Shiny Back To School Tools!

Photo by Pixabay on

When I was a kid, one of the best things about the start of a new school year was all the new stuff I would get. New pencil crayons and felt pens, mechanical pencils and shiny new math sets! Maybe even a new lunch kit or backpack! How exciting!

Well, I don’t have enough new felt pens for all of you (yes, I did buy myself a new set this September!) but I do have some cool new digital tools for you to use! So, in no particular order, here they are!


Dreamscape is a reading comprehension site/app from the Canadian company, Squiggle Park. Dreamscape is for students in Grade 2 to 6 (Grade 1 to 8 coming this fall!)  Dreamscape is not meant to be your curriculum, it is meant to supplement your teaching. Many teachers use it as a centre or as something early finishers can do or as a choice at reading time. Here is a blog post about Dreamscape I wrote last year.

The great thing about Dreamscape is that it is a gamified universe, where students create their own little worlds by reading passages and then correctly answering comprehension questions. The game levels the reading difficulty up or down, depending on how the student is doing. The more correct answers a student gives, the more they can build their own world.

Dreamscape is based on the style of many popular multiplayer video games familiar to kids. Students can challenge other students to a competition, with each reading passages and answering questions at their own level. It is therefore possible that a child who is not a strong reader could “beat” a child who is a strong reader.

Dreamscape’s teacher “dashboard” gives teachers the opportunity to see how their class is doing as well as seeing how each student is progressing. You can see how much time each student has spent reading and playing and you can see what comprehension skills they are struggling with. You can use this information to target individual or class-wide intervention!

Here are some of the reading comprehension skills covered by Dreamscape.

Dreamscape teacher accounts are being created for all SD45 teachers who teach Grades 2 to 6. As soon as that is done, we will send teachers information about how to set up their class and get started!

And….breaking news! Coming as soon as possible….French texts in the Dreamscape world! Teachers from our district will be working with the Dreamscape team to develop reading passages and questions for French students. Further down the pipeline we are also hoping to make First Nations texts available!

Tig Tag

Tig Tag is a Science offering for Grades 3 to 6 that is part of our ERAC bundle. Tig Tag centres around short, purpose made videos, built into lesson plans that cover all of the Science big ideas. Tig Tag lessons include videos, images, quizzes, activities, discussion suggestions, explanations and glossaries. As Tig Tag is meant to be a teacher resource, no student log-ins are required. West Vancouver teachers who teach these grades will be sent log-in information. Here is a short video overview.

Teens 101

Teens 101 is also part of our ERAC collection and it’s aimed at grades 8 to 10. Teens 101 is a Canadian collection of video stories about teens and how they have overcome challenges in their lives. It’s accompanied by guides for teachers to use to stimulate dialogue as well as links to resources and help centres.. Information about how to log in to this resource will be given to teacher-librarians in the high schools soon.

Canoe Kids

Canoe Kids is a well-crafted, visually rich magazine that focuses on indigenous communities. Thus far the issues cover communities in North America (the Ojibwe, the Haida and the Mi’kmaq), but the author’s intent is to eventually cover indigenous communities all over the world. The resource is for students from K to 12, and although the reading level is a bit high for many elementary students, the information presented is a great resource and the images are stunning.

Canoe Kids is part of our ERAC bundle and will be available as soon as we refresh our ERAC contract.

The district is excited to be able to offer these new digital resources to teachers and students! If you have any questions about them, please do not hesitate to reach out to me at


Set Your Intentions

Photo by Samuel Silitonga on

The first time I heard someone tell me to “set your intentions” was at the beginning of a hot yoga class. It sounded so pretentious that I got the hiccups from trying not to giggle out loud (not a good thing to do when the room is full of Lululemon-wearing uber-humans and you’re the only elephant-in-a-tutu). Seriously? I mean, what was she talking about? All I wanted to do was keep from passing out in the heat and not fall asleep during savasana! Why did I need to have an inten…….hey, wait a minute. Maybe I did have an intention after all! I mean, an intention is just like a goal right? And even though the goal of not falling asleep or snoring during savasana is not quite as lofty as “connect with my inner self” or “heal the world by breathing properly”, it’s still a goal and therefore acceptable. Goals/intentions are good things to have!

