My STEM Wish List

STEM Wish ListThe countdown is getting closer to single digits! In just over two weeks I’ll be welcoming a batch of Kindergarten through 6th graders into my new STEM classroom! I’m so excited (and, admittedly, nervous) about starting in a new school, with new families, a new district, and a whole new program for the district.

Because I’m me, I’ve been scouring Twitter, Pinterest, and Teachers Pay Teachers for the best STEM information for my new grade levels. (I’m so excited to spend time with K-4! I’ve interacted plenty with kids that age at my old school, but I never had classroom time with them even though I’m certified.)

One of my favorite blogs I stumbled upon is called “Growing a STEM Classroom,” and it was this post about a 20 minute challenge that really got me excited to find more resources. I was so thrilled to find out that the author of that blog also had a storefront on TpT! She has the instructional pack for the Tiny Glasses Challenge for only $2.00 (at the time of this post)!

Digging further, she has three packs (#1, #2, and #3) of STEM Lessons/Challenges that would be lovely to get my hands on at some point.

As I mentioned above, I’m a little apprehensive about teaching the Littles, so I specifically searched for some Kindergarten/1st grade lessons, and I came across this set of STEM activities based around lots of familiar stories!

Last but not least, we all have to start somewhere, so this packet called “Ready, Set…STEM!” is probably a good place to begin for ideas.

Do you have an aspect of STEM in your life that you’d love to share? Do you have any mini-lessons involving science, technology, engineering, or math that you love, or can’t miss teaching? Please share them in the comments! I’d love to crowdsource some excellent opportunities for my students!

And, as always… keep a song in your heart!

Edit: Just want to let everyone know that nobody is profiting over any of the links I shared in this post. It is neither sponsored content nor affiliate links. I just thought these things were useful and wanted to share them! 🙂


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Cycle of Failure

I have a note sitting in the reminders app on my phone that has been there for quite some time.

Sometimes I think I know what I'm doing...

Fail, fail, fail, success!

When I see it, it reminds me of two mindsets I have while working on the art and science of teaching. I either feel supremely confident that what I’m doing/teaching/learning/leading at the time is going really well, and I have a great grasp of it… OR, I realize how much more there is to learn, and I feel vastly incompetent, or at least, unqualified to have such great responsibility for young minds.

Isn’t this true of all teachers (and learners)? We go through a cycle of failure while learning new things. Shouldn’t we embrace failure as a step in the process of life? Surely if you’re a teacher browsing online for classroom decorations you’ve seen the poster idea for “FAIL = First Attempt In Learning.”  True, the word “fail” has an extremely negative connotation: missing out on a goal, not meeting a standard, getting a bad grade. How can we change our mindset to think of failure as just another step in the process of being successful? It’s not going to happen with just a poster on the wall.

It’s not just the mindset of the teacher or the students that needs to change; teachers must encourage this mindset in parents, too. Open communication and showcasing students’ work is essential to show that yes, there is learning going on, and we are all striving to get better and learn more.

As I find myself daydreaming of what my new classroom will look like, it will (by far) not be a perfect place. I may even make a poster for my wall that redefines failure as a step in the learning process. I want to get across to my learners, that I too, have lots of times where a plan may not work the way I want, or there is some kind of failure. I want them to learn (and for me to remember) that if something doesn’t work, or we don’t understand, we’ll find a different avenue to accomplish our goal. I want them to know that not being very good at something is just the first step to being good at something. Teachers, know that what we do matters, and it matters in all the right ways–getting our students to love learning and to be unafraid of trying new things.

In the words of one of my favorite TV teachers, we’ll “Take chances! Make mistakes! Get messy!”

Keep a song in your heart, and have fun getting ready for the new school year!

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New Adventures!

Yesterday, I posted a status update on Facebook. This announcement has been in the works for a while now, check the photo below, or keep reading for the text of the note below.

