Top 10 of NCTIES 2016

I was privileged to attend the NCTIES (North Carolina Technology in Education Society) 2016 Conference in Raleigh, NC March 2 – 4 whose theme was “Innovation”.  There were around 3,000 registered participants who filled the Raleigh Convention Center with excitement and engaged educators.  Why did they come?  They came to dive deeper into STEM and expand their understanding of best practices.  I would like to share the 10 best tips that I saw and learned.

  1.  Code Studio – I have participated for the last three Decembers in the Hour of Code at  It was my goal to explore the site more and understand the pieces of Code Studio.  I enjoyed the all day Pre Conference training where I learned how to enroll students in Code Studio found at  Hadi Partovi, founder of, and his team have developed lesson plans to support teachers as they prepare students for the Courses for Elementary Students.  In groups, we prepared a lesson to teach to our colleagues from the support materials and taught each other non digital ways to do computational thinking.  I learned the 3 C’s and 2 P’s of Computational Thinking Practices:
    • Creativity
    • Collaboration
    • Communication
    • Persistence
    • Problem Solving

    I loved how the trainers shared practical information like creating a Symballoo to link every Class in a school where students are enrolled in Code Studio courses.  The training fueled my interest in coding.  I am so excited to create classes in Code Studio for my students so that I can track their progress and they can see how they are doing.  I love that there are lessons to share to promote development of the 3 C’s and 2 P’s in non digital coding opportunities before students dive into the digital piece of coding.  There is ongoing training around the USA so check out the for more information.

  2. – Google Drawing Presentation from NCTIES.I asked the presenters if I could share their Slide Show at the link above to show examples of using Google Drawings.  I love their ideas to build a corkboard for students to use as a collaborative Exit Ticket, to annotate screen shots of documents, to add speech bubbles to images, to create graphic organizers with Google Drawing Tools and to design Infographic ideas to make using Google Drawing Tools.
  3. Choosito is a website which Richard Byrne shared that helped me see the power in gathering websites that can be searched by topics or reading levels to help students in doing research.  It allows teachers to curate playlists for students based on topics and reading levels.  Visit – Scroll down a bit to see the words “Personalized Instruction” then scroll down more to see “Real Time Data Tracker” to see how students are doing research using the links that teachers can curate.
  4. Cubetto Wooden Robot – – This website shows the Cubetto wooden robot and the box which students use to program the robot.  Visit this link to learn more and see video of children coding with Cubetto:  
  5. Pernille Ripp – I was able to have lunch with this amazing teacher.  I have followed her work and appreciate not only her blog about teaching middle school, but also love that she created The Global Read Aloud.  I was able to discuss school and my family with her as we ate together but also was able to go to her Connected Literacy session where she shared many ways that she ignites a passion for literacy in her students and connects them to themselves, each other and the world.  Some of her most poignant comments:“Teachers can ruin the love of reading and writing.  We have to own it first.What am I doing to kill their love of reading and writing?

    I need to bring my passion of reading and writing to my students and to my own kids.

    It is what we decide is the most important that speaks the loudest.

    If I deliver all of the information that tells kids that the class is about us not about them.

    If a child hates reading, let’s not worry about whether they are using our strategies, let’s worry about the fact that they hate reading.”

  6. – This site is similar to Kahoot, but allows teachers to set up a Quizziz for homework instead of face to face and allows students to see choices on their screen not just the teacher’s presenting screen.
  7. Google Classroom – I learned an incredible amount from two technology facilitators from Union County, NC. I asked them if I could share the link to their presentation and they agreed.  You have to go through it to see the practical ways that they coach teachers to use Google Classroom:
  8. I enjoyed the incredible tag team of Brad Waid and Drew Minock.  I have followed them on Twitter for several years and loved website.  During their opening keynote, I heard them say this powerful quote:  “Education means inspiring someone’s mind not just filling their head.”  They also showed several awesome videos with my favorite on “Giving as the Best Communication” found below:

In their Thursday session, they shared the Innovation image which I posted at the top of this blog post and they discussed the wonderful opportunities to inspire innovation in students as they explore the following apps or programs:

Mystery Island


Code monster

Google CS First Clubs (3rd through HS)

The Foos

Hopscotch Code Academy

Video Game Creation at

At this website, students can draw their own video game.  Each rectangle is a floor.  Once you draw it on paper, you hold a device above it, scan it and it will pull it into app.  You can customize and build a game. 