So, as we stand, excited and nervous, on the precipice of yet another school year, I’m going to ask that you set your intentions for the year  ahead. Don’t giggle! I know it sounds kind of pretentious, but setting your intention is kind of like setting your mindset. It can help you start off on the right foot and it can help you refocus and reset when you’ve had a tough day. When you are being intentional you are being purposeful and present. In the moment.

Clear your mind and envision the perfect year. What does it look like? What does it feel like and sound like? Who is there with you? How are they helping you and how are you helping them?

Now add in some technology. Be intentional about the technology you use and the technology that uses you. What technology will you use with your students this year and how will it enhance their experience and their learning? Will it push your learning forward? That can be challenging, but being on the edge of your comfort zone is where you really learn and improve. 

So, this year…be purposeful, be present. Set your intentions for your class, your students and yourself. Have a great year! I’m off to try savasana on the couch. Namaste.

My First ADE Institute

So….I’ve been home from the Apple Distinguished Educator Institute for a few days now. I’ve unpacked my bags, caught up on laundry and sleep and now it’s time to reflect back on my experience. Was it what I expected? What did I learn? What was the best part? Was there a worst part?  Was it, as one colleague who is an experienced ADE said, “a life-altering experience?”

My first indication that this was not a regular conference occurred at Dulles Airport. I had taken the red-eye from Seattle, arriving in Dulles at 5:50 am on Sunday. I fully expected to have to wait several hours until the regular shuttles started running. I figured I would pick up my luggage, locate a Starbucks and settle into a chair to wait for things to get busier. Imagine my surprise when, just before the baggage area, I encountered a man holding up an iPad with my name on it?! He was here extra early, just to give me a ride to the hotel! Talk about feeling special! Huge thanks to Erika and the logistics team who made sure people were picked up and taken where they needed to go.

Later that morning I met my roommate, Gail, a Grade 5 teacher from Calgary. We registered, got our swag (a very nice backpack) and headed into DC to tackle the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. Back at the hotel after an exhausting day, we settled in and started meeting other educators from Canada, the States, Mexico, Brazil and Columbia. The excitement was building!

The next three days were a blur of large meetings, presentations, small meetings, learning sessions, hands-on exploration, inspirational talks, challenges, meals and social time. And woven through everything was a certain “Apple-ness” that is recognizable around the world.

So….was it what I expected? I expected to learn new things, and I did. Keynote on iPad? So powerful!! iMovie on the iPad now has green screen…yessss! And I can finally (in a very minimal way) create music on Garageband! And to top it off, the people I learned these things from were, in some cases, the software engineers who actually created the apps!! Mind blown! 

I expected to be inspired, and I was. Educators sharing their passion, their stories, their hardships and their triumphs are always inspiring. And Battlemania was something I will never forget! Learning, laughter and entertainment all at the same time!

I expected to meet new people, and I did. I met Jessica from California (“I’m from a small town called Compton,” she would say, and as listeners’ eyes would widen in comprehension she would add, “I’m keepin’ it positive!”) Her energy was magical and I could listen to her talk all day. I met gentle Rafael from Brazil – we bonded over Robotics. I met several teachers from Mexico who let me know that student privacy is a growing concern for them, too.  And then there was Steve from Chicago, whose presentation on student self-reflections really got me thinking about what I can do with an iPad, the Clips app and the high school Robotics students. Perhaps my favourite “new people”, though, were the other Canadians I met. I feel like I have new friends who totally understand my crazy job and the things I get excited about.

The food was good, the beds were comfy and as far as the insanely hot and humid weather goes…..well, Apple is not (yet) powerful enough to control the weather. So, was there anything negative? What was the “worst” part? For me, nothing was worst or bad, but there are two things I worry or wonder about, and they are kind of related.

