Sunday, April 14, 2019

During Testing Time, Two Activities You Can Do

Here in Ohio, we have entered "testing season" ... ahhhhh, the smell of spring in education.

Leading up to this, I've been going into classrooms and going over the test tools - which, while helpful, isn't the most fulfilling experiences for myself or the students. I know it's an important and helpful time - I never want the tools to be hurdles for the students. I want the students to be comfortable with the tools and how to use them so it's not a problem when it comes to the test.

Now for the upcoming weeks, my classroom visits will consist of "fun" activities. Trying to balance the focus of testing with lower key - yet still learning rich activities. I can't take credit for the basic idea - but I've taken some good ideas and made them my own. Both of the activities I share below can be used at ANY point in the year, as well as provide students an opportunity for "freedom" when there is time in your schedule. Both activities can support classroom activities if you are willing to stretch your thinking and allow students a bit more creative stretch.

I never claim that my activities are perfect, and often, I leave a classroom with a post-it note full of ways I can improve, adjust, add or subtract, or otherwise alter the activity. What you see below is version 2.0 of both. I created them & went into two separate classes, and walked out with my notes. I spent some time this weekend - around my daughter's soccer tournament games - adjust and updating. As always, please take what you find, and modify it to better suit you and your students.

Leveling Up with Pixel Art in Google Sheets ↬ a 2nd grade teacher asked me to come in and show his students pixel art. We did it last year and his students enjoyed it very much! (Several of them have reminded me of that this year as 3rd graders.) I decided not to reuse last years activity from Eric Curts "Pixel Art Activities for any Subject with Google Sheets" (it's a really good one to use!). I wanted to create something for 2nd graders that would allow an easy entry along with leveling up a bit, while at the same time being able to teach a bit of Google Sheets. I'm happy with the results and judging from their reaction, they were too!

Here is the link to a "preview" of "Level Up with Pixel Art in Google Sheets". When you click on the link, it will open in "preview" mode ... you can view pretty much everything, and if you like it, click the blue Use Template button in the upper right corner. It will make a copy in your Drive for you to use, modify, and share.

How Might You Use It?
  • free "play" - since it's testing season for us, it's nice to have something that is incredibly fun and very open-ended, while at the same time, I can introduce vocab with Google Sheets and some of the tools.
  • Math - pixel art is a GREAT opportunity to work with fractions. Depending on the age of your students, you could outline a chunk of cells, and then allow them to fill them how they choose, and write out the fraction for each color. Perimeter and area are other possibilities.
  • ELA - students can draw "pixelated" images of characters in a story either that they have read or are writing. Last year, I worked with a 3rd grade teacher and we used "Pixelated Book Covers" that her students used and produced some pretty amazing book covers!
  • History - while it won't be super 'realistic', students could use pixel art to recreate a battle scene or a historical character or event. With the unlimited space a Google Sheet provides, the only limitation would be time and creativity. The cells can be sized as large or small as the artist wants.
  • Science - for scientific equations, color could represent various elements, and then color can be used to demonstrate the balancing. Ok ... maybe I'm stretching a little, but here's where science teachers can lend a helpful hand!

Pattern Block Fun ↬ 4th grade is a regular appointment for me. I love working with these students - they have a solid understanding of the basics and are excited to learn more. This past week, I used a very familiar tool - Google Slides - in a different way. I inserted pattern blocks - a digital version of the manipulatives they use in math class. A couple of "How To" slides at the beginning provide some basic "helps" they can refer to at any point. There are simple directions on each slide providing a variety of tasks. This was a fun activity that I did not do a lot of whole group instruction - I gave a brief overview and they were off!

One of the coolest parts to activities where it is more free play, the students discovered and shared what they found. I loved hearing, "Hey, how did you do that?" and "Wow! Look at hers! I wonder how she did it?" ... and then watching them teach each other. I added a few slides in afterwards to challenge students to use the shapes to create the designs I did. And just like pixel art, this is an activity they can come back to over and over. 

Once students have their won copy, they can make copies of slides and allow their creativity to run wild!

Here is the link to a "preview" of "Pattern Block Fun (in Google Slides)". Same as above, when you click on the link, it will open in "preview" mode ... you can view pretty much everything, and if you like it, click the blue Use Template button in the upper right corner. It will make a copy in your Drive for you to use, modify, and share.