“Dear friends and family, after much prayerful consideration, I want to announce that at the end of this school year (6/30/15), I will be resigning my Call to Trinity Lutheran School. Tony (the hubby) and I will be moving to south central Minnesota, as I have accepted a position at the Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton Public Schools. I will be starting a STEM program in their elementary school. Our prayers will be with the Trinity family as they continue to move forward. They’ve been a special part of the last ten years, and I won’t forget how much everyone helped me learn and grow as a teacher. Thank you for all your prayers and support in the past few months as we’ve been deliberating this decision. We love you all!”

Tony decided to end his employment with a retail store here in Waukesha last November. Since then we have been prayerfully considering where our next step would come as a family. Leaving Trinity will be bittersweet for me–leaving a school and church family that became my home as I was fresh out of college and starting my own professional life. I really meant it when I said that the Trinity community, my administrators, and coworkers there made a huge difference in my life. I believe that finding my true passion for learning and technology was a result of my time at Trinity, and I will always be grateful.

I am extremely excited to begin working at JWP and launching their STEM program! This is an exciting change for me, and a challenge that I will really enjoy! It will also be the first time that I will get to directly work with K-2 students! I love their district motto — “Our District will empower learning, energize achievement, and enhance community. Excellence without excuse!”

So, now that we’re thinking about moving in the next few months, and will be starting new jobs soon, what’s your best advice for easing into a new district/community? I’d love to hear what you think!

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Reflections on #edcampHome

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to participate in my first ever virtual edcamp. (For those of you wondering what an edcamp is, I wrote a little bit about my previous experiences here.)

EdCampHome is different from other edcamps in that it’s not a face-to-face in person experience. All of the sessions took place over Google Hangouts On Air. Session topics were suggested in the days prior to the official event, and registered attendees voted on which sessions they wanted by giving the recommendations a +1 in our Google+ Community. This determined which sectionals would run during the conference. When the conference started, the initiators were given a Google Drive folder with different documents and instructions on how to begin each session.

I was a little nervous about volunteering to be an Initiator/Host of the two sessions, as I’ve only hosted a Hangout On Air a couple times. The sign up process was easy, and I’m so proud of my refurbished computer (on which I’m experimenting with my first Linux install) for handling the multiple tabs and video streams.

My first session was about Student ePortfolios. It took me a while to figure out how to get everyone properly invited, but I think the session was productive. Big props go to Michelle Stein for sharing her students’ digital portfolio. We talked a lot about using Weebly sites vs. Google sites. Since I’m doing a Computer/Technology class for 6-8th graders next year, I’m strongly considering the creating of an ePortfolio for them to show off their best work. The challenge for this session was to keep people talking. As a mostly-introvert myself, it was a little awkward for me, because I felt like there weren’t many people engaged. Maybe most of them were just there to listen! Hopefully everyone was able to take away some good ideas. We then moved on to session two.

Session two brought me to a talk on Tightwad Tech. This session felt a lot more comfortable to me because there was natural conversation happening. We talked about some good tools that we use in our classrooms that are cheap/free like KidBlog, some apps for iPads, and addons/scripts like Doctopus and gClass Folders. I even shared in a peek of Google Classroom, even though I haven’t had more than 24 hours to play around with it much. (That’s a future blog post!) Big thanks to Chris and George for the great discussion that we had!

I look forward to the 4.0 iteration of edcampHome, and I’ll encourage anyone who wants some good summertime PD to virtually attend!


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Teach Like a PIRATE Book Whisperer

Yadda yadda, haven’t posted in a long time. Course load increased, prep time decreased, musical production, mentoring a first year teacher, supervising a pre-service teacher, etc. etc. etc.

Image from Denise Caparula via

BUT I just finished reading Teach Like A Pirate by Dave Burgess. Oh. My. Goodness. It’s our book for our WELS Book Club this summer. We’re discussing Part 1 of the book on Twitter – July 15th at 8pm CST using the hashtag #WELSbkclub.

My brain is now swirling with ideas. Hopefully I don’t get sucked down into the infinite vortex!!

