Monday, December 7, 2015

Explanation of our Club Day

Our school's encore team leads fifth grade clubs during encore time each Friday. Friday has typically been a repeat day for encore classes.

Students' choices are:
Fitness Club with our PE teacher
Service Club with our guidance counselor
Brave Kids Club (buddying up with our EC students)
Art Club with the art teacher
Chorus with the music teacher

The art teacher and music also teach at another school so their clubs come to me on the off week.  (I lead the Art Club students week A and the Chorus students week B.)  These kids are my primary Imagination Chapter kids.  I also do many activities with other classes.

The special area teachers came up with this design by creating a list of offerings.  We then explained the choices to the students and asked students to name their top choices via a Google form. This is our second year of having fifth grade clubs on Fridays. The first year had some kinks, mainly because the art and music teachers schedules.  There was a lot of movement back and forth between groups and this did not work well.  (I led the Brave Kids Club the first year and our computer teacher led the WFES Club. We currently do not have a computer teacher. Some of us have covered two clubs at once to make the current clubs work.)

I think both the students and specialists look forward to club time.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Friday's Chapter Meeting

We had another club day on Friday. This week we had the Fitness Club joining us. We currently don't have a computer teacher so we have five groups led by four special area teachers each week. 

The Fitness Club students researched games from around the world and then invented their own games.  Some students asked for makerspace materials and cardboard and actually made their games. They all shared their games with the rest of the club before they left.

The Imagination Chapter kids were at the opposite end of the media center and their choice of materials included the Ozobots, Snap Circuits, or K'Nex. There was some movement between activities.

I looked around the room as students were collaborating, researching, writing, creating, making videos, tinkering, building, designing, problem-solving, and communicating.  These are the moments that stay etched in my mind. 

There were more than 40 students in there with me. Everyone stayed on task and genuinely seemed very happy to be there.

I certainly felt the power of being the "guide on the side" instead of the "sage on the stage".  Here's to many more days like Friday! 


Friday, November 13, 2015

Setting Up a STEAM Lab

We started our makerspace in our school media center during the 2014-2015 school year.

I teach information and literacy skills during regular media classes during four blocks of each day. Classes regularly use the media center’s computer lab during four blocks of the day.  These overlap but we are at opposite ends of the media center. The media center, computer lab, makerspace, and I are all available for flexible during parts of the day. Last year I ran into the problem of teachers wanting to use the makerspace but the media center being too full to always accommodate that.  Some teachers do borrow materials.

Our assistant principal took a few of us to a LEGO Symposium in May. She mentioned that she would love to have a STEAM lab and would love to have that as an encore class time like music, art, PE, etc.

Fast forward to this past week. We are blessed to have been able to purchase some K’Nex kits at half off, then my DonorsChoose project was funded, and then we received a Bright Ideas grant for robotics and coding materials. All in a week’s time! My principal and I were chatting on the way to the Bright Ideas luncheon and she said we could use a room for a STEAM Lab!

This room has served various functions over the last few years.  I first envisioned a room for teachers with resources for them to use: professional books, book sets, room for planning.  It then became a tutoring room.  It also houses miscellaneous resources from several departments.  The best part of this room is that it is near the media center.

And so we have begun the task of renovating this space into a STEAM lab.

Here is my current plan of attack:

  1.  Inventory current resources
  2.  Research other STEAM labs
  3.  Get teacher and student input
  4.  Decide upon needs
  5.  Make a plan
  6. Gather volunteers
  7. Set up room
  8. Share a calendar for sign-ups
  9. Train teachers and students
  10. Add and replenish supplies to keep up interest

I ran into Staples last night and saw some clearance storage containers that are the right size. The salesperson and I started talking and he was very proud of his alma mater’s pioneering and award-winning STEM lab just up the road in a neighboring county. I looked it up when I got home and saw the $500,000 price tag.

I must admit that I was feeling a bit overwhelmed at this point.

Imagine my luck when I was participating in an Imagination Chapters Google Hangout after school and there was a school architect in today’s session! Jeff from Cincinnati recommended the book Make Space: How to Set the Stage for Creative Collaboration by Scott Doorley.  He also suggested using whiteboard paint on the walls and even using five gallon buckets as seats.  They are not only economical but they also work as storage.

One thing that really stood out to me during today’s GHO session was his question, “How do we make school irresistible for children?”  I often see a similarly themed comment on Twitter: “If students had a choice, would they come to your class?”

I have no doubt that children will want to come to our future STEAM lab.

In the meantime, I have some reading and research to do.

Here’s a reading list to help you get started as well.

Sunday, November 8, 2015


I am a small town girl.  I married a small town kind of guy. I have always lived in small towns and probably always will. My dear husband is not much of a traveler.  I became a stepmom at the age of 20 and had kids later. I do want my children to see the world, but traveling with kids has never appealed to me much. My grandmother was a traveler, but my parents and the rest of my immediate family are really not.

