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!

Forms and Spreadsheets and Data – Oh My!

One of the things I was hoping to do this year was to show more teachers how cool Google Forms and Google Sheets can be. Strangely enough, I’ve been struggling a bit with this (I know….can you imagine people not being interested in spreadsheets and data?!). I think it’s pointless to just teach how to use these tools without having a purpose and, until recently, I haven’t had many real-life purposes!

Enter Farah B, an ELL teacher at one of our elementary schools. Farah’s school is quite multicultural and Farah and her students had decided to look all of the languages spoken in their school and maybe graph them? Farah contacted me and wanted to know “is there a Google tool that can help us with this?” I bet you can just picture the happy dance I did when I got that email!

Farah and I agreed we would use Google Forms and the resulting spreadsheets to gather and represent the data. Afterwards, the students could work with Farah and their homeroom teacher, Mr. Z, to analyze the data.

My first time visiting with the Grade ⅘ class, we discussed how we could collect the data. They all agreed that asking questions was the quickest way and after showing them Forms, they agreed that this was how they would ask their questions. For the younger grades, they would go into the classroom and sit with the form open on their laptop. They would then call the students over one at a time and fill in the form with them. For the older, intermediate, grades, they would send a link to the form to the homeroom teacher of each class. The teacher could then post that link on Google Classroom and each student could fill the form in on their own.

The form we created, after working together, collected the following data: student’s first name, grade, division and language information. Students came up with a list of all the languages they could think of that they knew someone in the school spoke. For each language, we decided we would ask if the student spoke, read, wrote and understood the language. Our reasoning was that there might be students who understood a language because it was spoken at home, but maybe they couldn’t actually write in it or even speak it! We also had to remember to leave an “other” category, in case there was a language we hadn’t thought of.

Each small group in Mr Z’s class was responsible for creating the form and collecting data for one division.

Once all the data had been collected, I went back to visit them again. We agreed that if someone has said “yes” to three or four aspects of a language (read, write, speak, understand), we would consider them fluent. If they said yes to only one or two, we would consider them to be “functional” (as in they could probably order a cheeseburger at a restaurant but not read the entire menu!)

The next step involved showing the students how to go into the form responses and create a spreadsheet with all of the data. We learned how to “hide” the columns that had no data and then, using a “data collection” spreadsheet I had given them, students decided how many people in “their” class were fluent in any given language and how many were functional.

Finally, we learned how to take that spreadsheet, select the data and create a graph that we could label and personalize. Students saved their charts as PDfs and emailed them to their teacher. The charts were then used in a presentation to the school board!

I imagine once the class sits down to analyze their data they will notice things like the fact that the Grade 1s don’t feel they are fluent in French but the Grade 4s do. I wonder why? What other stories can they find in their data? How can those stories help the school serve their community even better?

If you work in the West Vancouver School District and want help using Forms and Sheets with your students, contact me via email!

Scratch Skills!

Last week I wrote a post about three types of basic Scratch games that kids could use as the basis for their own games. Each game also taught one “big” skill – creating variables, understanding the x and y coordinates and using clones. This week I am going to review a number of coding “skills” that are helpful in many games or projects. Let’s get started!


As teachers, we use conditionals ALL the time when we give our students instructions. Listen: IF you are finished your math, THEN you can move on to the art project, ELSE, keep working! Recognize that?

In coding, a conditional sets the condition for something to happen. IF the score equals 10, THEN the game is over. Or, IF the score equals 10, THEN you move to the next level, ELSE keep playing! In the example below, IF the score equals 10, THEN switch to the next backdrop.


A variable is something in the game that changes. Examples used often include score, time and health. Scratch is set up so that you can name your variable anything you want, you can have the variable show up on the screen and you can use as many variables as you want.

In the example below, the score is set to zero at the start of the game. Forever after that, if the sprite is touched by the mouse-pointer, the score will go up by 1.

In the next example, we start with a time of 60. Every second that passes, we countdown by 1 second. We do that 60 times!