The first is “imposter syndrome”, which was mentioned several times during the course of the conference. You know, that feeling that maybe, just maybe, your name got on the acceptance list by accident? You really aren’t meant to be here, in the company of all of these people who have done all these incredible things with their students? Yeah….I definitely suffered from that and although it got better as the conference went on, it still lingers, perhaps as a result of my second concern. I teach in a BYOD district – kids bring in whatever tech they have. To be sure, there are lots of kids with Macbooks or iPads, but there are lots of kids with other devices – Chromebooks and such. Most of our elementary schools have iPad carts that I can use with classes but they need to be booked. We’re not an “Apple” district, I don’t work in an “Apple” school. How will I be able to create a project that effectively leverages Apple technology in a meaningful way?

Was the Institute life-changing? Too soon to tell. But it was an awesome summer learning experience and since they had a name tag with my name on it, I must not be an imposter. After some thinking, I have three projects in mind, all of which leverage the Apple technology I do have in different ways. And best of all, as I work towards implementing one or all of them, I now have a whole family of ADEs who I can turn to for support and advice!

Have A Great Summer!

Well, it’s that time of the year again. The days are longer and everyone can tell that summer vacation is just around the corner. It’s been a long, busy year for teachers and students and everyone is ready for a break and a chance to recharge.

This and That is going to take a break over the summer, too. Have a wonderful summer – relax, read a book, go for a hike, spend time with family and friends. And in late August, when you are starting to think about school again, This and That will be back, with more tips and tech ideas to help you in your classroom!

Year End Google Clean-up

We are getting near the end of the school year and it’s a great time to start thinking about how you and your students are going to clean up your Google drives. This post is a partial repost from last year, but it’s information that bears repeating!

You might be one of those people who meticulously files things right after creating or receiving them. In which case, your files, docs, etc are likely already where they need to be! If, however, your Google drive looks as crazily populated as the streets of New Delhi, take some time to organize and delete. Your September self will thank you!

For your students, encourage them to put all of their work from this year into a file called “Grade _, 2018/19”.

What About Grade 12s and Other Movers?

If you teach or “own” a Grade 12 student, if you have a student who is moving to a new district or if you yourself are taking a new position elsewhere, it’s important to know that your West Van G Suite account will not last forever! However, there is likely work in Google drive that you or the student will want to keep!

The easiest way to do this is to use something called Google Takeout or Google Transfer, which we have now enabled for people within the SD45 G Suite for Education domain.

Google Takeout will create a zipped file with all of your Drive in it. You can then load this zipped file into an external hard drive, store it in a cloud service like Dropbox or move it to the hard drive of your computer.

Google Transfer should be used if you want to move your school district Google “stuff” over to a personal Google account. Just remember that out G Suite for Education accounts have unlimited data – personal Google accounts do not!

Hopefully this post will help you and your students clean up your Google Drives and get you ready to enjoy summer!

QR Code Comeback!

I remember a number of years ago when QR codes first became a thing anyone could use. I went to several conferences where teachers were extolling the use of them in the classroom, as a way to enhance and extend learning. I was a little skeptical, but I decided to try them out. I had my Grade 7s do an assignment called “Artifact or Artifiction?” Each student got a picture of a legitimate ancient artifact. They had to write two paragraphs about it – one telling what it was really used for and one telling what it was “fictionally” used for. They created a display that showed an image of the artifact, the two paragraphs and a QR code chosen to take the reader to a website that revealed the truth. I thought it was a pretty cool use of QR codes. And maybe it was….but none of the parents or other students who stopped to look at the display had QR reader apps on their phones so the assignment kind of fell flat. I haven’t used QR codes again. Until I got a request from the staff at Lions Bay Elementary earlier this year.

Lions Bay had applied for a district Innovation Grant and asked me to help out. Their idea was to have the students learn about the plants and animals that live in the Lions Bay area. The kids would then put their learning on a website we would build together. Then the school would create QR codes that could be placed throughout the school forest and when scanned, would take the scanner to the relevant page on the website. Here, finally, was a real, meaningful way to use QR codes in an educational setting!

The project was involved, with lots of steps and lots of challenges. I remember meeting with the Grade 3 students back in the fall, to discuss what websites looked like, what parts they had and what they wanted their website to look like.