Bloxels, at a physical object on a board with colored cubes.  Student build using those cubes and design a video game.  You can even build with the iPad app.  They scan what they build with cubes and it will put it into the app.  Students will gain greater understanding of topics like design logic and computer science and demonstrate their knowledge of history, science and math and more through the games they create.  It’s enjoyable like the old fashioned Light Brite!  Once you build a sailboat in an old fashioned Light Brite, you can’t scan it to see the boat sail but in the Bloxels program you can scan it and the boat would sail!

9.  Canva is a simple way to design posters, invitations, business cards, blog graphics, flyers, presentations, book covers, and more!  There are teacher created lesson plans at the Canva website and multiple tutorials are available.  The most exciting news to me:  Students can sign in to Canva through their Google Apps for Education accounts!

10.  The highlight of the conference for me was at the closing luncheon.  My family had driven that morning to be with me in Raleigh.  I was very excited to be awarded the NCTIES Outstanding Teacher Award for 2016.  The organizers had told me that I had 30 seconds to give my own comments.  I am placing the biography that was read about me and my comments below as they express my heart for being chosen for this award.

Lisa Maples is the K-5 Technology Teacher at Elon Park Elementary School in the Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools.  After earning her Bachelor’s Degree and Master’s Degree from UNC-Greensboro, she spent the next 20 years teaching 3rd and 4th grades in Greensboro, Raleigh and Charlotte.  For the past three years, she has become her school’s Technology Teacher where she uses iPads and computers to teach 1,100 K-5 students.  Lisa is a wife, a mother, a National Board Certified Teacher, a past Teacher of the Year, a blogger about teaching, her faith and her family, a teacher in the Governor’s Teacher Network, a PBS Learning Media Digital Innovator, an Ed Camp participant, a Twitter fan, an NCTIES conference presenter during the past two years, a Science Olympiad organizer and coach, a Summer Church Camp counselor, a Girls on the Run Assistant Coach, a mentor and a fan of the N. C. State Wolfpack along with the Carolina Panthers.   As a recipient of a $3,000 grant last year by the Charlotte Hornets, Fox Sports and Lowes, Lisa purchased 12 Sphero robots to teach her students how to code and 8 Lego Story Starter Kits which she has used to provide digital storytelling opportunities for her students.  It is evident that Lisa loves to use technology to engage students and to provide them with digital creation projects. She is thrilled to celebrate the 2016 Outstanding Teacher Award today with you, her family and friends.  

My comments:

It is my great honor to accept this award.  I have discovered that I can do what I do because of my support system. Psalms 139:8-10 reminds us that God guides and holds us.  I would like to thank God for guiding, holding and helping me, my family for supporting and loving me, my students for learning alongside of me, my principals and Dean of Students who believe in me, my dear friends and colleagues for helping and encouraging me and for the NCTIES committee for selecting me for this incredible honor.  Thank you.

I loved the excitement and being surrounded by my family and dear colleagues, Jen and Melissa, from my school and from around the state and country.  Two other colleagues from my school district were also awarded a Principal Leader Award and a Media Coordinator Award!  Within minutes of the Award being given, my principal who has believed in my vision from the beginning of my journey as Technology Teacher, announced my Award to my school colleagues in his weekly letter.  Throughout the afternoon and evening, I was humbled as I read comments on my school’s Facebook page or on my Twitter account (@edu_maples) from parents, teachers and friends as they shouted out their support.  I am thankful to be surrounded by so many people who have celebrated with me!

Innovation Image Credit:


iCARE…Do You?

