterest for bell ringers, you’ll get loads of great ideas. If you are doing digital bell ringers, take advantage of the medium and have students annotate images on Google Drawings, tell an emoji story, or create a meme. Bell ringers can be a great way to practice and solidify skills but they can also be a way to be creative and have a little fun in class! And that has to be a good thing, right?

Markup Magic with iPads

iPads. My relationship with them is complicated. I love my own iPad and I use it daily for everything from answering emails to reading books and magazines to filming and editing videos. School ipads on the other hand…well, between dealing with ipads that were “accidentally” locked by a student or updating the iOS on 70 ipads over a weekend or trying to fix the screen of dropped ipads…let’s just say school iPads and I have not always gotten along. Unless. Unless I wanted to do stop-motion animation with the Grade 4s or green screen French newscasts with the Grade 7s or Book Creator penguin projects with Kindies or coding a Dash robot with Grade 2. In those moments, iPads are like incredible gifts from the tech gods! See what I mean? It’s a complicated relationship!  

There are a number of paid apps for iPads that I can’t imagine living without (Book Creator and DoInk’s Green Screen are two of my faves). And then there are a number of free Apple created apps that I adore (iMovie and Clips are my favourites). And lately I’ve been really excited about an iPad function called Markup.

At its base level, Markup allows you to edit screenshots and photos or add a real signature to a PDF. I know, not super exciting…just wait. It gets better!

To use markup on a photo, open the photo, tap edit, tap the “timbits” (the three little dots) and then select Markup. Your photo will open with a little toolbar of pencils and pens and things below it. 

From right to left you have an undo and move forward arrow, then a pen, a highlighter, a felt pen, an eraser, a lasso tool, a ruler, colour pickers, a plus icon that opens up a text tool, a signature tool, a magnifier and shapes and arrows and finally, a minimizer that minimizes the toolbars size.

Here’s a video that goes over the tools: 

Of course, the tools are cool, but it’s what you do with them that’s the best!

You could use the camera and Markup for marking and labelling an image. Super useful in Science!

Or use the tools to give expression to an inanimate object. Now you have a great writing prompt – what is the rock smiling about and what is it looking at?

Go on a walk for a few blocks around the school. When you get back, use the satellite view on Google Maps and have students draw a line showing where they walked. Maybe have them circle and write about something interesting they saw on the walk.

Learning about shapes? Take pictures around the classroom and draw around the shapes you see.

Learning about angles? You can use the camera to take a picture of angles in the classroom and then use the ruler to line up with the picture and figure out exactly what the angle is (when you have two fingers on the ruler it will show you what the current angle of the ruler is – see below).

Your imagination and creativity is the only limit to how you and your students can use Markup on the iPad. How will you use it?                                                                                             

Adding Audio to Google Slides!

Photo by Adrianna Calvo on

If I had a dollar for every time in the last 5 years that someone has asked me how to add sound to Google Slides, I’d be….well, not rich but I could pop by Starbucks a few times! Seriously though, the inability to add music or voice-overs or sound clips to Slides has been an issue for quite a few people. And now? Issue resolved!

The basic process is:

  1. Record audio and save to Google Drive
  2. Insert the audio into Google Slides
  3. Adjust the various settings and…ba-da-bing, ba-da-boom, you’re done!!

Going step by step, the first step is actually the most complicated in my opinion. That’s because you can’t actually record your audio in Google Slides. In fact, you can’t record the audio in any of the tools provided within the G Suite for Education. You need to use an outside tool to record either a .mp3 or a .wav file. You could be fancy and use something like Audacity or be cool and use something like a Voice Memo app. However, I’m thinking it’s easiest to use something in the cloud, something on the same device that you’re creating the slides on and, especially if you’re doing this with kids, something that does not require you to log in or create an account. There are a variety of such tools online –  the one I found that is easy to use is Vocaroo. The important thing to remember is to find something that records with .mp3 or .wav format and to upload the resulting files to Google Drive.

The second step is relatively easy. Create your Google Slides presentation and decide which slides will get audio (music or voice-overs). To add audio to a slide, just choose Insert from the toolbar, choose Audio and then pick the file you want! This will add a small speaker icon on your slide. You can move the icon where you want it and change the size, too.

For the final step, you can play with the settings on the audio icon. Click on the speaker icon and then choose Formatting Options from the toolbar. This is what the default looks like:

You can choose to have the audio play “on click,” or play automatically when you present that slide. If you have it play automatically you could hide the icon as you won’t need to see it. You can also pre-adjust the volume level of the audio or have the audio loop so that it plays over and over again. (This would be useful if you wanted to set something up for say, a parent night, and you wanted it to just operate automatically.) Finally, if you uncheck the box that says “Stop on slide change,” the audio will continue to play across as you change slides. You can preview the audio while you’re in editing mode by clicking the speaker icon. When you are in presentation mode you can click the speaker icon or hover and click the play button when it appears.

So, for those of you who have asked me about adding audio to Google Slides, I’m going out to Starbucks tomorrow morning and enjoying a hot drink on you!