I am fascinated with other people's cultures. I went to Carolina, one of the most diverse colleges I know. My favorite college class was probably Anthropology.  I love virtually visiting exotic locations via Google Earth and Google Cardboard. I love hearing stories of my father's and brother's travels while they were in the Navy. One day I will make it to Paris.

But honestly? I'll have to get my passport first.

Technology has opened up the world to me.  How can I, little ol' Tonya from sleepy Mayberry, be connecting with people - strangers really - from all over the world?  And how are they finding me?

One word: Twitter.

Yesterday I received a message from a California business coach/mentor and she wanted to chat with me about the Imagination Chapters. We had a great conversation on the phone and then she sent me interview questions for a blog post.  [Update: Read her blog article about us here: Marla Diann's Blog Article About Us.] 

Today I was messaging a lady about a DonorsChoose project and suddenly JoyLabz of MakeyMakey tweeted me about a post. She messaged me back and said she was chatting with JobLabz and would be right back. Wow!

I am more of a facebook person.  I love seeing the pictures and reading the stories.  I am probably a little too connected via fb.  It took me a long time to get the appeal of Twitter. It took a long time to build up any amount of followers.  I really just used Twitter to follow Jeff Probst and his live Survivor dialogue.

After some professional development with Lucas Gillispie, our school system's Director of Academic and Digital Learning, I was off to do more with Twitter.  At first I tried to limit the number of people I followed.  I wanted to just connect with people that I actually know and talk to regularly.  I'm now up to 350 followers and that's a big deal for me!

The best part about Twitter has been connecting with others in my Personal Learning Network (PLN).  We are sharing ideas, learning from each other, and getting expertise from people who know way more than me. These people are all over the world.

Chats are a great way to connect with others.

More Reading

What is a PLN?

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Six things I wish I had known about DonorsChoose

Several of my colleagues have had DonorsChoose projects funded. I had a bit of trouble getting started because of a glitch in my account. It took me about a year before I finally set up a different account and uploaded my first project: Generation Imagination: Movers and Makers.

I must say, I hate asking for anything.  I always have.  So asking for donations is hard for me. I am sure it will all be worth it.

My friend Sheila McHone has had two projects funded.  She has given me several pointers and has helped me get several donations.

Here are six things I wish I had known about DonorsChoose:

1. Do your research.

DonorsChoose is not just for technology.  It's not just for trendy items.  Do you have a creative idea that you believe in?  Others will believe in it, too! Understand the rules for your photos. Generally the materials you receive should remain at the school where you are teaching when you get your grant funded.

Ask your funded friends for tips.  Check out the matching partner opportunities and the promotions page before writing a proposal.  For example, the Lily Sarah Grace Fund helps fund projects that emphasize creativity, critical thinking, and collaboration.

2. Start small.  

There is a $100 minimum amount to start a project.  With all the extras included, the project will end up being $170 or so.  Smaller projects are more likely to be funded. You are given three points to get started.  Choosing a project that totals less than $400 only takes one point. Learn more about points here.

(I understand the expenses of running a website, processing the transactions and donations, and advertising.  I have seen some of my school's teachers get needed technology that they probably would not have gotten without DonorsChoose.  It is not a Black Friday type site.  Charity Navigation gives DonorsChoose a very favorable rating.)

3. It takes time.

It takes time to get the project started and approved.  It takes time to ask for donations and write thank yous.  It takes time to get the project fully funded and shipped. This is not a one night project. Seeing our school's students use new iPad minis and Chromebooks makes it worthwhile though!

4. Get some help.

Tweet, facebook, instagram, blog, email - communicate across platforms to ask others to donate to your projects.  Even if they don't donate, ask them to retweet or share your project. A project with 20 $1 donations looks more appealing than one project with a $20 donation. Lots of family members and students' parent would donate a dollar or two. There are buttons you can click to tweet and share directly from your project page.

There are lots of great communities out there that will help with your project donations. Kindergarten Rocks and Caring Classrooms are just two of them.

Be sure to include a tag when you share your project link so that donations go through the community page. For example, my project link is  When I share it, I need to add ?challengeid=208861 in there so it becomes I was running out of characters for my tweet, so I could have used a to make it shorter.

5. There are great tips specifically for donations.

Donate to your own project, even if it is just $1.  Ask a friend to donate $1 to yours and you donate $1 to hers. Donate $1 to lots of individual projects.  Your history of donations shows up, but I don't think the amount does.  Tweet when someone gives you a donation and tweet when you make a donation.

Get your matching donations! There are special codes that you and your donors can use to get matching funds. Use SPARK in the first seven days. Be ready for upcoming matching donation opportunities so you can have your donors lined up.  Matching money runs out quickly.

