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