To Badge Or Not To Badge?

I still remember getting my first swimming badge when I was little. It was from the YMCA and it was white canvas with coloured embroidery that identified me as part of an elite group of “swimmers” (okay, so the elite part was only in my own mind!)The minute I got it I wanted my mom to sew it on my swimming bag so I could proudly show everyone that I was “on my way to the Olympics!”

Badges are making a come back and for several years now, digital badging has been very popular in some educational circles. The premise is much like my swimming badge. As a student, you earn a badge for showing proficiency in a new or important skill. You can then display that badge and set a goal for earning a new badge. It’s kind of a gamification of education and if there’s one thing most kids understand, it’s the desire to “level up”!

So, after talking to a number of teachers, observing several methods of badging and trying several myself, I have some observations and recommendations.

  1. Start Small 

My son’s Grade 5 teacher, who is still to this day one of his favourite teachers, only used one “badge”. It was a little business card that entitled the bearer to write in pen. Of course, you had to earn it by being able to consistently be neat with a pencil.

By just having the one thing kids could earn, my son’s teacher made it easy on himself in terms of badge management and tracking. Which brings me to the second point.

  1. Think Things Through

If you decide you want to try badging in your classroom, think things through really carefully before you launch into it with your students. Consider how many badges you want to offer, how students will earn them, how they will display them (if they will) and how you will manage it all. If in doubt, start small (see above). There is nothing worse than launching a huge plan with the kids and then having it fizzle out once you realize it’s too complex. Don’t suffer from OPUD (over-promise-under-deliver). I speak from personal experience – just sayin’.

  1. Make ‘em Meaningful

If you want to get student buy-in and use your own time productively, make the badges meaningful to both you and your students and your class dynamics. If your students are in Grade 3 or 4, when memorizing times tables is a big deal, then a “Times Table Titan” badge (earned for knowing all 12 of the times tables) might be very meaningful and sought after whereas a Grade 7 student might view such a badge with disdain. Have a class meeting and decide which skills or behaviours your students are/should be striving for and build your first badges on those ideas.

  1. Have Hierarchies (Plan Pathways)

In badging lingo, a pathway is like a series of badges that build on each other, leading to the “ultimate” badge. In the example of the “Times Tables Titan”, that could be the ultimate badge. On the way to earning that one, there could be smaller badges for knowing each of the times tables. Breaking a big badge down into manageable chunks allows every student to have some success while still showing them the ultimate goal – the highest level-up, if you will! In Robotics, many of our pathways end in “Sensei” badges, which a student can earn when they have learned the underlying skills well enough that they can teach them to another student.

  1. Avoid All Academics

Huh?! No…I don’t mean don’t have academic badges! I mean, don’t make them ALL academic. Try to create a variety of badges that honour a variety of strengths. Have a “Chin-up Champ” badge for anyone who can do 10 chin-ups without stopping or a “Professional Artist” badge for students who can demonstrate that they know how to treat art supplies. 

  1. Stay SMART

Remember the whole SMART goals thing? You can apply the same test to badges. Make sure they are:

Specific: be clear with yourself and the kids about what it takes to earn each badge. Trust me, this will make life easier, as every class has at least one budding negotiator who will try to talk their way into a badge!

Measureable: make it easier on yourself by making earning a yes or no thing. Either you can do 10 chin-ups in a row or you can’t.

Attainable: make sure the goals for each badge are attainable with your class. I’ve had classes where a “Bookworm Badge” for reading 100 books during the year could easily be earned by over half the class and I’ve had other classes where I am pretty sure if I’d set the number to 10 most kids still would have struggled to get there!

Realistic: see the advice about Attainable (above) and the advice about Start Small (way above). Whatever you decide to do, make it realistic in scope and size for you and the class.

Timely: try to make some badges that can be earned quickly and some that will take longer to earn. If they’re all hard and take a long time, some kids will get discouraged. Also, set a wrap-up date that’s a week or so before the end of the school year. The last thing you want to be doing in the end-of-the-year craziness is issuing badges!

  1. Design Decisions

Although it’s not the most important part of badging, the design of the badges is still an important consideration. They should look cool, they should be “branded” with your division or school mascot and it should be easy to tell what they’re for. I make mine on Canva (I have an account for me but I do not let my students use it) but you could also us Google Drawings or Adobe Illustrator or even draw them by hand. The example below is from Robotics . And hey, if you’re really brave, you can let the kids design the badges! In Robotics this term, one of their assignments is to come up with the criteria and design for a new badge. I’ve seen some pretty great ones so far!

  1. Display Decisions

Make a decision on how your students are going to collect and display their badges. This will depend partly on the age and independence of your students as well as your preferences and their access to technology. I have seen primary classes that keep “Badge Books” where students glue in a paper badge the teacher has given them and then they write a short reflection telling how they got the badge or showing “evidence” of what they did. And I’ve seen older classes where kids post a digital copy of their badge on their digital portfolio, along with a short reflection or evidence. In our district we would use Fresh Grade (K to 7) or myBlueprint (8 to 12). Notice that in both cases I mentioned some type of reflection or evidence. That metadata is an important part of the badging process. Students should be able to tell you exactly what badge they got, why they got it and why it’s an important badge for them. 