Image Credit:


How would you feel if your friends were rating you online?  Should there be more conversations in schools to promote appropriate use of technology outside of school?  Using social media requires a degree of respect, however, some tweens and teens are  rating each other in certain apps, hiding inappropriate images that have been circulated among students in what appears to be an innocent Calculator app just in case mom checks their phone, circulating, in social media, racially insensitive memes and trying to outdo each other in images that they post of themselves which show little amounts of clothing or none.
As a K-5 Technology Teacher, I have a character education idea to give a common dialogue about promoting caring, respectful and responsible interactions among students in our schools as an expansion of digital literacy.  In an effort to build upon a culture of caring and respect at the Elementary level, I developed a character acronym to guide students when posting online.  iCARE is the acronym which stands for
Using the words in the iCARE acronym, values of a caring, respect and responsibility could be promoted in schools.  By using iCARE as the platform, opportunities could be provided through service projects and in interactions in classrooms and throughout the school to build an expectation of CARING and RESPECT which will hopefully spill over into out of school interactions, especially online.  iCARE allows a dialogue to exist between students to build an expectation of respect in all interactions including online behavior.

While in person and online, students encounter each other and develop ways to communicate.  In order to promote self worth and self esteem, iCARE spotlights ways to communicate face to face and online with respect.  Too often, students have disrespected themselves by posting inappropriate images of themselves or others, belittled others through rude comments (Ex.  TBR – To Be Rude which often precedes an ill spirited text or online posting) and seem to not care about the long term ramifications of their actions especially as it relates to racially charged texts and memes which perpetuate a lack of respect for various ethnic groups.  It is time to take action and raise the bar.  We have expectations for behavior at school already, however, iCARE gives a place to gauge interactions as respectful or not and provides opportunities for students to discuss how to change outcomes into respectful ones.

iCARE could build on Character Traits by having students celebrate ways that their classmates communicate and respectfully encounter each other at school or in social media. For example, in January, the traits that we focus on in my school are Justice and Fairness.  Classes could talk about how they see people being treated fairly and unfairly by pointing to examples in the media.  Teachers could show examples of how kids have not been treated fairly by other students online and have students brainstorm ways to change the tone to a respectful one.  Students would decide how they would encounter the same situation online and what they could do to promote respect.

During February, students could examine situations of how to be a responsible citizen by creating hearts on paper which would have examples written on the hearts of how they are responsible, respectful and caring in online and face to face encounters with others.   Schools could add to an online social media outlet like Twitter to share compliments of how people have been respectful, responsible and caring with the hashtag:  #iCARE.

In March, students could focus on Courage or doing the right thing when others aren’t.  iCARE conversations in classrooms would again spotlight ways to be courageous.  Students could take the iCARE Pledge to promise to communicate and respectfully encounter others in person and online AND focus on examining how their choices online are courageous or cowardly.  Teachers could have students examine ways to be courageous if online sharing in Social Media puts others down or tears down their reputation.  Teachers could talk about how students who put others down are sometimes just seeking ways to build themselves up but are going about it all wrong.  Students could brainstorm the following scenarios:

Brainstorm acceptable ways to communicate courageously.


Brainstorm respectful interactions and projects to empower people.


Brainstorm ways to respect ourselves and those who do not look like us.


Brainstorm ways to not perpetuate stereotypes.


Brainstorm how to give “likes” for sharing appropriate information online instead of seeking to “one up” someone and put a riskier image or meme online.  Discuss apps to build a sense of community instead of oversharing inappropriate topics for tween and teens.


In April, our spotlighted trait is Perseverance.  This could be a time to think about continuing the traits and persevering to make a difference in the lives of others.  Students could show that they care by developing iCare school projects to target how to help others such as tutoring, volunteering and community service.


In May, the character focus trait is Hope.  We could end the school year by sharing stories how students have had hope when they have seen others choose to communicate and respectfully encounter others.  Students could nominate each other for iCARE Awards where they would outline how other students have demonstrated character traits while communicating respectfully face to face and in online interactions with others.