So. Next year I’m teaching (subject/grade level):

Homeroom 6; Reading 6; English 6; Music 6, 7, 8; Technology 5, 6, 7, 8; Geometry 8

That seems like a lot looking at it, but I also am thankful because it’s less than I had last year (when I almost died).

Aaaanyhow, last summer, I read/listened to The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller. Unfortunately for me, my school also dropped a bunch of money on a new Reading textbook (Journeys from Houghton Mifflin) so I needed to use the text as much as possible. I still supplemented with a couple novels and Scholastic’s SCOPE magazine, but the joy just wasn’t there.

In the light of Teach Like a Pirate and The Book Whisperer, I’m thinking of an idea kind of like the Challenges Dave Burgess uses in TLAP wrapped around the idea of independent choice and reading like The Book Whisperer. Students can choose to read whatever book they want, and if they provide some kind of review or summary (who knows what that will look like — I’m sure I’ll allow many different forms from the traditional report to a YouTube video and everywhere in between) they get some sort of credit in the gradebook (because I still have to take grades, and if they’re going to put in the work, I want their grade to reflect it), and some kind of public acknowledgement.  I’m considering some kind of competition around it as well, but I’m not certain how that would go over with the kids. Maybe I’ll leave that up to them! I’m still coming up with how I want to design my instruction during our time together, but letting the kids have time to read is going to be a big part of it.

Let me know what you think of this idea! I’m planning on creating a rubric and guidelines of what is and is not appropriate, and I’ll update this post with links to that when I’m finished.

Thank you, Teach Like A Pirate, for putting some zip back into my step and getting me excited about teaching again.

Update 1: Wowza! Thanks Dave for your kind comments. Donalyn, also for your feedback on Twitter. As I said on Twitter, when I mentioned competition above, I was thinking of a recognition wall where we could either track how many books were read, or to show off some excellent product. I don’t like pitting students against each other, but I’d rather we work together to a common goal, such as 200 books read or something. Finally, just as a side note, I only have 12 students in my 6th grade next year. Think of how well we’ll be able to build our relationships!! 🙂

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International Dot Day (Week) 2013

For those of you who may not know, a book called The Dot has commanded my mid-September reading for two years now.

The Dot follows Vashti, an art student who believes she has no art talent. “Make your mark and see where it takes you,” encouraged her teacher. Vashti jabs her blank paper with a marker, and proclaims it finished. “Now, sign it!” says her art teacher. Later on, Vashti returns to the art classroom to see her teacher has framed her artwork and mounted it on the wall. Vashti realizes she can do better than that dot, and continues throughout the story to make dots of all shapes and sizes.

Thanks to the wonderful teachers and librarians in my PLN on Twitter, I was alerted to the fact that “International Dot Day” happens on or around September 15th. We had the awesome opportunity to share some of our artwork at the Waukesha Public Library. We created our dots with watercolors, and sent them off to the library for display. I plan on getting to the library soon to take some pictures. The other awesome part of Dot Day (Week) was that we spent the week of the 16th connecting with different classrooms.

Someone on Twitter created a Google Doc where teachers/librarians were able to add in their classroom contact information and set appointment slots for others to fill in their information. My 6th graders managed to connect with three schools and four different classrooms.

What it looked like on our end:

Skype with a class in Austin, TX!

What we looked like on their end:

I even started a custom Google Map so we can keep track of all the locations with which we connect this year. I’m looking forward to adding even more pins on the map during the Global Read Aloud coming up! Hopefully this is one way to help my students understand that they are not alone in the world–there are many more kids out there and they all can make a difference!

Until next time, keep a song in your heart!

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Vocabulary Bulletin Board

My vocabulary board!

My vocabulary board!

I got a huge stack of these cards along with my new reading series. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s “Journeys”) I had no idea what I was going to do with them, because initially they were just going to take up space in one of my cupboards, as many of the ancillary materials do. Then, I had an idea to use the edge of my large bulletin board as a vocabulary area. I just needed a way to keep the cards intact, because if they will be reused year after year, I don’t want to punch holes in them.