6.  Thank everyone!

Thank people as soon as they donate on your project page.  Thank people who tweet about your project. When thanking someone directly on Twitter, use the . symbol in front of their Twitter name so more people will see the tweet (ex .@tonya_nc). Send the thank yous and post the six photos quickly once you have gotten your materials.  This keeps your rating high.

Good luck as you seek materials for all of those awesome kids!! It's hard work, but it's worth it! I appreciate resources like DonorsChoose and especially the donors so much! It is all about that village!

After learning from the experts, I posted a smaller project.  It took a week to get approved, but I was ready! It took about an hour to get funded! Yay!

More Help

7 DonorsChoose Tips for Success

Friday, October 30, 2015

Mystery Skype

Okay, if someone mentions Skyping with your class, you must ask, “Is this a Mystery Skype?” Twice now I have just assumed it was a Skype session and twice I have been wrong. 

If I had realized beforehand it was a Mystery Skype session, I would have done my homework!!

The fabulous Paul Solarz has everything you need to know right here: How to Set Up and Run a Mystery Skype Session.
I thought I was doing a five-ten minute “Hey, how are you?” session.  This turned into a forty minute activity and it was great! The children went back to class telling the other students what we had done.

Steve Auslander’s fifth graders taught us how to question the other school.  I loved how the students were in charge of everything – introductions, questions, answers, and so much more. We loved their signs - Your Turn, Our Turn, We’re Thinking, Thank You! You can tell that he really empowers his students. They are also an Imagination Chapter and I hope we get to collaborate again.

Their biggest suggestion was to start with, “Are you west of the Mississippi River?” so that you narrow it down.  “Are you in the (Southeast, Northeast, Northwest, Southwest?” could come next. 

Pernille Ripp has listed some great questions for Mystery Skype here: Great Mystery Skype Questions to Get You Started.

My friend Rebecca has done a lot of Mystery Skypes and we Skyped together on International Dot Day. She recommends Mystery Skypes for third grade and up.

I feel like I am late to the game with Mystery Skype, but I’ve probably done thirty or forty videoconferences with a Tandberg system and ALL were super valuable.

Skype can also be used for more than the Mystery Skype sessions.  You can do author visits, virtual field trips, ask an expert, and much more.

Seven years ago my friend and fellow media coordinator Stephanie Bode first introduced our PLC to Skype. At the time we had a young lady in Pre-K who was homebound.  She was able to Skype daily with her Pre-K class.  It was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen.

A few years ago we sent out our morning news to all of our classrooms via Skype. (It was pre-recorded and sent as a movie file.) It was a great way for our staff to stay in touch. Questions, reminders, and requests all came through the group chat feature.

Franklin second graders in Sheila McHone’s class regularly Skype with a class at Cedar Ridge. Last year they had an end of year field trip together.  How fun!

Skype and Google Hangouts are free and work with an Internet connected device and webcam.  I did one Google Hangout on an iPad mini.  There are occasional technical snafus, but it usually takes just a couple of minutes to get going. Google Hangouts is great for when you have three or more sites.

When toddlers can figure out how to FaceTime, it’s something that we educators can do, too!

More Resources

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Going Global

It was five or so years ago when our principal asked me to give a presentation about technology and 21st Century Skills at our staff’s first meeting of the school year. 

At the time, one of my sons was exploring Youtube videos at the tender age of four. My other son was building Minecraft worlds with new friends from across America and even Europe.

As a staff we talked about how our society had gone from an Agricultural Age to an Industrial Age to the Information Age. The current time period could now be called the Connected Age or the Global Age. I still see it as part of the Information Age, but we truly are becoming a global community.

“Technology provides today’s students with unprecedented access to information about people, places, cultures and events around the world. Young people have grown to expect that their everyday tools will allow them to go to the Internet for information, make phone calls to and from almost anywhere in the world, and communicate with people in other countries with ease via e-mail and instant messaging.”

Where will you see global mentioned in education?
  • 21st Century Content includes global awareness.
  • Our Standard Course of Study includes it multiple times across all grade levels.
  • It’s mentioned several times in North Carolina’s educator evaluations.
  • Global is included in our school system’s mission statement and goals. Surry County Schools’ motto is “Lighting Pathways to Global Success”!
Becoming global is not just geography and culture. It’s also about language. (Our school system’s students begin learning a second language in the third grade.) It’s about being able to work with people who are different than us. It’s about our children growing up and helping to solve global problems. How can we work together to build a better future?

Last year our principal took the staff to Renfro Corporation one afternoon. It is a leading global manufacturer, designer, distributor and marketer of legwear products. With 5500 employees around the world and sales offices in six countries, it is truly a global corporation. And it is headquartered in our little town.