In coding, a function is kind of like a shortcut. If there is a series of steps you will want a sprite to do a number of times in a game, you can put all of the steps into a function and then give the function a name. Then, when you want the sprite to do those steps, you just “call” (use) the function – you don’t have to rewrite all that code every time.

Here, every time the sprite touches a starfish it spins around, gets bigger then smaller and it says “yipee”! I’ve named the function “yipee”. In the first example, you see the code that defines the function “yipee” . In the second example, you see how we could call (use) the function.


The last skill is called “broadcast”. You use broadcast when you want to “secretly” tell certain sprites that it’s time for them to do something. One sprite “broadcasts a message” and other sprites can “receive the message” and then do something as a result. This can be a very handy skill to use!

The first example shows that when the score equals 10, the sprite should broadcast the message “game over”. The second example shows that if the sprite receives that message it should hide. Note that in the first example, I’ve added in a “show” block – I put that in because otherwise, after the first time of playing the game, the sprite in question would be hidden!

I hope this overview of some of the important skills in game-building in Scratch is helpful to some of you! Happy coding!

Game Building in Scratch

It’s that time of year in our district again – students in many of our schools are hard at work, designing and building curriculum-based video games. For the most part the kids build their games in Scratch. The first few years that I supported the students I focused on teaching them some basic skills in Scratch, but mostly in isolation. My hope was that they would take these skills and figure out how to put them together into a game. And lots of them did…especially the kids who already had developed some coding prowess, either through personal interest of summer camps. For other students, this just wasn’t enough to help them go past the very basics. Time to re-think!

So this year, when I go in to help classes, I teach the students how to build games by….ready for it….building games!! Revolutionary, huh?! I never claimed to be a fast learner!

The first thing I do is have a quick visit with the class, introduce them to the look of the Scratch 3.0, show them some of the new functionalities and assign them the Scratch tutorials as homework. After that, every time I come back we learn the basics of how to build a type of game. And in building the game, we develop skills that the students can use in building their own games!

We build 3 different games to start – a  clicky game, a “crossy road” game and a collecting clones game. In each case, I take time to explain exactly what the game should do. I give the class specific instructions about what to do to start and then I go back and forth between helping students and actually building the game on my projected laptop, so those who are lost can follow along. I also always have extra challenges, for those who quickly figure out what to do and need the challenge.

The first game we build is a clicky game. The object is to design a space game where an object (star, rocket ship, space rock, astronaut) appears and disappears at random places. Each time the player clicks on the object, they raise their score by one. If they reach a certain, predetermined score, the background changes. At this point, the game builder can either have the game end or have the player move on to the next level.

One of the most important skills to learn in this game is how to create a variable, in this case score.

Here is a link to the game, which you can use as is or remix. Here is a link to a short tutorial on creating a “score” variable in Scratch. It’s in the old version of Scratch, but the principle is the same.

Once the students have built their clicky game, we move to a version of “crossy road” or “Frogger”. In this game, the main sprite has to make its way across the screen, avoiding objects, until it reaches its goal. At this point it wins the game or moves to a new level. This game has one main, player-controlled sprite and a number of NPC (non player controlled) sprites.

When we build this game, I give players a choice of themes (space, ocean, city, etc). I start with having them choose a backdrop that fits their theme. They also choose 5 sprites and a button. The first move is learning to program the arrow keys so that the main sprite moves right to left and up and down. In doing this, students learn how to use the x and y coordinates to move a sprite. In fact, the x and y coordinates play a large role in the creation of this type of game.

The NPC sprites need to be programmed so that when the game starts they move across the screen at random speeds and at random times. Stronger students can also code the sprites so that they change costumes every time they appear, to make it look as if there are many NPC sprites, not just a few.

Next, the player needs to add code to the main sprite so that when it accidentally touches one of the NPC sprites it goes back to the beginning of the game.

Finally, when the main sprite manages to get past all of the NPC sprites and touches the button, the game is either over or players can add in a new, harder level.

