Apple’s Hidden Gem!

You know that feeling you get when you find some money unexpectedly? Like the $10 bill you stashed in your winter coat on the last ski day of last year that you unexpectedly find when you put the coat on this year? It’s like a free gift! Pretty good feeling, huh?

That’s how I felt the first time I was introduced to Apple’s app, Clips (which I apparently had on both my phone and ipad for over a year but just hadn’t looked at)! I first “met” Clips at ISTE in June of 2018. It was one of the tools I meant to study more over the summer. Yeah. That so did not happen! However, since then I have had time to play with Clips and here’s what I’ve discovered!

  1. Clips is an awesome little multi-media app that’s great for capturing short “clips” of life in the classroom (or elsewhere)!
  2. It’s not as powerful as iMovie but it does some very cool things that iMovie can’t do.
  3. Clips was created for social media, so if you are wanting to create a longer, more complex video, go with iMovie. Having said that, you can apparently record up to 60 minutes with Clips!
  4. Clips has some cool filters that your kids will love to play with, including my favourite…Comic!
  5. Apple has added speech bubbles, arrows, shapes, emojis, stickers and surprises you can add to your pictures or video. I mean, come on, who doesn’t love an app that lets you add Star Wars characters?
  6. You can add music and do some basic editing.
  7. You can use the voice recognition feature and “talk” in titles or video captions. While cool, I have to say this doesn’t work all that well in a noisy room!
  8. It only works on iOS 10.3 and later, so for those of us who still have the really old iPads…sorry.
  9. Aside from the learning curve of how to record, it’s pretty easy to use!

To start with, open the app and decide if you are going to use images or video you already have, or take new.

Recording is a little confusing at first. To start recording, you hold down on the big red button. To keep recording, you swipe up, which makes the button smaller and then to stop, you tap on it. Clips records in a square format, so you can hold your ipad or iphone in either landscape or portrait mode.

To take a picture, you click the round white button but then to insert it into your project, you have to do the red button thing again. You do get used to it! (To add existing stuff from your library, you also have to use the red button.)

Once you’ve added your images or video in, you can add titles or “posters” which are transitions. You can also click the little rainbow star and that will let you add all the “fun” stuff, like filters and stickers and emojis.

Once you’re finished your Clip, upload it to the photo file by clicking “Save Video”. From there, it’s easy to add to Fresh Grade, send via email or message, upload to Google, or add it to Book Creator.

Once you get used to Clips, it’s super easy to use. There aren’t a lot of bells and whistles, but there’s certainly enough there to make it as useful classroom tool and one that your students will love using!


Got A Coding Itch? Try Scratch 3.0!

If you’ve done any coding with kids in the last 10 years, you’ve likely encountered Scratch! Scratch was developed at MIT by Mitch Resnick and his team and for many years it has been the go-to standard for teaching block-based coding. The Coding Quest program, in its third year here in West Vancouver, is designed around Scratch, and, based on demand the Scratch team developed Scratch Jr a number of years ago, to use on the ipads. Over the years, Scratch has developed and almost cult-like following, with thousands of games and tutorials uploaded to the Internet yearly.

But, times change and the whole “teaching kids to code” world has exploded, with tons of new sites and apps and with the addition of robotics and drones, Scratch was starting to look a little dated. So, the team at MIT stepped up and created a new version of Scratch, Scratch 3.0, which officially launched January 1st. So, what can you expect from the new Scratch?

First of all, it remains totally free to users! Secondly, the full blown version of Scratch now works on tablets, too! This is awesome news for as much as Scratch Jr is great, it is limited and this has been frustrating for students who have a tablet and want to build more complex code or games.

The look and GUI (graphic user interface) have changed, too, although everything that used to be there is still there! The team has added new backdrops, sprites and sounds. The paint and sound editors have been revamped, making them more creative and allowing for more customization.

Finally, you can now use Scratch with attachments, such as the Lego Mindstorm kit and the Micro:bit!

Here’s a quick video look at the new Scratch!

Here is a link to the the FAQ page for Scratch 3.0 and here is a link to the Educator’s page. Enjoy scratching that coding itch!

Happy Holidays!


christmas christmas balls christmas decorations winter
Photo by Negative Space on

Whatever you celebrate this season, enjoy it! Enjoy time with family and friends. Take time to unplug and unwind. Get outside as often as possible. Read a great book, watch an exciting show, listen to good music, eat, drink and be merry. Hold your parents close and your babies closer. Rest. Relax. And come back in 2019 ready to learn and have fun!

A Cure for the Christmas Crazies!

close up photo of a gray cat wearing red star printed bow tie
Photo by on

Have your students started to suffer from the “Christmas crazies” yet? What about the staff at your school? Yeah, that’s what I thought! Keeping focussed and on track can be tough this time of the year, and let’s face it, sometimes you and the kids just want to kick back and have a little fun!