I would like to have students design an iCARE Tee Shirt for our community.  A portion of the proceeds from each school could go to fund a service project such as the Servants With a Heart food preparation for hungry families in Charlotte and Nicaragua or to fund another charity.  My school’s students packed 50,160 food packages in September of 2015 for Servants With a Heart which had a huge impact on students and their ability to make a difference.  I blogged about that experience here.
This could be the beginning of a movement to usher in a culture of caring in other schools too.  iCARE…Do you?

Going into the Deep End with News-O-Matic and Skitch!

Second graders at my school have studied weather topics this year.  As a way to build a global weather understanding, I had students read weather articles found in the News-O-Matic app.  I like that this app has not only articles of high interest from around the world that can be read aloud to readers, but it has slide shows, videos, definitions and a lot more.  My students read about the cyclone that hit Yemen in October of 2015, saw the flooding and realized the effects such as the food and fuel supplies being wiped out.  They also read about how the World Health Organization is sending relief kits and fuel to help hospitals stay open.image

I introduced the second graders to another versatile app called Skitch where they were able to write about what they had read about.  They took a screen shot from the News-O-Matic slide show and used that image in Skitch.  They chose colors for fonts and began the process of writing about the article.  I have included some images of their work.  They only had about 20 minutes to work on this project after I demonstrated how to use the apps by mirroring my iPad on my big screen using my Apple TV.


imageI set the work time up so that each table had two iPads.  Both students opened the News-O-Matic app then they decided on a picture to use from the slide show about Yemen.  One student took the screenshot and did the typing in the Skitch app, while the other partner kept open the Yemen article to refer to and use


I like using technology as a way to augment what has typically been a paper and pencil assignment, but I also like to dive deeper into the SAMR pool and modify or even redefine an assignment using technology as a tool.  SAMR stands for four stages of technology integration:  Substitution, Augmentation, Modification and Redefinition.  The lesson that I have described above substituted a paper article for a digital article.  I moved on into Augmentation as I encouraged students to type sentences that described the cyclone in Yemen in the Skitch app while working collaboratively with a partner.  As we continue to read other articles in the future and do a collaborative Skitch, I will have students take screenshots of their Skitch and upload it to their Google Accounts since we are a Google Apps for Education School.  I am even thinking of having students upload their Skitch creations about global topics to a Padlet which would transform the assignment to the Modification level because students would be able to read other students’ Skitch creations online and give feedback.  I could post a link in my website to the closed Padlet once all student have uploaded their Skitch for the world to see which would take this assignment to the Redefinition Stage!  When an assignment can be shared with a global audience, it has been transformed from what could have just been a paper/pencil task, to one that provides a large audience, even reaching all over the world.  To learn more about how to transform assignments in the SAMR pool and see Padlet examples, I invite you to view the Smore Digital Poster at the following link:

My students will also use Skitch to publish character graphic organizers about characters that they’ve read about.  I think that those Character Skitches will be another post on another day!  How have you used News-O-Matic or Skitch?


On September 11, 2015, my school’s 1,100 plus students participated in a service project.  We worked with Servants With A Heart, a nonprofit group which provides raw materials for people to put together into bags of beans, rice and vitamins which will be given out to people who need it in my home town and in poverty stricken communities in Nicaragua.  A generous gift was given to our school to allow our students to participate in this project.  Students came into the gym at assigned times and each had jobs along an assembly line to put together, weigh and pack the food bags.  Our students packed just over 50,000 bags of food!  There are already plans to raise money to host another food packing session for the 2016-2017 school year!  It was absolutely amazing to see adults and children working alongside each other to accomplish a goal that would make a direct impact on other children in our area and in another part of the world!

