Make Purposeful Connections

It’s important for our students to learn to connect with experts and others around our country or around the world. Here are some easy ways to make those connections purposeful:

Skype in the Classroom offers many opportunities to connect students. November 13/14 is the Skype-a-thon. Skype in the Classroom’s site says:  “Nearly half a million students, teachers, and guest experts will connect via Skype to see how many virtual miles we can travel around the world in 48 hours. Our mission is to open hearts and minds by raising awareness of different cultures, values, and perspective, and to help support a quality education for thousands of student around the world.”

December 3-9 is Hour of Code week – Skype is partnering with, to host a week of free 30-minute classroom broadcasts and live Q&A with professionals who use code to create amazing things. If you can’t join live, then register for the sessions you’re interested in and they’ll send you the on-demand versions.

In February, Skype in the Classroom celebrates literacy globally in honor of World Read Aloud Day, World Book Day and throughout the year, working with hundreds of guest speakers, including authors, illustrators, and literacy partners. The goal is to inspire students to grow up as readers and become engaged citizens of the global world.”

If you are a FlipGrid fan, have your students make friends and virtual “pen pals” by joining #GridPals. Read more about this opportunity on the FlipGrid blog!

Google Expeditions in Augmented Reality

You can now experience Google Expeditions in augmented reality (AR).  There are over 100 Expeditions now available in AR. The AR experience works with the Google Expeditions app downloaded onto a mobile device and a set of markers that need to be printed.


Last week, I had the opportunity to try out an Expedition in AR with a group of 1st graders at CAM North Elementary.  The class is studying patterns in space and we did an Expedition on the phases of the moon. We learned quickly that the AR only worked on the newest iPad’s in the room. The others were able to view the Expedition, but it was in the traditional format, not in augmented reality.  The kids took turns using the four iPads that supported the AR so they were all able to experience it. The kids were extremely engaged in the activity and loved being able to walk around and look at the moon from different angles and in different sizes.

Upon further investigation, the AR is only supported in ARCore (Android) and ARKit (iOS) devices. ARCore is available in Android devices 7.0 or later.  ARKit is available in Apple devices iPhone 6S/6S Plus or later, and iPad 2017 or later and requires iOS 11.0 or later. If all this sounds intimidating, no worries. Green Hills AEA has purchased two AR compatible Expeditions Kits that we hope will be available for check out sometime after Winter Break!


Keep Organized with Google Keep

27762070310_7e54c7a928_bBesides Docs, Sheets, Drive, and Slides, Google has many tools that are very useful in the K-12 world but that many educators and students have yet to explore. One of my favorites is Google Keep. This little gem lets you keep and share notes, images, lists, drawings, etc. Keep automatically syncs from your smartphone app to your laptop to your tablet. There is a Chrome extension for your browser to make it easy to Keep (bookmark) sites. Here are just a few of the many ways to use Keep:

  • take notes (either typed or voice recordings)
  • bookmark links
  • get time-based alerts
  • get location-based notifications
  • use a check list to manage and plan group or individual projects
  • share notes, images, screenshots
  • create digital notecards for research – notes, citations, page numbers

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You’ll find Keep Notepad under the Tools menu in Google Docs and Slides. Clicking on this opens all your Keep notes in the right-side panel where you can simply click and drag to add images, stickers, notes, whatever you have added to Keep, to your documents and slides!

All students and teachers should have this little treasure on their devices! Give Google Keep a try! For great Keep resources go to for Kasey Bell’s blog and links to her Google Keep resources on Pinterest.

Hour of Code All Year!

I hope that you saw the same enthusiasm and excitement of students that I did during Hour of Code this year! Coding helps to develop not only computer skills, but also logic, math, problem solving, design and more. Iowa’s Senate File 274 created a Computer Science Education Work Group and so created the foundation for strengthening CS education in our state! The goal, according to this workgroup’s report is “that by July 1, 2019, every elementary school will offer instruction in the fundamentals of computer science; every middle school will offer exploratory computer science; and every high school will offer at least one high-quality computer science course.”

Now that the official Hour of Code is over for 2017, give your students the opportunity to continue to code, make apps, create webpages and control robots! Here are some ideas and resources beyond the hour of code…

Beyond Hour of Code – Click on “for Teachers” and you’ll find courses you can teach divided into elementary, middle and high school. They offer free workshops for teachers and a selection of courses to lead students through.