Again, here is the game I built, for reference. Here is a link for learning how to move the sprite using the arrow keys and the x and y axes.

The last of the first three games we build involves learning how to use the clone tool in Scratch. As you would imagine, the cloning tool create a number of copies, or “clones” or a sprite that behave exactly the way the sprite does. This is helpful for games where something needs to continue to happen (like snowflakes falling from the sky) but you don’t want to have to individually code each snowflake!

In the “clone collecting” game, something falls randomly but repeatedly from the sky. The player uses some kind of receptacle to collect them before they land on the ground. If you want to, you can add in a score variable, whereby the score goes up for every object caught in the receptacle and possibly down for every object the player does not catch.

For this game, I have players choose a background, something that might logically fall in that background and something to collect the falling objects in. For mine, I chose a forest background, a falling butterfly and a bowl to collect them in.

The bowl can be moved back and forth using the right and left arrow keys, like in the previous game. A variable called score can be set up.

For the falling object (the butterfly) begin by deciding what you want one butterfly to do. Basically, you want it to hide, then go to a random x coordinate near the top of the screen where it will appear. From there, you want it to fall (change y by negative 5 in this case) until it reaches the bottom of the screen, where it disappears (deletes in this case). If it touches the receptacle, the score goes up and the butterfly disappears/deletes. Once you have written the code, you initialize the butterfly falling by adding the event “when I start as a clone.”

On the same screen, you want to tell the butterfly that when the game starts it should create a clone of itself. It told mine to do this 20 times and in addition, I had the clones randomize how often they fall. I have not finished building in the score in this game.

Here is the link to my game. Here is a tutorial on creating clones.

Next week I will review more Scratch basics. Until then, happy coding! If you want me to come in and work with your class, please email me at cwilson@wvschools.ca!

Digital Storytelling 101 – Production and Post Production

This is the final instalment in a three-part series about digital storytelling. Parts One and Two can be found here and here.

Photo by Martin Lopez on Pexels.com

Once you and your students have chosen your digital storytelling platform and done all of the planning and storyboarding, you’re ready for the next part – production! During this stage your students will capture images and video, and combine them with text, narration and sound to create a product that could be published online or showcased in someway.

In an ideal world, you could use one tool for all of these steps. The great news is that if you have access to ipads and a few other simple tools and apps, you can do this!


BookCreator is both an iPad app and an online app that can be used on Google Chrome. Obviously, using the iPad is preferable here, as you can do everything on the one device!

BookCreator allows students to create a digital picture book or comic book that incorporates still images, video, text and sound. Students can change the font, the colours and the background “paper”. They can add images, video and sound and quite easily create a very professional looking e-book. The books can be exported as epub files, for reading in iBooks. They can be exported as PDFs, but you lose any video or sound if you do this. The final way to export them is as video. This will export to Photos in the iPad and from there it can be uploaded to FreshGrade or another hosting site.

The people at BookCreator have a Youtube channel with all sorts of helpful videos, from basic how-tos to tutorials on how to combine students books into one large class book.

Apple Clips

Clips is a new-ish tool from Apple. It comes installed on all newer iPads and iPhones. Although Clips takes a little getting used to, students will love the filters, emojis, text and titles you can add to it. Here is a post that covers the basics of how to use Clips.

I would recommend that you give your students a bit of time to play and experiment with Clips before you actually have them use it for digital storytelling.

Clips saves to the Photo file on an iPad. From there, students can upload to Fresh Grade or another hosting site. Intermediate students can upload their finished Clip to Google Classroom to hand in. They could also upload their Clip to iMovie and add even more bells and whistles to it.


It is important to remember that there are two versions of iMovie – one is an iOS app that runs on the iPads and the other is an OS app the runs on Macs. It most cases, it will be easier to use the version on the ipad but the OS version is a little more powerful and precise.

Here is a great (although a little long!) tutorial for using the iOS version on an iPad. Don’t be fooled by the length of the video – I’ve had students as young as Grade 1 use iMovie very effectively!