This service project has allowed students to work together to make a difference in the world.  Some of my first graders used the app called Super Duper Story Maker Free to draw a picture and write a sentence about the project.  Fourth Graders described how they made a mark on the World during the Dot Day Observance Week in mid September by designing special dots that described how they put the food bags together.  They used an Augmented Reality app called Quiver to hover over the Dot and cause it to pop out and spin while looking at it on the iPads.  They loved being able to describe what they did and how they’ve made a big impact on the world.  Fourth Graders have also been creating Google Spreadsheets on poverty figures by county in my state from 2012 to 2013.  They are opening their eyes to differences in rates and speculating about what could have caused decreases or increases in county poverty rates.

Recently, I came across the Kid President Video above where he calls us all to action, to open our eyes to the problem of poverty and world hunger and to do whatever we can to end poverty and hunger.  I plan to share his video with my fourth graders and ask them to analyze what makes him persuasive.  Next, I will ask them to develop their own digital presentation in the form of a public service announcement where they will describe how to make a big impact on the world by being a digital citizen.  These are the days when students need to have opportunities to participate in service projects and in creating digital projects that call others to action.  The digital creation which they create will be done using a platform such as We Video or iMovie where students will provide images and cite their image sources.  The purpose of their public service announcement videos will be to cause others to consider elements of digital citizenship when communicating in online environments.  Students may not be able to end world hunger or online bullying, but they can get others to notice that they can make a difference in the words that they choose to say online, when sharing personal information online and when citing their work.

Kid President asked us to open our eyes to what is happening in the world concerning world hunger and poverty.  I will ask my students to open their eyes to how they can be influential role models when creating online digital projects and when they communicate online.  The Kid President video gives us a great act to follow when making our own digital citizenship videos.  My students will enter their digital public service announcement projects into a district contest where they will have opportunities to win robots for our school.  I am excited about the collaboration that will exist among students as they develop storyboards for their digital citizenship projects, communicate by writing scripts and create their public service announcements by putting their ideas together!  We will begin these projects during late October which is Digital Citizenship Month and Connected Educator Month!

Another great resource on Digital Citizenship can be found at the following website:  What will you do to celebrate and open students’ eyes to the importance of having traits of a digital citizen?

Image Credit:
Image Credit:

EdCampQC – September 19, 2015



Today I experienced my second EdCamp in Charlotte, NC, also known as the Queen City (QC).  It is known as EdCampQC.  Many educators have begun to own their learning by being a part of thIs “un-conference” model of learning around the USA.  At the beginning of the day there are no set topics for sessions.  The Room numbers and time slots are planned before the EdCamp begins, but the attendees share topics that they are interested in hearing about, leading or participating.  Topics are then written on chart paper and attendees vote with circular stickers placed beside of their favorite topics.  The organizers of EdCamp then assign topics to each time slot and room, then share the session schedule board at their website,

Some of my favorite sessions today were on using comics in the classroom, Google Apps For Education and Green Screen using the DoInk app.  There were facilitators in each room to help guide conversations, but the participants shared their ideas, questions and stories.  Sometimes the Smartboards were used to share Livebinder resources like the one I loved about Comics in the Classroom, Google extensions or Green Screen student examples.   Educators provide their Twitter handles in the shared Google Documents that were linked to the session names. I was so proud of my colleagues in my district who had organized every detail.  In the end, participants heard from teachers who, in some cases, were experts on session topics which helped them see new possibilities to bring to their classrooms.  I love how that even in the hallways, I connected with teachers who, I had just met or had known from a previous district training.  The positive energy of these conversations in the halls and in the classrooms injected a breath of fresh air in my teaching outlook.

I have included a variety of pictures that I took today either as screenshots on my iPad from the EdCamp or from Twitter posts that occurred during the EdCamp.  The Twitter handle for this EdCamp was #EdCampQC.  You could search Twitter for the #EdCampQC handle and see the awesomeness as well as links to resources.

One of my favorite times of the day occurred during lunch when I wandered into the “playground”.  This room was filled with amazing materials such as 3D Printers, Little Bits kits, Sphero robotic balls, Ollie robots, Osmo, CoLAR app, and 3Doodler.  It was so exciting to see and touch the BB-8, the newest version of Sphero who is a robot which is a part of the upcoming Star Wars movie.  My pictures below show some of what I saw and manipulated.  Making 3D glasses and maple leaves with the 3Doodler pen, much like a glue gun, gave me a glimpse of what I want to write a Donors Choose Grant for this year!