After that, teachers and students worked hard to research and learn about the plants and animals that live in and around Lions Bay. Older students drew pictures about their chosen animal and created Book Creator books that included the drawings as well as research they had done. Younger students learned about plants, drew pictures and had their words scribed onto documents.

All of this work had to be loaded onto the website that the students helped me design. This sounds easier than it was; with older iPads, a new laptop and a lot of fiddling with file types. But we got there!

In the meantime, Lions Bay students met with their older buddies from Gleneagles, who helped them build little birdhouse-like structures to be hung in the forest and to protect the drawings and QR codes from the weather.

Note that the QR code has not been added here yet!

Once the website was finalized, the teachers at Lions Bay created a QR code for each animal and plant, directing the viewer to the appropriate page on the students’ website!

Last Friday afternoon, after some frantic last-minute scrambling to have it all ready, the school held a learning celebration. Parents came ready with QR readers installed on their phones and students excitedly showed off their work. The QR codes will remain in the forest, to be enjoyed by the school and the greater Lions Bay community for years to come. I call that a GREAT use of QR codes! Congratulations to Natalie, Sonia and the rest of the Lions Bay staff and students! Job well done!

Google and the Track Meet

Tomorrow is our district’s annual elementary track meet. Grade 4 to 7 students from all over the district converge on our only track and compete against each other and the clock as they run various races. Keeping track of all the times, heats, places and ribbons can be tricky!

About 5 years ago I mentioned to someone that Google Sheets could be used to make things easier on the people doing the stats and awards. Of course, if you step forward with an idea, you’d better be prepared to carry through with it! So, we now use Google Sheets for all the scoring for the meet! As I was explaining all of this to a friend today (and getting blank looks), I realized that not everyone knows how to use one of the most basic functions of sheets, so let’s dive in!

Let’s imagine you are trying to decide which of your students to send to your track meet! You start by having them run 100m and you time them. You enter this data into a Google Sheet so that it looks like this:

(Now, obviously, if you only have a small group of students like this, you can probably put them in order by yourself – no spreadsheet needed! But what if you are timing and comparing all of the Grade 6s in your school and there are 4 classes of them?! Spreadsheet to the rescue!)

Once you have added your data, select all of the data (names, times and “headers”), like this:

We want to put these in order, from fastest to slowest and keep the name attached to the time! There are several ways to do this but the way I like is to choose “Data” and then “Sort range”, meaning the range you have chosen.

Once you click on this, you get this little box. Click “Data has header row” and then choose to sort by time. If you choose “A to Z” you will get fastest time to slowest (and vice versa). Then click sort. You will see that your spreadsheet has now sorted the kids by time. You can easily choose your fastest runners and send them off to the meet!

Now, not everyone reading this will be timing kids for a track meet. How else could you use this? Well, an obvious one would be test results. What about the height of students? What about how far each student commutes to school each day or how many books each student has read by the end of the year?

Using a spreadsheet this way is not difficult. In fact, I bet you could teach it to your students – how could they use it?!

Update to Read & Write on Google Chrome

It’s Spring Musical week here at school, so this will be a short blog! Recently, the people at Text Help updated Read and Write for Google Chrome to allow it to speak what you type as you type it and to read sentences back to you once you add the final punctuation. This is a great way for students to edit their work or to make sure they’ve said what they actually meant to say!

To turn these two functions on, go to the “Options”, click on “Speech” and then toggle “Speak on each word” and/or “Speak on each sentence”, depending on what you want. This then automatically will start working when you start typing. If you don’t want this option, just go back in and un-toggle!

While testing the function out, I learned several things. First, it was not designed to keep up with the speed of teacher typing if you plan to go word for word. So, if your students are fast typers, have them just choose the “speak on each sentence” option. It will then read the sentence back to them AFTER they add the final punctuation. Second, if your students are slower typers and you choose the “speak on each word” option, it will only say the word once they press the space bar (it’s actually a good reminder for them!).

If you are finding that you or your students do not have this option, shut your device down completely and restart. That should be enough to make it work. Enjoy!