Last year’s blog from this time had some fun Christmas and winter themed activities you and your kids could do, so I thought I would add some new ones here for this year!

Kahoot It Up!

If you’ve never heard of Kahoot, it’s a great site for playing online learning (or just fun) games with your students. You need to have an account, but your students do not, which I think makes this a really user-friendly site! This year Kahoot has a bunch of Christmas/Winter themed games, from the ever-fun “Rudolph and Reindeer Trivia” to “Multidigit Multiplication: Christmas Word Problems.” So far there are 16 Kahoots in this collection. You could do one a day and still have leftovers!

Ed Tech Gifties!

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Photo by George Dolgikh on

The Ed Tech Team is giving out free teacher resources from today until the 21st. You can sign up here to get notification every day. Today there were a bunch of Christmas and Winter themed hyperdocs to use with students from K to 12. If you’re not sure what a hyperdoc is, check it out here.



Coding Fun!

I know, I know…..Hour of Code week was last week! But guess what? Coding can be fun any week of the year! Here is a fun set of coding puzzles based on The Grinch. This Frozen themed game teaches angles in a fun way, and this game shows players how to code Snoopy into throwing snowballs! Finally, this game uses block coding to design snowflakes and this one does the same thing with Python!

Youtube Yule

Want to teach your kids some new Christmas songs? Youtube has lots of great Christmas carols with words. Learn Petit Papa Noel or Mon beau sapin or even the French version of Jingle Bells! We’ve all hear Feliz Navidad, but have you ever heard of Mi Burrito Sabanero, from Venezuela?

And finally, because I can…some minions to enjoy!

Coding With A Purpose

This is a post I wrote recently for The Learning Partnership.



30 students sit quietly, staring at me in disbelief. I’ve just informed them that we’re going to spend the next 6 weeks designing and building video games

“Real video games?” asks one of the students, skeptically.

“Yes,” I answer. “Ones that other people can play!” Excited looks shoot between the students and I know I have them hooked. We are about to begin Coding Quest, a program created by The Learning Partnership. Coding Quest is designed to engage students in curriculum through the medium of video games while also introducing them to design thinking, computational thinking and coding. And the best part? It’s fun and who doesn’t want to have fun while learning?

Students begin their Coding Quest by exploring the world of Scratch, an online, block-based coding platform developed at MIT. Scratch achieves the seemingly impossible, by providing a simple enough platform that beginning coders can be successful but a complex enough platform that experienced coders can be challenged. As a teacher, you don’t need to have experience coding, as there are tutorials and lessons available.

After you and your students have been introduced to Scratch, Coding Quest leads you through lessons on game design and planning. Everything is laid out for you and it’s been my experience that time spent on these lessons is time well spent! Students decide who the characters in their game will be, what kind of game they will build (a platform game, a scrolling background game, a maze game – the kids will have lots of ideas!) and how the game will showcase what they are learning in class. How closely your students’ games tie in with what they’re learning in class is up to you. I’ve seen teachers give students a broad topic, such as “space” or “survival” and I’ve also seen classes where the teacher had all groups working on games designed around a novel the class read. Regardless of what learning you want your students to showcase, this planning stage is important.

Once the planning is done, the game building begins! Student’s plans will very quickly outstrip most teachers’ abilities to help! “How do I make my character score points when they catch the fish?” “How can I make my character earn lives when they level up?” Luckily, there are tons of Scratch tutorials online and every class I’ve worked with has at least one or two keeners who are already familiar with Scratch and all too willing to help. This is truly your chance to become the “guide on the side” – learning with, and from, your students!


As a wrap-up activity, the best games from each school in participating districts get invited to a Coding Arcade. It’s sort of like a Science Fair, where kids get to show off their games and let other people play them. We run ours at the local public library – it’s a great showcase for all the hard work!

So, at this point you, as an already very busy teacher, are probably thinking… “I don’t know how to code, I don’t play video games and I’m busy enough already – why should I throw one more thing into my classroom?” I get it. I hear you.


But the problem solving, resilience and interpersonal skills students develop as they are designing and building their game are invaluable, real-world skills.

But many people, myself included, see computational thinking and coding as life skills; part of the digital literacy toolkit our children will need as technology becomes even more ubiquitous in our world.

But it’s fun, it’s challenging and it’s engaging. And we all know that when kids are engaged, they’re learning. And that has to be a good thing, right?

Coding Quest plus video games plus excited kids plus curriculum equals the perfect combination. Give it a try!


Hour of Code…Out of the box!