Have a question or comment? Feel free to comment below, reach out to me on Twitter @kiefersj, or email me at

Sunday, April 7, 2019

A Twist You Can Do

For me, inspiration comes from all places. While I sometimes have a very clear idea of what I want to share, other times, it's blurry. Today, it was blurry, border-line non-existent - but I found inspiration as I was helping my youngest do a project for homework.

She brought a project home a week ago, but with soccer practices and regular homework, we hadn't yet touched it. It's a scavenger hunt focused on finding math in our everyday lives. [A really good idea to help little learners that math IS all around us.] The directions stated we could do this as a family and as the complaining mounted about how much work this was going to be (from my daughter, not me 😁), I threw out the idea to use snack sized baggies to collect each item. That was met with a quick, "No!".

I didn't give up and suggested she make a small book to display her findings. She stopped, quickly agreed, and asked, "On the computer?" - because she knows I like to "tech things up". Nope, instead I suggested we find some card stock and cut the pieces to make a small booklet. She lit up and happily started thinking how to make this happen.

Working on her scavenger hunt booklet.
Oh, how this little suggestion went a LONG way in changing the mindset of my youngest! She excitedly helped me pick out the colors for the inside pages, as well as papers for the covers. We looked through some of my scraps from years ago when I did scrapbooking and she chose ones that she liked. She helped me cut them to size. Then we talked through options on how to bind it together. We settled on hole-punching and using ribbon. When we had the book put together, she got to work crossing off the 12 items she needed to find.

She wasn't in favor of putting them on pages in order - she clearly thinks a little more creatively than I ! - and then had to figure out how to label them so her teacher knew which item was which. She's pretty clever, and suggested writing a sentence about each item. She even wrote each sentence in a different color pen, to "jazz it up" (her words). She worked on it next to me, stopping every so often to talk through a thought or problem as she created her book. At this point, she isn't 100% finished, but she still has several days  until it's due and she will have no problem completing it. 

The whole point in sharing this with you today, is to share how sometimes a twist - or a little freedom - can provide an avenue of success to a project or activity. My youngest loves school & does very well, but tends to get frustrated quickly. I know she's not the only student like this ... and when I did something as small as give her permission to do more than simply tick off each item of the scavenger hunt, her whole attitude changed and it became something fun to do. 

She needed that permission. She needed a little bit of encouragement. And part way through, she turned and said to me, "Mom, I really like when you say 'how about we make ...' when I have a project to do." THIS is why I had to share this story with you. Even a small change can make a huge difference. 

This project isn't a fight ... it's not an argument ... it's not a hurry up and complete to be done ... she's already thinking about how her teacher can hang it up in the hallway by the ribbon used to bind the pages together - "She really likes to hang up the things we do, Mom." She's proud of her work. She's excited to complete this. She's creating. And that is about the best reward I can hope for.

I encourage you to take a minute and think about the next project or activity you do with your students (or send home) and give your students the permission to DO the activity with a little freedom. I'm happy I can provide that for my girls, but I know not every student will have that at home. If you can have that conversation with them before they go home, if you can give them the permission, the freedom, they can embark on the project/activity with the mindset of creation ... rather than just completion.

P.S. Because I know there are teachers out there who may be a little nervous, I do not push the boundaries of the assignment into being something it's not. I make sure we follow the directions. And if my girls want to do something a bit further outside the written directions, I make them ask first. And because they are invested in the project, I do little more than support them, IF they ask questions. 

Have a question or comment? Feel free to comment below, reach out to me on Twitter @kiefersj, or email me at

Sunday, March 24, 2019

7 Days of Extensions You Can Do

Happy Spring! I'm on Spring Break so I wanted to take a little time each day to share a Chrome extension that I absolutely adore and find useful on my TYCD: Resources blog. Each extension is directly linked below ... the TYCD: Resources blog is linked above.

7 Extensions You Can Do: (click on the name of the extension to read more)

What is a Chrome extension?

Here's a little background - Chrome extensions are the little icons to the right of the URL's. From the Chrome developers website:
Extensions are small software programs that customize the browsing experience. They enable users to tailor Chrome functionality and behavior to individual needs or preferences. They are built on web technologies such as HTML, JavaScript, and CSS.
In other words, you can add extensions to your account and they allow you to do some pretty cool things when you are on the web. 