Being an Imagination Chapter leader has already brought changes to my teaching and my students’ learning.  We are going global this year.  It’s not just a little, it’s a lot! The Global Cardboard Challenge has been so much fun.  We’ve learned geography, compared similarities and differences, and connected with others via Skype and Google Hangouts. It is a natural fit.
My son and I just watched TomorrowLand last night. In it the main character asks, “What are we doing to fix it (the world)?” Our school’s first step is going global.

Further Reading

From the University of North Carolina’s Center for International Understanding

Personalized Education

Personalized education is our system's mantra. Differentiation has been around longer than I’ve been alive, but this is so much more.

I attended schools in this system and it was just the tip of the iceberg. We had two AP classes offered twenty years ago.  I used the Internet for the first time in my high school library.

Students may still take classes through our local community college in addition to multiple AP classes offered. But now students also have opportunities to attend a magnet middle school, an early college, a virtual academy, or a traditional school. Students in middle school may earn high school credits. The most promising personalization is that they are able to earn career certificates while still in high school or follow along one of many pathways to a college degree.

Even at the elementary level you hear more about genius hour projects and project-based learning. Our fifth graders choose which club they want to join for Friday special areas time. We are starting a robotics club and student council. This will be offered in addition to our Battle of the Books program.

With all this talk of being global and having a personalized education, this 2012 infographic really seemed to pull everything together for me. Click the image to see the full-sized version.

The Imagination Chapter activities fit into this future of learning. I love that students are making individual choices, coding with robotics, connecting with others from around the globe, thinking critically, and being creative.

I recently told some visitors that the Imagination Chapter program ties everything together for me: STEM, makerspaces, open-ended projects, etc.

It is sometimes hard to justify what looks like play when students must pass standardized tests.  I understand the importance of learning the basics. I just hope there becomes more and more room for these creative, open-ended projects in our classrooms and schools.

An instructor at a spring LEGO Symposium said that when her students use the LEGO Story Starter sets that they WANT to write their stories. Dave Hartzell spoke to me about how excited kids are to write in their journals. A chapter leader wrote that her student made the connection from a math lesson to a maker project. I see this in our open-ended projects. Most importantly, students are engaged and excited about learning.

I am ready to explore this movement. It is for our Generation Imagination. It is for all of our futures.

More Reading
2020 Forecast Update (mentions the Maker Economy as one of several trends)

Creating a New World of Learning: A Toolkit for Change Makers

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Global Cardboard Challenge - Our Original Guidelines

I had a few guidelines for students when introducing the Global Cardboard Challenge.

Be nice to others.
You may work together.
Try not to waste lots of paper. (This one should really say supplies.)
No swords or other weapons.
Don’t destroy other people’s work.
Sorry, but you can’t take it with you.
Someone may end up adding to yours later this week.

While students were a bit disappointed to find out they were not going to get to take these creations home with them, most of them seemed to understand.  There is just no way we could send these things home on the buses. I did not want to let some people take theirs while others couldn't. To ease the pain I have taken hundreds of photos. 

There had not been a problem with the rules until today, the fourth day. The biggest concern was that students wanted to take home their creations.  It seemed like EVERYONE wanted to take theirs home with them!  I wanted to be fair and since the other students (Days 1-3) couldn’t, I didn’t want to change my rules mid-way. I know where I messed up with one class. They were a few minutes late and it was the last class of my week in the art room. I hurried through the introduction and did not get to my rules. (Note to self: Guidelines/rules are very important!)

Some other “Aha! Moments”:

My K/1 students had so much fun playing with the older students’ creations and then dismantling them.  I wanted to save the MakeDo screws for next year and we needed to clean up some today. (Thanks to my fellow Imagination Chapter leader who posted this idea.) Students did have a choice to create or to work with the screws and creations.

I also had some second graders help me move some of the projects from the art room to my building. It looked like a parade and it looked AWESOME.

Some students pleaded with me to let them take their game out to the playground next week. They want to bring in their own toys as prizes.  :D

I was very, very impressed with the fourth graders’ projects. I will be seeing 3rd and 5th grade next week, so I can’t wait to see what they make.

So many classes want to continue these projects the next time they come to media. Many kids would have been happy to work all day on their projects.

The best part is that so many kids are going home and making new creations! 

So thoughts for next year…

Now that teachers have seen it, is there a way to incorporate this as a classroom activity? One teacher asked if she could bring her class back for some extra time to build. I have a resource room near the media center that is used by tutors.  I have wanted to turn it into a full-time makerspace but I haven't had time yet.

Is there a way to add paint? We did not have time to get out the paint this week. 

Could there be a size restriction so that students could take home their projects?  (Example: It has to fit in your bookbag.)

Will I stick to the upper grades for next year’s challenge?

I need to add more time for others’ to play the games and check out other students’ designs.

Could we add a parade?  That was really the most exciting part!

But yes, most definitely, I see a 2016 Global Cardboard Challenge in our future.