Out-of-the-Box-MarketingWhen you were little, did your mom or dad ever try to sneak veggies into your food? Or, have you done this as a parent? When my kids were little I always added shredded zucchini to meatloaf, spaghetti sauce and chocolate cake. It’s sneaky but it works!

Next week is the annual Hour of Code week. I’ve written numerous blogs about Hour of Code and coding in general (here, here, here and here) but today’s blog is a sneaky one! For those of you who aren’t comfortable with coding, here are 3 sneaky ways to bring Hour of Code ideas into your room, without any coding!

Read About Coding!

Both Newsela and CommonLit have some cool articles about computers and coding that you and your students can read. You will need to create a teacher account but you do not need to create student accounts. With Newsela, you can print the article and if you need a digital copy, just scan the printed copy. With CommonLit, you can download a PDF and then upload that to Google Classroom or wherever you need it.

The Math Behind Bits and Bytes (adjustable Lexile level, Gr. 3 to 9)

Reading Robots (adjustable Lexile level, Gr. 3 to 9)

Mavis Batey and the Enigma Code (adjustable Lexile level, Gr. 4 to 8)

Her Code Got Humans on the Moon (11th Grade)

A Slick Little Robot (6th Grade)

Use Branching Logic or Flow Charts

Want your students to do thing in a particular order? Introduce them to flow charts (you know….IF you are finished your Math questions, DO your Spelling OR Reading!) Or get them to use branching logic to create “Choose Your Own Adventure” type stories – here’s a great post on using Google Slides to create them and here’s another on using Google Forms to create them.

Pixel Art


Give your kids some graph paper and introduce them to the idea of Pixel Art by showing them pixelized video characters like Mario. Let them create their own images. Start simple with shapes like hearts and stars and get more complex as they get more comfortable. Wanna throw in some coding-without-coding? Get them to figure out how to write instructions for drawing their image, using only numbers and colours.


For instance, for this heart, the instructions might start like this:

  1. 2 White, 2 Black, 1 White, 2 Black, 2 White
  2. 1 W, 1 B, 2 Red, 1 B, 2 Red, 1 B, 1 W


Obviously, I hope you do some actual coding activities with your class next week. But in case you decide not to, maybe you can use some of these out of the box ideas to sneak some code into your students……and you!



It’s That Time of Year!

It’s almost that time of year again. You know, that time that all teachers and students look forward to? Maybe even eagerly anticipate?


No, not report card time (seriously, did anybody actually think that?). Not Winter Break. Not Christmas. Give up? It’s almost…..Computer Science Education Week!


Let’s try again….Hour of Code week!

Actually, the reason Hour of Code is always on the first week of December is that is the same time as Computer Science Education Week. And this year there is even a Canadian twist! The Canada Learning Code organization has declared December 3rd to 10th “Canada Learning Code Week.”

Our school district has had a great record of participation during Hour of Code week for the past few years, with classes from Kindergarten to Grade 12 taking time out of their regular schedules to try out coding activities.

So….what can teachers and students expect this year? Hadi Partovi and his team at, the brains behind Hour of Code, continue to impress. As always, they have a game related to a new high-interest kid movie – this year it’s The Grinch! Their Minecraft offering includes a new aquatic world and Scratch splashes out with their new Scratch 3.0! For those working with older or more capable students, there is a great visual art tutorial from Hello Processing. Really, there are tons of great tutorials and challenges available on the website and you can search by age, comfort level, available devices, topics and length. For those of us lucky enough to have access to robots and  circuits, there are challenges available for those, too! There’s so much to do, for so many ages and experience levels that there is really no excuse to NOT try!

As I indicated above, this year there is a Canadian entry in the coding festivities! The Canada Learning Code site has some cool lesson plans for various ages. Kids can do an unplugged basketball activity, use Scratch to explore the concept of self-driving cars and even think about how Alexa might change our lives.

Teachers can request a teacher kit (so cool – Canadian teachers never get free stuff!) and there’s even going to be a contest starting December 3rd!

With so many options, there are loads of reasons for you and your students to participate in that most magical of times…..Computer Science Education Week!!


G Suite and Formative Assessment


It’s almost report card time and most of us are focused on summative assessments. However, as with anything cyclical, we’ll be looking at formative assessments again before long! The good news is the G Suite for Education has a number of tools to help with formative assessment.

The simplest tool is Google Classroom. In Classroom you can ask your students quick questions and have a record of all their answers with very little effort. Depending on what you are wanting to know (do they know how to multiply fractions; can they give you an example of evolution at work?) you can choose short answer questions or multiple choice questions. If you ask the question at the end of class and then look at the answers before the next class, you will not only get an idea of who is understanding the information individually but you can also see if the class as a whole is fine as is or if they need more instruction.