Why use Chrome extensions?

Some allow quick saving, some allow accessibility tools (like reading text), some even check for sales/coupons! There are even extensions that help you manage all of your extensions. It's really limitless.

Extensions are one of the main reasons I keep my personal and my work Chrome accounts separate. There are ones that are generic and can be used in both places, but some are just for school and some are just for home. If you've not separated your personal and school Chrome accounts, I highly suggest you do.

This week, I will share an extension I use, why I use it, and how I use it. I hope you are encouraged to try many of them out. 

As always, if you have a question or comment? Feel free to comment below, reach out to me on Twitter @kiefersj, or email me

Sunday, March 17, 2019

5 Tech Infused St. Patrick's Day Activities You Can Do

These last few weeks have flown by! We are entering the 4th quarter at school, the sun seems to making more of an appearance, and it's a bit warmer ... finally! Halfway through March means green is everywhere and those tricky leprechauns make their appearance. I've collected/created 5 tech infused activities in the St. Patrick's Day theme.

In the lower right corner of the image, I link to an Encyclopedia Britannica article with a short history of St. Patrick's Day. This article can help on a few of these activities.

St. Patrick's Day Activities

Breakout! & Word Scramble & Matching Game

Once again, I've used's Scavenger Hunt to make the Breakout! game.

I also used to create a Word Scramble. Theirs is meant to be printed, so I made a Google Sheet to allow students to try to unscramble the words. I also used the Data Validation tool in Sheets to change the cell color to a shade of green! Don't forget to have students look at the second tab -- I've provided space & directions on how they can create their own word scramble! 

I also used to create a Matching Game that matches pictures to St. Patrick's Day words.

St. Patty's Puzzles

I linked to a website containing several St. Patrick's Day puzzles - with varying difficulties - that I think students might enjoy. 

St. Patty's Pixel Art with Google Sheets

The final activity I've included is a pixel art challenge. The more I share creating pixel art with students, the more I see they absolutely love it! It's a wonderful chance for them to express & try out their creativity while also having a very low learning curve. In this activity, I have provided several traditional St. Patrick's Day images students can select from and copy & paste on a tab in the sheet to create their own version, pixelated.

I also find it's a great way to expose students to the power of Google Sheets. Many of the same tools they are used to in Slides, Docs, and Drawings are available in Sheets. 

I hope you and your students enjoy these activities. Next week starts my spring break and I plan to share "7 Chrome Extension You Can Do". I look forward to sharing 7 of my favorite and most useful Chrome extensions!

Have a question or comment? Feel free to comment below, reach out to me on Twitter @kiefersj, or email me at

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Research Templates You Can Do

I am a believer in #BetterTogether and I'm always looking to share Tech You Can Do. The beauty of collaboration shines through when a teacher comes to me with an idea or topic or question rolling around in their head and asks me to help them make it happen - usually by infusing a tech tool. Sometimes it's an in-person conversation, sometimes it's through email, and sometimes, even via text messages. There are advantages to all 3, but the push-and-pull is where the magic happens, regardless of the method.

I have always thought of myself as a life-long learner. [My dad even used to tease me when I struggled to settle on a major in college, that I was going to be a "perpetual student". Not a bad compliment for a future teacher, eh?] After teaching in the classroom for 14 years, I have been a Technology Integration Specialist for the two elementary buildings for my district for 3 years. Supporting these teachers and students not only cements this life-long learning in me, but continues to push me to learn more and in various ways. 

I'm finding more and more, teachers are excited about the ability to provide options to their students while also being conscious not all students have the same background with the tools. It's very exciting to collaborate and create something to fit the teacher's desired curricular goals while allowing and encouraging student creativity. 

One of the "secret weapons" on any template I create/use with students, is including "speech bubbles" for use to provide specific directions, options to go further, additional resources, or remind students of the basic requirements of the project. Using Google Slides - my #1 go-to - I also use the speaker notes at the bottom for many of the same reasons. Slides and Drawings both have gray space, which I consider valuable real estate for these same reasons. I typically add the note "Delete when finished" to help guide students, acting as a checklist.