Ultimately, I left with my mind swirling with ideas.  I heard about Alan November’s book title, “Who Owns the Learning?” at this EdCamp and plan to read it soon.  Because educators came to share and learn, we all went away owning learning about topics that we chose to be a part of in our self selected sessions.  I also met new educators that I added to my PLN on Twitter so that the learning can continue into the future.  I hope you will scroll through the images to get a feel for how I felt.


image image imageimage image image image image image image image image image

Educational Tools – Coolio Toolios!

I have spent the past three days learning about Google Tools, apps and websites to use with my students in a Tech Leader Training.  Although it is the middle of July, I can’t wait to use the tools with my students when school starts in August.  I discovered an awesome video by two of my district’s instructional technology team members during our training.  They share 10 apps or websites that teachers can use with students to deepen engagement with content and allow for content creation by students.  I would like to share it so that all of my friends in education can get ideas on some amazing web tools.

Here is a pdf that describes the 10 tools:

My district also has a great way to assess apps and websites. Here is a link to the rubric that we use to assess educational apps and websites:   

I also like an iPad and Android app called Goose Chase!

Teachers sign up for a free account at then they create challenges for students to do.  Students take a picture with their device and submit the picture as they go on a scavenger hunt to find things that the teacher assigns.  There can be up to 10 teams enrolled in a game so students are encouraged to work together.  Some of the examples that you could do in class:

Find your teacher’s website and take a picture.

Take a picture of a new student in the class.

Locate the place in our class where you turn in parent forms and take a picture.

Discover your teacher’s expectations on how to act in class.

There are so many possibilities to use this app with students and with staff at the beginning of the school year.

What are some of your favorite apps and websites for K- 8 students?

What a great year!

School is coming to a close for the 2014-2015 school year.  I have enjoyed teaching my 1,100 + students in grades K-5 using technology as a tool.  I have curated some third and fourth grade projects at my new school Google website at  I am sharing the link to my school website today to allow others to take a peek at what amazing work our students created.

Third graders created iMovie Book Trailers after reading Mystery books in their Book Clubs.  Their iMovies are shown at my website under each third grade teacher’s name. The iMovie Trailers were carefully planned using the fabulous graphic organizers at Tony Vincent’s site.  They sketched scenes in the boxes of the trailers and wrote their scripts in their classrooms with their homeroom teachers after I had shown them a variety of iMovie trailers in my class using the iPad and Apple TV.  The Third Grade teachers and I collaborated on this project which allowed students to use a book that they read in their classes as a basis for their iMovie trailers.  Students were given class time to not only plan their scripts and images, but they also were given time to draw their iMovie trailer scenes on white paper.  They brought these papers to my Technology Lab where they took pictures of their scenes using the iPad’s Camera.  Next, they opened the iMovie app, selected their theme, and started placing each image into the correct slot within the iMovie Trailer.  Once they took turns typing their scripts, they had a finished iMovie Trailer.  We turned down the lights and shared the iMovie Trailers on the Big Screen in my room.  They loved seeing their hard work and effort while sharing with their peers.  I love how the iMovie Trailers turned out.  Some of them are good and some of them are great!  I hope you’ll have a look by clicking on movies under each teacher’s name at  My hope is that students will continue to watch these iMovie Trailers during the summer which may persuade them to read books that they friends have read.

Fourth Graders researched N.C. Lighthouses then collaborated with a partner to take notes in a shared Google Doc.  They used a variety of websites that I had collected in a Blendspace.  When they visited my Technology Lab for a Special Class or went to the Media Center for their Special Class, they used the time to gather information on the Location, History, Construction and Interesting Facts about their chosen lighthouse.  They were able to paraphrase information from the websites and type bulleted notes into their Google Doc which was a great step in learning to research without copying and pasting exact sentences from the website.  Next, they turned their notes into paragraphs and placed their paragraphs in a Google Slide Presentation.  They found images and citations.  I am so proud of their hard work.  One student even visited Bald Head Island Lighthouse during Memorial Day which was the Lighthouse that she researched and brought back “I Support Old Baldy” stickers for her class.  She gave them the stickers after the class saw each others’ Lighthouse Presentations in a Gallery Walk around the Technology Lab.