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Google Forms gives you several ways to collect information from your students to help drive instruction. One of the easiest ways to do this is to create short, self-grading quizzes. The self-grading quiz serves two purposes. You get a spreadsheet with all of the results, so you can quickly see who understands the work. Your students get immediate feedback in the form of knowing which answers they got right and which wrong. Here is a short video to guide you through the process of creating a self-grading quiz.

Another way you can use Google Forms for quick, formative assessment is to create a short form that starts with a drop down menu with all of your student’s names in it. This will take a bit of work, but the form can be copied for later iterations. From there, you can create a “question” with the skill or outcome you are planning to assess (I did this with “Can say the date in French”). Your “answers” to this question are in the form of checkboxes containing your descriptors. I used:

  1. Great job!
  2. Wrong day
  3. Wrong date
  4. Wrong month
  5. Wrong year

What you will end up with is a spreadsheet with all of the information you need to decide who knows the information and who still needs further practice!

I am sure there are many other ways the G Suite for Education tools could be used for formative assessment. I hope these ones are helpful for you!

Some Google Classroom Fun!

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I’m not sure about the rest of you, but with FSAs finally finished and report cards looming on the horizon, I am in the mood for something fun that doesn’t tax my brain too much! So, this week we’re going to learn how to use Google Drawings (a very under utilized but awesome part of the GSuite tools) to create a custom banner for Google Classroom!

Google now has lots of choices for making your classroom look different from other teachers (more important in high school, where students might need to keep track of 8 different classrooms) but when Google Classroom started off, there was very little choice. You couldn’t even use your own image! However, despite the choice we now have,  sometimes it’s fun to have something that’s entirely unique and just yours!

To start with, find Google Drawing by going into your Google Drive, clicking New and scrolling down to More. Then mouse over to Google Drawings and open it up! Banners need to be a certain size in order to work well. To set the size, you need to go File > Page Setup. From there, open the drop-down menu and choose Custom. Set it to Pixels and put your numbers to 1500 and 400. That will give you a banner shape!

For the next bit, I figure it’s easier to show rather than explain so here’s a little video I created, showing you how to create a basic banner! Once you’ve mastered the basics, see how creative you can be!

Grammarly and Wall-E: A Cautionary Tale


Photo cred: Arthur Caranta

My students and I were recently getting ready for the FSAs – standardized literacy and numeracy tests given to all Grade 4 and 7 students in British Columbia. We were discussing what they were allowed to do to help themselves and one student asked, “Can I use Grammarly?” This was followed by a short discussion during which I found out that many of my students had installed the free Grammarly Chrome extension. My answer, of course, was no, because that’s what the FSA rules would say. But as the kids started working on the tests, I started thinking. Would my answer to Grammarly always be no? Would there ever be a time where my answer would be yes?

For those who don’t know, Grammarly has several iterations, but the one my students have been using is a free Google Chrome extension that, when applied to a piece of writing or an email or a tweet or post, will check your spelling and grammar and help you fix them. Sounds great, right? I mean, who hasn’t accidentally sent an email with an error or tweeted something without spell-checking first? Grammarly will make sure that doesn’t happen. Awesome sauce!! (Disclaimer: Grammarly for Chrome is NOT part of the G Suite of educational tools and is not recommended by our district. My students installed it on personal accounts without checking with me.)

Almost. Here’s where Wall-E enters our cautionary tale. Wall-E is an animated science fiction story created by Pixar. In Wall-E’s world, humans live in spaceships, where they have become hugely obese due to a reliance on automation. Machines do everything for the humans and as a result, humans have grown lazy and indulgent. Have a look:

So, here’s my concern. If I let Grammarly do all the “heavy lifting” for my students, will they end up like the humans in Wall-E? Incapable of editing their own work and understanding their grammar errors? What happens when we go old-school with pencil and paper? Shouldn’t they know how to write a proper sentence on their own? Know how to check subject and verb agreement? Will they learn that using Grammarly? Or will they take the easy way out and let Grammarly do the work for them? I mean, come on….we are talking 12 year-olds here!

Now, I don’t see myself as a Grammarly Grinch. There are several members of my extended family who have learning challenges and I am sure they would benefit from Grammarly. And yes, there are students currently in my classroom with learning challenges who might benefit from a tool like Grammarly. For those students, we have Read & Write for Google Chrome. With its newest addition of the Check It tool, Read & Write does most of what Grammarly does and it has still other tools that help students with different learning challenges.

So, to answer my question from the top, I’m going to take my lesson from Wall-E. My answer to Grammarly will always be “no”. We’ll dig in and learn some grammar this year. And for those students who need some extra support, we’ll use Read & Write. And we’ll all exercise our learning muscles, to make sure they stay strong.