I had a few ideas on how I was going to do this — blue goo (the sticky putty that we teachers love so much) wasn’t quite going to cut it, since I know that it can leave a residue after a while. I also thought about going to the dollar store to buy some cheap frames, painting them, and making it really cute. That idea got the kibosh because of time constraints, and I didn’t measure the cards before I left the building the other night.

Enter Target’s dollar section! Yay! They have these cool, round bulletin board tacks that have a rubber seal on the top. They also have two metal pins to stick into the board so they don’t rotate in place. You slide the paper between the rubber seal and the plastic, and voila! A place to hang paper without punching holes in it! I wish they were 2/$1, but no such luck. They were a dollar each. But, for the convenience of not punching holes in papers that will get reused from year to year, it works!

Hope your school preparations are going well! We’re back to school on Wednesday of this week. I’m looking forward to 24 vibrant young people who are eager to learn. I am also supervising a student teacher from September-November. Yikes! I’m nervous, but I’m sure it will be great.

Until next time,
Keep a song in your heart!

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Google Education Summit, Wisconsin Lutheran College

This summer I had the awesome privilege of speaking at the second Google Education Summit at Wisconsin Lutheran College. I was an attendee last year, and I was quite happy when I was asked to come back and talk about my Google Apps for Education/Chromebook experience.

Lunch on the Milwaukee Shoreline

Lunch on the Milwaukee Shoreline

It was another great week at WLC! I was really happy to spend time with all the folks learning how to get Google-fied. I was able to share some great things that we did in my classroom last year, and I hope the attendees found it helpful.

The one big bummer of a moment was during the day at Discovery World. The day itself was awesome– I’m hoping we can schedule a field trip sometime this year. I was eagerly anticipating an email from the people at CUE that run the Google Teacher Academy. I had submitted my application a few weeks prior, and I was hoping for some fantastic news. However, I wasn’t one of the ~50 people chosen for this particular GTA. It would have been great – it was hosted at the Google offices in Chicago. I plan on applying to the next one, and hopefully I can attend!

Finally, here’s a video that WLC put together after the event, and after that is my Google Teacher Academy video.

Until next time, keep a song in your heart!

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Google Adds Search To Link Box in Drive


Hi friends!

Sorry I’ve left this site so dormant over the summer! I’ve had so many great learning opportunities this summer, I can’t wait to write about them. This breaking news comes first, though!

Last night, as I was revisiting my presentations for AppFest, I was adding a link to Pernille Ripp’s “Blogging through the Fourth Dimension.” (A great blog on working with Elementary students–check it out!)

Lo and behold, as I was ready to paste the link, a new box popped up and startled me. This is not normal! It’s new! I thought. You can search the web or your Drive to find and link related content. It’s makes things that much easier, again!

Enjoy your new search box–

And keep a song in your heart!

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#WELSEd Twitter Chat

WELSEd Chat using TweetChat web service

One of the new adventures I’ve embarked upon in the recent past is leading a Twitter chat every two weeks. I am attempting to connect educators in the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod schools. This is a great opportunity because we can share with each other what is working in our Lutheran schools, we can give feedback on what the Synod and Northwestern Publishing House are working on with creating materials for our schools, and we can support each other in our ministries.

Although some would warn me about adding yet another thing to my plate, I think this is a worthwhile venture to help connect the technology leaders in our synod. I know not all of the tech-savvy are on Twitter, but we can connect those who are already and encourage those who are not. (It’s great Professional Development!)

Last week Thursday, we talked about using technology in our Religion classes. Click through to Storify for an archive of the conversation: [View the story “#WELSEd Chat 4/18/13” on Storify]

I’m always looking for ideas from people on what we can talk about in order to help the most people. Tweet me @aleixa or send me an email through the blog to suggest topics!

Keep a song in your heart!

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