My fourth graders also researched N.C. Symbols then wrote scripts as if they were the symbol.  Kids personified the Plott Hound, the Pine Tree, the Strawberry and a Stock Car along with many other N.C. Symbols.  They would research with me or our Media Specialist when they came to our Special Area Classes then wrote their scripts.  They recorded themselves reading their scripts into the Chatterpix app on the iPads, saved the Chatterpix as a video to their Camera Rolls, then uploaded their completed projects to their Google Drive accounts.

I hope you will enjoy all of these projects when you visit my Google Site at  While you’re there, click on “Suggested Sites and Apps” to see a Smore Poster on Summer Reading ideas!

Image Citation:

Bob Iger’s surprising contribution to the Star Wars empire

I have been awarded a grant by the V
Charlotte Hornets which will allow me to purchase Sphero robotic balls for my students. They will use an app on the iPad to control the balls. They will use coding strategies to make the balls move and turn. I was excited to hear that a modified Sphero ball will be used in an upcoming Star Wars movie. Read more in this blog:


A little-known startup got a big shout-out at this week’s Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim, Calif., thanks to Walt Disney CEO Bob Iger.

Iger, whose media empire bought Star Wars creator Lucasfilm for $4.05 billion in 2012, kept a low profile at the bi-annual gathering of the space saga’s hard-core fans. But he was sitting right in the front row of the massive convention center auditorium where a star-studded panel took place on Thursday morning, the first day of the four-day-long event.

One by one, Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy, director J.J. Abrams, actors Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill and others took the stage to disclose more details on the next installment of Star Wars, much to the delight of the lightsaber-toting crowd. When an adorable free-rolling robot named BB-8—a new character in the upcoming installment of the series—joined them in the spotlight, it too received a fervent round…

View original post 431 more words

8 Essentials of Project Based Learning

Last weekend I attended my first Ed Camp (#EdCampQC on Twitter) at Hawk Ridge Elementary School in Charlotte, NC.  It was a powerful learning experience for me.  I enjoy traditional presentations in a regular conference format, but I now can see the reason why Ed Camps have become so popular.  We gathered in classrooms to hear teachers share their ideas and crowdsource ways to be an effective teacher to our 21st century learners.  I experienced conversations about MakerSpaces, Literacy in Technology, Genius Hour and Blended Learning. All of the ideas that I heard revealed how essential it is to inspire and nurture learning, creativity, and innovation through technology in elementary schools.

After being on Twitter for the past two years and building my Professional Learning Network, it thrilled me to get to meet at Ed Camp some of the members of my Twitter PLN such as Steven Weber (@curriculumblog), Stacy Lovdahl (@braveneutrino), Ashley Hurley (@ashleyhhurley), Jennifer Brinn (@Jenn_TeachLearn) and Nathan Stevens (@nathan_stevens) to name a few.  I have appreciated the contributions of these people through Twitter Chats or on Voxer.  Knowing that educators in North Carolina were willing to volunteer to learn from each other on a Saturday, even driving through snow and black ice, made the Ed Camp experience extra special.  

I heard Troy Moore, the principal at Hawk Ridge Elementary School, share how they are having kids pursue their passions as a part of Genius Hour which they do during the first hour of the school day.  One of my favorite examples was that of two boys who interview teachers and community members including sports figures and create Podcasts because they love Sports Casting!   I love that student ownership is a huge part of the culture of Hawk Ridge Elementary School where teachers have bought into the idea of allowing time and creative space for students to flourish.  Troy Moore (@HRESPrincipal) generously opened his school for teachers to see including a Project Based Learning space that was recently sponsored by the restaurant called Chili’s.  Teachers teach their students how to calculate tips in a restaurant setting within the school using percentages.  Other creative learning spaces included a classroom with mobile furniture that can be situated to best meet the needs of the learners.  Being at Hawk Ridge Elementary School helped me to understand why they have recently ranked 9th in the USA among other outstanding Elementary Schools.