Google’s CS First Curriculum helps teachers, parents, club sponsors who have no computer science background, lead a “club” for students. After setting up the club, the leader will have access to the dashboard where they can track student progress and projects. Students will learn from the instructional videos (and each other!) Students will be learning Scratch (block coding) to create their projects.

Code Academy is an option for older students to learn to code, create apps, create websites and more!

MIT App Inventor has curriculum and resources for teachers and/or students can use the step-by-step guides to learn and create their own apps.

GoOpen with OER

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Spring of 2017 saw me at Lewis Central High School at the GoOpen Summit. I was somewhat familiar with the GoOpen and OER movement but not nearly enough. Do you like all of the big acronyms in this so far? Let me define them.

GoOpen — “The U.S. Department of Education’s #GoOpen campaign encourages states, school districts and educators to use openly licensed educational materials to transform teaching and learning”

Openly licensed educational materials “In the 2016 National Education Technology Plan, the Department defines openly licensed educational resources as teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under a license that permits their free use, reuse, modification, and sharing with others. Digital openly licensed resources can include complete online courses, modular digital textbooks as well as more granular resources such as images, videos, and assessment items.”

OER — “Open educational resources (OER) are free and openly licensed educational materials that can be used for teaching, learning, research, and other purposes.

Open Education “…is the simple and powerful idea that the world’s knowledge is a public good and that technology in general and the Web, in particular, provide an extraordinary opportunity for everyone to share, use, and reuse knowledge.”

So in essence, we are looking at instructional content that resides in the public domain or carries a creative commons license which allows anyone to access it and use it as is or repurpose it for their own curriculum. This sounds great and as in all things it is not as easy as it sounds. What are some of the qualifiers a teacher is looking at when incorporating OER into their classroom or for a school district considering becoming a GoOpen District?  

  1. How much is the ‘total cost of ownership’? Even though the content itself is free there is time, energy and resources needed to create the curriculum and/or textbook.
  2. What is the quality of the resources available? Iowa Learning Online has put together an OER Commons which acts as a hub for many of the OER products.  On this, they have an OER Evaluation Tool page. These resources will guide teachers while building their curriculum.  
  3. Do students and teachers have the Internet access and the devices to use the OER content which is digital? Your school district’s Clarity Survey information will contain the answers to this question.

Now that you know about the GoOpen movement, which is a program from the United States Department of Education, the Office of Educational Technology and OER, Open Education Resources, you may ask how can I get involved?  

Green Hills AEA is partnering with Northwest AEA and Prairie Lakes AEA to provide seventh-grade social studies teachers an opportunity to write curriculum for the new Iowa Social Studies Standards. The content will be open and available to all teachers.  The units will incorporate OER resources, Iowa AEA Online Databases, and appropriate websites. The units will contain all of the tools needed such as assessments, project suggestions, and opportunities to differentiate to meet the needs of all learners utilizing the MTSS process. There will be an opportunity for 1 recertification credit available.  At the end of the sessions, each participant will have at least one curricular unit available in a shared Google Team Drive Folder to teach in 2018-19.


  • Create an environment of shared understanding around the OER movement.
  • Design Social Studies unit(s) to be shared with all teachers across the state.

Green Hills AEA is committed to serving districts and teachers in utilizing OER to design high-qualitycurriculum for students. We will continue to provide hands-on opportunities for learning and creating content in a collaborative manner. If you have questions or need assistance with OER contact your Green Hills AEA Instructional Technology Consultants:

Stephanie Lane –

Judy Griffin –

Maryann Farrell –


FlipGrid Fever

Remember those boring discussion boards from your last online course? Well, this fall I started teaching for a local community college in my “spare” time. MOODLE is the LMS with an advanced forum option for threaded discussions. Nothing wrong with that… However, during my “day job” I get to see K-12 students using FlipGrid for fluency, to explain their thinking, and for an opportunity to speak when otherwise they won’t. For example, check out this Explorer Series from FlipGrid where students can ask questions and discuss fossils with a real paleontologist! Find many more great examples of FlipGrid fever on Twitter @Flipgrid.

Most of my college students are non-traditional students who never see (or hear) each other. Text-based threaded discussions are fine, but, like email or texting, you can’t hear voice inflections, passion, anger or know if someone is just joking (unless you add an emoji 😉).  FlipGrid to the rescue! I purchased the $65 full version because I wanted to be able to have several grids, add rubrics, and allow my students to reply to each other. The free version lets you have one grid and as many topics as you’d like. There are other differences in the paid vs free versions which you can check out here.