Digital File Folder for Animal Research
File folder for research
One example of a template is this digital file folder for research I created for a 3rd grade class. The goal was to do some research - specifically on animals - and present it in a different way. The original idea was an index card but as we talked about items to include, we decided it needed to be a bit "bigger" so we settled on a 'manila folder' feel. I was invited to come into the class and work with the teacher and her students for 2 class periods. This allowed me to not only teach the students some of the tools, but the teacher was able to be a learner as well. (She has mentioned several times she enjoys this which just reminds me this is valuable for everyone involved!)

I can see making a couple of adjustments to make it work for older students: as easy as changing the font size to allow for additional typing OR a little more complex, by adding in "stapled" sheets of paper for longer research rather than the 3 small index cards on the inside. On the other hand, simplifying it can allow for use with younger students, too!

Animal File Folder template

"Who Would Win? book"
Who Would Win book
Another example is for a 4th grade class. I can't take all the credit for this one ... my friend Beth Kingsley created the book cover for her 3rd graders to use last year when they did animal research. Her students LOVED it as did the author, Jerry Pallota! 

One of the 4th grade teachers I work with, saw this book cover on our Templates for Teachers website, and asked if I could adjust it to have "inside pages" for her students to write their research. Of course!!! After doing my own research on these books, I added a few inside pages in the theme of the book, and voila! The "Who Would Win?" for 4th graders was created. Again, the teacher invited me in her class to walk them all through the customization of the template. Students were already paired up and worked collaboratively on the book. This was a beautiful time to also discuss digital collaboration.

When a second 4th grade teacher asked if I'd join her class for the same activity, I happily agreed. I never know who enjoys these activities more ... the kids or me! There was one curveball with this class. Some boys called me over and asked this question, "Mrs. Kiefer ... there are 3 of us. How do we do the cover?" 

I was stumped - the teacher confirmed they had an odd number, so these boys needed their cover to reflect this. I responded, "What do you think?" After only a small hesitation, one of the boys proposed placing the 3 animals in somewhat of a triangular arrangement on the cover. Brilliant!!! When it came to the inside pages, it was set up for 2 animals, and the boys told me, "Don't worry, he just duplicated one of the slides so there is another page for our third animal." I was so impressed! Problem solving and creativity ... excellent!

I love this process ... from start to finish. Collaborating with the teachers to create the template, working with the students to make the template their own, and then the pride on their faces when they see what they have created. If anyone wants to know why I love my job ... this is it. 
Narrative Non-Fiction Writing
The final template I want to share was created for a 7th grade language arts class. I collaborated with a teacher I started teaching with back in 2002. We created this template in response to her desire to do something "different" for her narrative non-fiction writing. We settled on creating a magazine template for her students. 

She looked through the magazines she already had in her classroom and picked out several features she wanted to include, allowing her to reinforce text features at the same time as the writing. You'll notice there is a great deal more space dedicated to text ... a reasonable expectation for 7th graders. After she selected the text features, we decided on the layout. We created a 4 page spread for students to type in, again, a reasonable expectation for students of this age. Rather than saying "write a 4 page essay", she used the template layout to show them the space, giving them the idea they needed enough information to fit it.

Again, we used my secret weapon - speech bubbles - as well as the gray space to allow her to include directions and "helps". She then used our LMS to provide a copy for each student. Since she teaches at our middle school, I wouldn't be able to join in on this classroom adventure. She and her students enjoyed this writing activity done differently. She shared with me later, another teacher asked what program she used to create this template ... she told him, "I used the Sarah Kiefer program." What an awesome compliment! I think you'll agree our template turned out pretty professional looking! 

Narrative Non-fiction magazine

Today I've shared 3 templates. My friend Beth (mentioned above) and I have created a website - Templates for Teachers - sharing these, and many others, that you are welcome to peruse, take and use as they are, or better yet, take and modify to fit your needs. 

I truly love working with teachers and their students. The collaboration is something I will never get tired of. I am also finding our students are hungry to express themselves, especially when it comes to demonstrating their learning. Don't be afraid ... you don't need to know everything ... you just need to be confident enough to work WITH your students. And if you don't feel that confident, find a friend and collaborate with them. 

Reach out ... I wouldn't mind being that person. 

Have a question or comment? Feel free to comment below, reach out to me on Twitter @kiefersj, or email me at