Once the iMovie is done, you can export it to the Photo file on the iPad.

Green Screen

Green Screen technology is used by filmmakers to add backgrounds and special effects to movies. Using the app “Green Screen by DoInk”, students can create their own green screen videos, from weather forecasts to time travel trips to Ancient Egypt to documentary films about penguins in the Antarctic.

Although it is nice to have an actual green screen set up, you can very successfully set up a green screen using green bulletin board paper. And although it is nice to have a tripod to hold the iPad, it’s not 100% necessary. By sitting backwards on a chair, students can create an effective tripod using their own arms and the back of the chair.

Here is a blog post about using green screen technology. The app has a very effective tutorial built into it. Like Clips, I would suggest giving students a chance to play with the technology before actually using it for a project.

This is what happens when you wear green!

Oh yeah….remind students not to wear green clothes on the day they are filming. Better yet, film someone who is wearing green and show the students how their classmate “disappears”!

By the way, the OS (or laptop) version of iMovie has green screen capabilities but the iPad version does not.

Stop Motion

Kids love creating stop motion movies. Imagine being told that you get to spend time using Lego, Playmobil and other small toys to show what you’ve learned!

My favourite stop motion app is the Lego Movie Maker app but it is no longer available, sadly. If you happen to be lucky enough to have an old version on your school ipads, do not get rid of it!

You can (if you are very patient) create a stop motion animation on Google Slides but I don’t know many kids who have that kind of patience. Instead, you could use the app “Stop Motion Studio” or “Smoovie.” Here is a tutorial for Stop Motion Studio and here is a quick demo of Smoovie .

Stop motion does take time and patience. It is helpful if the ipad can be kept still. It’s unlikely that you’ll have enough tripods for every group to have one but you can create a fairly effective “tripod” or stand using an inexpensive plate stand from the dollar store. Or, challenge your students to build their own tripod – I once had a group create a very clever tripod using a handful of Math textbooks, some elastics and masking tape!

Not sure where or how you would use stop motion? It’s great for illustrating Science concepts, like Newton’s Laws or simple machines. How about the life cycle of a butterfly, using play-do to build the stages? Or use small figures and toys to illustrate a fractured fairy tale. Just remember that one second of film uses lots of “scenes” so don’t expect anything too lengthy!

RSA Animate and In Plain English

These two styles of digital storytelling were popular a number of years ago. The most famous RSA video you’ve likely seen is the illustration of Sir Ken’s talk on education.

In Plain English videos were originally created by a company called Common Craft, as a way to explain things to people “in plain English,” using simple drawings. Here is the first one I remember seeing, years ago.

Basically, with both of these styles, students would use a whiteboard or large pieces of paper to draw out their “story” while someone records it with a camera or ipad.

With RSA Animate, you would then upload the recorded video to iMovie, strip the sound, speed the video up and add the voiceover.

With In Plain English projects, you would upload the video to iMovie, strip the sound and add a voiceover.

When I’ve done both of these types of digital storytelling I’ve made sure to group students so that each group has a student who has a Mac laptop.

Sharing Student Creations

If your students have worked hard creating their digital projects, they are going to want to share them with their parents and classmates! Several years ago two teachers I worked with had a “movie premier night” where they invited parents, gave out popcorn and juice boxes and had students introduce their projects on penguins!

Sharing student work on Fresh Grade is another way to showcase what has been created. Students could also upload their projects to Google Drive and share it with their parents from there.

Hopefully the last few blog posts have given you the push to jump in and try digital storytelling with your students!

Digital Storytelling 101 – Pre-Production

Last week’s blog was a quick re-introduction to digital storytelling. This week we’ll take a look at the importance of the pre-production stage.

Pre-production is basically anything you do up to the filming stage. Just like painting a room, the more work you put into the preparation, the more successful the final product will be! (Take it from me, I’ve painted a LOT of rooms!)