In my role as the K-5 Technology Teacher, I am always contemplating ways to encourage my students to become engaged in the learning process.  I have also begun to realize the power of the process of PBL or Project Based Learning.  I recently heard Mike Gormans (@mjgormans on Twitter) in a webinar as a part of my monthly PBS LearningMedia trainings right on the heels of my experience at EdCamp.  He encouraged us to think about using the Eight Essential Components of Project Based Learning which helped me put together the ideas that were swimming in my head from Ed Camp.  Providing students with meaningful projects means that I need to incorporate the following eight components as published by the Buck Institute at  significant content, a need to know, a driving question, student voice and choice, 21st Century Competencies, in-depth Inquiry, critique and revision and a public audience.

I love the idea of new technology options to help me engage my students.  Students need opportunities to tinker, learn to code and create projects as a part of Project Based Learning (PBL).  They also need materials with which to build and to code.  I will describe in this post two possible technology tools to use when designing lessons for Project Based Learning: Sphero Robot Balls and Lego Storymaker Kits/Software.  I have written a grant for 12 Sphero Balls and Lego Storymaker Kits and hope to have it funded so I can implement a variety of lessons for my 2nd – 5th Graders.

Students in my school have participated in the worldwide Hour of Code for the past two Decembers using resources at  I would like for students to have the ability to write the code to see a three dimensional object follow their commands.  The resources at have been a good foundation for my students along with apps such as Daisy the Dinosaur and Legos Mindstorms Fix the Factory, however, I would like to provide additional real world opportunities to create code.  Students would work together to develop commands for the Sphero balls and cause them to run through mazes using coding apps on the iPads.  I would like to have students think like a computer programmer and articulate the process of coding the Sphero balls.  Learning to code Sphero balls will allow students to work in teams to build Sphero chariots that they will maneuver through mazes using iPads, communicate their results in writing and in revising their work through trial and error.  They will need to critically think as they problem solve and program the Spheros.  At the NCTIES PreConference on March 4, I am looking forward to learning how to program Sphero balls while collaborating with other teachers.

Students will communicate with small groups as they build Lego Story Scenes using the kits.  They will build their scenes in groups of three and decide on the plot of the story, characters, setting, etc. using special spinners to help guide their thought process.  Children in schools need opportunities to build and make which leads in this case to detailed stories and end products.  The process is just as important as the end product.

The Sphero robotics ball project is innovative because it will provide a way for students to see what it feels like to be a coder/computer programmer.  There will be a shortage of computer programmers in the next 10 years according to recent data published at  Schools must excite students at an early age to learn to code in an inviting fashion.  Getting to work in collaboration with other students to make a Sphero Chariot go through a maze will allow students to problem solve using a Driving Question.  There are math apps that I will also use to provide lessons using the Sphero balls found at

The Legos Storymaker project is innovative because it provides a way for students to design a beginning, middle and end of a story using Lego scenes then write about their stories.  Students will be developing narratives and writing text to go along with scenes from the their Lego story settings.  They will publish the narratives in creative ways through Newspapers and Posters.  Visit this link to see examples of Lego Storymaker final products:

In my role as the K-5 Technology Teacher at my school, I love to engage my students using innovative apps and projects that require researching and development of digital stories.  The Sphero and Lego Storymaker Projects will allow me to take my students into deep thinking projects where in order to succeed, they will have to communicate thoughts verbally and in writing, collaborate in teams, critically think as they brainstorm solutions and develop digital stories after building with Legos, and create projects that will be an authentic way to show the world that they are 21st Century Learners.

How have you used Project Based Learning?  I would love to hear your thoughts!