The one thing I would argue against is posting them publicly in any way. Then it just becomes an obvious competition and while I believe that a little healthy competition is a good thing, this kind of compare and compete situation is a recipe for disaster, in my opinion. And whether you include parents or not is up to you – think it through carefully before you make your mind up on that one! ‘Nuff said!

  1. Avoid Assessment

Okay, this may seem a bit odd, as badging is kind of a form of assessment itself. Maybe if I give an example it will help? Consider the times tables example. If knowing the times tables is part of the learning outcomes for the grade you teach, you likely already have lots of ways that you assess this, such as Mad Minute Math, quizzes, homework etc. Don’t also give them a mark on whether or not they’ve earned the badge. Let the badge be the reward they get for learning the times tables. 

Now, I know there are probably a whole bunch of you who are by now agitated and muttering about intrinsic vs. extrinsic and rewards and all that stuff. I hear you, I get it. (By the way, some of you are the same teachers who “reward” yourself after report cards are done by buying new shoes or going out to dinner!) There’s nothing wrong with rewards (in my opinion) if they are earned and not just given out “because”. And as far as motivation goes, from what I have seen of badging and gamification, it seems that it may start as an external type of thing but it generally shifts to intrinsic as the students become more invested in leveling up and learning that new or next skill.

Full disclosure: The badges we use in our Robotics program are a part of our assessment. It’s a system that was started before I came on board and it actually seems to work quite well. (Keep in mind they are high school kids and this is a program they chose to join.) Each badge is given a point value, based on the generally difficulty  and time needed to complete it and students are expected to collect a certain number of points each term. However, they have freedom as to which badges they choose to earn, so there is the opportunity for diversity and individuality. Give me to the end of the year to decide how I feel about the whole points thing, though.

  1. The Elephant In The Room

Okay, time to tackle the big one….how much time is it going to take to manage badging and is it worth it? Those are really individual questions requiring individual answers but the basic answer is “it depends.” 

First off, no one is telling you you have to do this. You can choose to do it or not,  and if you choose to, you can do as little or as much as you feel you and your class can handle. You can do it all old-school, with photocopied badges and paper portfolios or you can do it digitally. There are online badging systems but at this time none of them have been approved by our district with regards to student privacy, etc, so if you work in my district, please don’t use them. Stick to using the digital portfolios we already use. 

So, there really are no one-size-fits-all answers about how much time badging takes and is it worth it. But maybe after reading this blog you’ll be able to make a more informed decision about whether or not badging is for you!

Copyright Caution!

In the rush to wrap things up before Christmas break, many of us may not have noticed the CBC news story about a brewing legal spat between provinces and Access Copyright, with 300 Canadian schools caught in the middle. But we should take notice, because it has potential implications for all of us.

The lawsuit, which has been spinning through the system since 2018, is between provincial education departments and an organization called Access Copyright, who represents Canadian authors and publishers. At its heart, the lawsuit is about money (as most are) but it’s also about copyright.

In 2012, Canadian copyright law changed and the new law established something called “fair dealing” for educational purposes. The fair dealing section permits the educational use of copyright-protected work without needing to get permission from the owner (or pay royalties, an important part of the above lawsuit), as long as the use is considered “fair”. What this means is that you could, for instance, photocopy a whole chapter of Commander Chris Hadfield’s book and use it with your class. You could use the lyrics to the Barenaked Ladies Big Bang Theory song and ask your class how many facts they got right. And in both cases you wouldn’t have to ask the creator’s permission or pay for the use.

Fair dealing does not give you wide open, unfettered access to photocopy or use whatever you want, however, and this is where teachers need to be careful! For instance, even though you don’t need to pay royalties, you still should properly cite your sources. Give credit where it’s due. You cannot photocopy “single-use consumables”. For example, if you want all of your kids to have a Math workbook, you can’t buy one and then make a copy for each student. You would need to pay for each student to have one. This can get confusing, as some books you can buy in teacher-supply stores are clearly meant for teachers to copy them for the class. These are known as “reproduceables”. Make sure you look the resources over carefully – it should say somewhere whether you can make copies or not. 

Also, beware of sites like “Teachers Pay Teachers”, for several reasons. The first is that it clearly states on the website that whatever you buy is to be for you and your class only – not to be shared with 18 other teachers. The second reason is that you have no guarantee that work advertised and sold on the website (an others like it) is original and you could end up on the wrong side of copyright law!

Teaching can be a very difficult and tiring job, for sure! And finding good resources to use with your students is not always easy…but it should be something you do with both eyes open. The good news is that we have teacher-librarians to help us – they’re quite knowledgeable about this stuff. If you’re still not sure, try this website. They have some great information, as well as a handy decision-making tool.

Finally, spare a thought for the teachers at those 300 Canadian schools. As part of the lawsuit they are having to produce the last 7 years worth of lesson plans, worksheets, tests and assignments…yikes!