In Support of Tutorials

Full confession time! Some years ago (fewer than you’d think) my husband and I found ourselves in the position of having to cook Thanksgiving dinner for the first time. In theory, we knew what to do but the reality of a naked, raw turkey was a bit intimidating. We had two cookbooks that vaguely explained how to “truss” the bird but we weren’t feeling any more prepared after reading the instructions. The solution? Youtube tutorials, of course! Two tutorials later, the bird was trussed and dinner was on its way!

Tutorials can play a really important role in education, whether it’s in helping your students solidify their learning or in helping them show what they know. Here are 3 ways to use tutorials in your room!

Learn At Your Pace

Both of my kids struggled with Math in school. When my son was in Grade 7 we discovered the Khan Academy Math tutorials. He was able to watch the tutorials over and over, at his pace, until he understood a concept. It was truly a life-saver for our family. If you are willing to do a little detective work, you can find tutorials for all kinds of things, from Scratch coding to writing a paragraph. Share them with students and parents through Google Classroom, FreshGrade, email or newsletters!

Flip Your Classroom

A few years ago “flipped classrooms” were being touted at all the conferences. The concept makes sense, depending on the age you teach and the concept you want students to learn. In a flipped classroom, students watch videos and tutorials at home and then in class work on solidifying the learning with the help of other students and the teacher.

From what I’ve seen, this works best in subjects like Math or Science and with students who are more independent. Having said that, I could imagine a primary teacher sending home a link to a video that shows how to do a simple experiment like testing which of several things floats in water. Students could do the experiment at home with their families and come to school the next day ready to discuss what they learned.

If this is something that interests you, you can search online for tutorials or use apps like Explain Everything and iMovie to create your own!

Let Them Teach The Class

One of the most interesting units I ever did with my class was all about communication. One of the things we focused on was how to tell someone else how to do something they’ve never done before. Students worked in partners. Their first step was figuring out how to break the skill down into steps. They had to make sure the steps were clear and in order. Even though we were planning to film the tutorials, I had the students write their steps down first. Then they filmed them. Some filmed them at school, some at home. Many of them got parents or siblings involved. When they were all finished we watched them! Students loved the process of trying to figure out what they should teach their classmates and how to teach it! And they learned how tricky it can be to communicate.

Hopefully these ideas inspire you to try using tutorials in your class!

Fake Social Media Accounts!

Fake social media accounts?! Wait….whaaat?! I can just imagine what you are thinking….why is the district elementary technology teacher pushing fake social media accounts? Aren’t most elementary school kids too young to have social media accounts?

Well, technically, yes! But if you read through to the end of this post, you’ll see where I am going with all of this!

In one of my independent novel study projects, I have students imagine two of their characters are having a texting conversation back and forth. I encourage the kids to make it as realistic as possible, with emojis and everything. They have fun with it and recently, some of them have turned in conversations that actually look like screenshots of real conversations! I asked them how they did it and they replied “we made it online”!

That got me to thinking….could I use fake social media accounts to engage my students and get them to be creative and maybe dig a little deeper into fictional and real events and characters?! What would Captain George Vancouver put on his Facebook posts when he discovered Puget Sound? Would Anne of Green Gables make a duck face when she posted a selfie on her Instagram account? What would Marie Curie tweet about?

After as bit of online research, I found the following “fakies” that you and your students can use! But first….MAJOR WARNING!

Before you use any of these with your students, make sure you have a chat with your students about why you are using these and about why people might actually create real fake accounts. Also, remind them that if they are under 13 they should not have their own social media accounts and that if they do, their parents should know about it.


I found an awesome fake Instagram creator on the Teaching Tecknix blog. The Google Slides template even includes instructions for how to build your Instagram page!


There are a number of fake “Facebook” generators online but they all feel a bit sketchy to me. Here is a link to one created on Google Slides that I found on the Ignition Edu blog.


To create just a fake tweet, try TweetGen.


There are lots of “fake message” generators out there. This one seems to be one of the most realistic, with the most bells and whistles.

I hope you and your students have a bit of fun creating these fake social media accounts!