I create a new topic each week then “share” it by embedding it right in MOODLE’s advanced forum post. (It will integrate with Canvas too!) Students can use any device (there’s an app for that!) to respond and reply to each other. I’ve gotten so many positive comments from my students and, as an instructor, it really helps me get to know each of them personally and learn from them as well!


FlipGrid is easy to set up and use. Students don’t need accounts, just the code for the topic you have created. Even better, when you click on Share – you can share right to your Google Classroom (if only we could get our higher ed friends to embrace Google!) All students have to do is click on the BIG + sign and start recording!! You can give them a prompt, ask them a question, provide a URL link, or even add a video to give them something to talk about! Try it once… and I’m betting you will have FlipGrid fever too!

Orange Slice Rubrics – Google Docs Add-on


An easy way to digitally score student writing is with a Google Docs Add-On called “Orange Slice – Teacher Rubric“. You can use your own pre-made rubric or build one with the add-on right in a student’s shared document. In Google Docs, click on the Add-On menu, search for Orange Slice, and add it to your list of add-ons.

If you use your own rubric, first create or copy it in a Google Doc table. The first cell has to contain the words “Rubric Categories“. Then list your rating scale (A, B, C or Great, Good, Okay) in the other cells in the first row. In the left column cells, list your categories. Finally, fill in each cell for what you’ll be expecting or looking for to match the category and rating scale. You can save this as your “template” if you’ll be using the same rubric over and over. Or build a different one for each assignment. Here’s a quick tutorial:


Book Creator – Chrome!

One of my favorite iPad apps for creating and sharing ebooks, and that of teachers too, is Book Creator. It costs $4.99 and is worth it! However, now Book Creator is available online – free for 1 library, up to 40 books (costs $$ for more libraries and books)! Nothing to download. Not only can students write, illustrate, add photos AND video to their stories, they can also narrate them (fluency)! There is a template for students to create comics. And students can collaborate and combine books from multiple authors! Young Girl Doing Homework And Using LaptopTeachers can become authors too – create an ebook with class photos from field trips, holiday parties, sports, and other school activities. Then share the book with the community and parents with the simple click of a button! I’m writing a book for my Granddaughter this weekend!

Here is an overview video by Book Creator!

Create Your Own 3D World with CoSpaces

This summer, 7 students and I spent a week learning and creating with CoSpaces at our local public library. This site lets you imagine, create, then virtually “walk around in” your created world (with a mobile device and perhaps 3D VR glasses.) You can simply create a space, or tell a story by creating several different scenes and adding narration. To take it even further, you can use the integrated Blockly coding app to make objects move, fly, and more! Imagine the classroom applications for this: creativity, STEM, storytelling, modeling, virtual exhibitions, and much more! You can create and view the worlds on any device! CoSpaces has an excellent YouTube channel with easy to follow short tutorials so students can learn this program even if the teacher is not an expert!

You can choose from CoSpaces Maker (single user) or the new CoSpaces EDU for classroom/student licenses, lesson plans, and more. There is a cost to the EDU version.

Here are some “worlds” from a few of the students this summer, who, by the way, LOVED this program and would go home in the evenings and keep working. Click and drag to look around 360 degrees. Click on some of the objects to make them move. Enjoy exploring their worlds! Thanks to Zach, Grace, Justin, and Ernie!

Google Earth Online – Made for Chrome

Finally, Google Earth is available for Chromebooks (or in the Chrome browser on a Mac or PD) and is totally online! Go to, click “Launch Google Earth” and off you go! Obviously, this is a great move by Google to support all our students with Chromebooks. Students can now see and experience their neighborhood, state, country and the world from their desk or home. There are also some new features of Google Earth that you and your students will want to explore:

  1. Post Cards – By “sharing”, you can now send a ‘postcard’ just like you were really there! You can also share an image right to your Google Classroom!
  2. Voyager – Visit places with a guided tour from experts –  info cards that take you between locations as you click through. Click and drag “Peg Man” to go to Street View down to ground level. Awesome!
  3. I’m Feeling Lucky – The “random” button, which looks like a dice, takes you… anywhere – randomly to places you may never have thought to visit otherwise. What fun!

Here’s a nice tutorial to share with your students!