One of the first decisions needs to be format. What app/site will you use to create your digital story? What style will it be? There are lots of options out there. In our district, due to privacy concerns, there are certain options we can’t choose but luckily, there are still lots of choices! The choices I use on a regular basis are: Book Creator (on laptops and ipads), iMovie, Apple Clips, Green Screen, Stop Motion Animation, RSA Animate, In Plain English stykle and combinations of the above.

Can’t pick? Well, the age and experience of your students should be the first place you start. Book Creator is the simplest choice, although it can also be quite complex, depending on how you use it. iMovie, Clips and Green Screen can be used by the youngest primary students with big buddy support and by older primary students with some instruction. Like Book Creator, both iMovie and Green Screen can be used for quite sophisticated work, also.

Stop Motion Animation, RSA Animate and In Plain English are more complex and should likely be left for intermediate students. Likewise, smashing various apps or styles together is something you might want to leave for older students. See the table below for a little more guidance.

Once you’ve determined what style you and your students will use, spend some time doing research and planning or storyboarding. Basically, you want the students to think through the plot or path of their story. What will the title look like, what information will they include, who will do the talking, what will they capture in each “scene”? While students are doing this step, they can create a running list of “props” they will need to complete their project.

I usually include this planning stage in my marks for the final project. This tends to help kids realize they have to put time and effort into this stage.

Next up? The filming process, including tips and tricks for each format! Look for this post on April 2nd, after Spring Break!

Digital Storytelling 101

Humans have been telling stories for as long as we’ve been on earth. Stories to entertain, persuade, educate, inform and delight us. Stories told around the campfire, passed from generation to generation. The advent of the written word expanded the scope and audience of our stories. And the advent of digital tools and the internet has given anyone with a camera, tablet or laptop the ability to tell their stories in engaging and interesting ways.

Photo by Tomáš Malčo Malík on Pexels.com

The telling of stories using digital tools is called….wait for it….digital storytelling!! Digital storytelling was really big about 12 years ago. It’s never gone away but in typical fashion, other educational “trends” have come to the forefront. However, in our increasingly digital world I would argue that the ability to use various media to tell stories, whether their purpose is to entertain, educate or persuade, is a crucial skill our children need. Bonus? It’s fun and engaging!

Digital storytelling can run the gamut from a 10 second video showing one of Newton’s Laws and filmed using Apple’s Clips to a minute long Public Service Announcement about Pink Shirt Day created using video, still images and original music composed on Garageband. Kindergarten students can create documentary films about penguins, high school graduates can create multi-layered stories highlighting their skills to potential post-secondary educational institutions.

Over the next few weeks I will look at a number of tools, apps and tips that you can use to help your students tell their digital stories!

Pink Day and Cyberbullying

This Wednesday is Pink Shirt Day and the focus this year is on cyber-bullying. By definition, cyberbullying is bullying behaviour that occurs in an online or digital environment. Just like regular bullying, cyberbullying can be obvious or subtle, it can involve several people or many and the effects can be harmful and long-lasting. With kids being online earlier and earlier, cyberbullying is a real concern for parents and educators. As with any bullying behaviours, proactive is better than reactive and keeping the lines of communication open is key.

Last week’s blog saw the official launch of West Vancouver School District’s Digital Citizenship Hub. Within the website, there are some lessons that lend themselves to the issue of cyber-bullying.

For the Kindie to Grade 3 crowd, the focus is on kindness and what that looks like and feels like. These discussions can be fuelled by picture books and there are lots of great picture books mentioned on the website, especially under the “Respect” section.

For the Grade 4 to 7 classes, the issues of cyber-bullying and respectful, kind online behaviour are dealt with under Digital Etiquette and Digital Communication.

For Grades 4 and 5, Digital Etiquette focuses on positive online interactions and Digital Communication focuses on sharing information carefully and playing online games respectfully.

For Grades 6 and 7, Digital Etiquette focuses on cyberbullying and digital drama and Digital Communication focuses on online friendships and relationships.

It takes a village to raise safe, kind kids. Take time this week to talk about kindness and bullying with your students. And if the lesson plans on the website help…fantastic!