Monday, December 30, 2019

A Look Back and Planning Forward ... I Can Do

Today is my final post for the year & I want to look back on 2019 and share plans and ideas for next year.

2019 was a good year for me. A really good year. I love my job. I can't say it enough. I do. And I know I'm very lucky to be able to say that. I've worked with teachers and students on many different projects and I look forward to continuing in 2020.

I also set a pretty major goal for myself in 2019 - to become a Google Certified Innovator. I applied in 2018, but didn't make it. I was devastated (just ask my husband). I knew I needed to submit a much higher quality application the next time, and worked on my application throughout the first half of the year. I have to give a huge shout-out to Becky Tompkins - she reviewed my application and gave me great feedback. I couldn't have done it without her. Over the summer, I focused on, what was for me, the most daunting piece of the application - the video. After realizing a cartoon video wasn't really "for me," I called on my youngest daughter to help with the creation of a screen-recorded Google Slides. She took pictures of me - I used the website to remove the background. (She did such a wonderful job!) I also used for background music. I was thrilled with the way it turned out. This time, I knew I submitted the best application I could have. On August 13, I spent the day checking email and Twitter ... until about 9 pm when my husband showed me the tweet announcing the NYC cohort with my name on it!!! YAY!!! What an incredible feeling and experience! I'll share more on this later, but I want to give a quick shout out to my sister - Angie - for being my travel buddy on this adventure.

2020 is going to be another good year for me. I have my Google Innovator project to work on and bring to life. I have been assigned an awesome mentor - Adi Aharon - and I look forward to working with her. I have the added bonus of support from my curriculum director - Becky Tompkins - as I continue on this journey. My project focuses on helping teachers achieve the goals they set for themselves. Look for more to come!

I also look forward to adding to Templates for Teachers, the site Beth Kingsley & I co-created. We share out templates we've created for other teachers to use (& modify if desired). So far, we have 76! They are all made with Google, so it's super easy to make your own copy. 

Another project on my radar has to do with one of my other passions - the 8th grade Washington, DC trip I co-coordinate with Alyssa Bruck. Two years ago, I created an "app" for our trip. I used Google Slides. I made version 2.0 for last years trip and I have already started on version 3.0 for the November 2020 trip. Super excited about this!!!

I plan to continue sharing here on this blog. Ideally, I will post on Sundays, but  sometimes (like this one) I'm not able to. I also will continue to share out on my companion blog, TYCD: Resources. I'd love for you to check it out! On this blog, I share resources I've come across that I feel have some value. I keep it short & sweet and focus on the link, the audience, suggested content, targeted grade level, along with a short review. This is typically a Tuesday posting. And on Thursdays, I've been selecting a previous blog (from either one) and sharing that out, too. I've called it "#ThrowbackThursday"'s. If what I share is helpful for you, I encourage you to subscribe - to both blogs, so you will not miss a posting. I also share each blog out on Google+, Twitter, Wakelet, Pinterest, and Facebook.

Finally - I want to thank you, readers. Thank you for reading. Thank you for your comments. Thank you for your support. I hope 2019 was a good year for you and that 2020 will be an even better year! As I re-read through this, I notice a common theme. I'm not doing it all on my own. My family, my friends, my colleagues, and you are there with me every step of the way. I hope I am there with you, too.

Please don't hesitate to reach out if I can support you:

Monday, December 23, 2019

5 New Templates You Can Do

I have a confession to make ... I am a terrible gift-giver. I want to give people something that means something to them, they will use and love, and often, I fall very short of that goal. However, when I have a clear idea in my mind of what the person wants, I typically find success! The same goes for when I create at school. I want to create things that give teachers and their students something that means something.

This close to Christmas, my gift to you is sharing five of the templates I've created over the past year. Most of the time, I have a very clear picture in my mind of the WHY behind the template, other times it's a bit fuzzier, but my hope is one of these templates might find a place in your classroom. If one of the following templates isn't the right fit for your class, feel free to check out the 70+ others that are housed on my co-created site "Templates for Teachers". 

You can also find the link at the top of my site:

Here we go!

 Fractions with Sheets

Google Sheets is the perfect tool to use when working with fractions. Resizing the cells allows for squares to be grouped together to visually show students fractions. I created this template for younger students to "see" fractions, calculate fractions, and then create their own fractions. The tabs at the bottom guides students through using Sheets with fractions. The 2 fraction blocks tabs will allow students to not only "see" how fractions compare, but can also allow a short intro as to how to change colors and/or fonts in Sheets. The next 2 tabs guide students in "seeing" fractions; experience a little make your own fractions math practice; and finally, create some art with fractions. The catch? You have to write the fractions for each color.

Level Up with Pixel Art in Sheets

I created this activity for students to practice not only fractions, but also to work on their creativity. As I mentioned above, Google Sheets is the perfect partner for fraction work ... the cells quickly become parts of a fraction and when you fill them with color, it gives students a super quick way to "see" fraction parts. This activity is definitely a "step up" from the first "Fractions with Sheets" activity.

I included some basic Google Sheets vocab inside this one so even the newest Sheets users can feel comfortable. The tabs at the bottom will step students through using Sheets.

Checkbook for Students

This activity uses Sheets again (it's a very useful app!) but to work on financial skills. I was working with two teachers who were creating a "city" in their class and had used paper checkbooks in the past. We infused some vocab and background on checking accounts and checkbooks, and the tabs become super handy to separate this information from the checkbook itself. (You can even customize your logo for your checkbook if you'd like using the built in Drawing!) 

*** Bonus *** Want to design your own checks to match your theme? Why yes, you can! Here's a bonus template for that, too ↬ Checks for Students

How To Article

I love when teachers come to me and show me something they have come across and ask if I can help make it happen for their students. I will never turn this down! Often, it's a writing activity of some sort and they've found inspiration in a magazine and want their students to write in that format. Sometimes, they have an idea and I help with the design.  The "How To" article template comes from a conversation I had with 2 third grade teachers who wanted their students to write a "How To" but not just with bullet points. I came across a step-by-step article layout in my second graders' magazine from school. I showed it to my teachers and they gave me the green light! Voilá! I love helping students feel like they are published authors! 

Two Sides To It

The final template I have to share comes from a conversation with another third grade teacher. This time, she had a few examples of what she wanted in hand for me to work from. She was working on opinion writing and really liked the format this provided. Personally, I really like the place at the top for background information, and then diving into the two sides. One piece of feedback I got from this teacher as I was finishing up was that she wanted to print it and have students write on paper. I was happy to oblige, but also wanted to leave it open to also being done digitally. When you open the template, there are 4 options: print, with lines; print, no lines; digital, fully editable; digital, partially editable. 

I hope you have enjoyed these 5 templates! I love making them and seeing students use them. And, as always, any template you find on our site, Templates for Teachers, is not meant to be "perfect". It was created for a purpose, but both Beth & I fully support any teacher in taking what we have shared and adjusting and modifying it to best fit you and your students. 

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

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Directions You Can Do

One of the biggest frustrations I experienced as a teacher was when students did not follow directions. I'd invest time creating and organizing activities and lessons only to become frustrated with the "What do I do?" or "I didn't know I was supposed to ..." or "How do I ... " questions.

Do you share my frustration? 

I recently encountered this again and I spent some time reflecting. I really put some thought into it. I've come up with something that feels huge. And I fear you may not like it. But hear me out.

We are doing it to ourselves.

We give our students activities and worksheets and scripted lessons. We have "directions" in bold print. We tell our students to read the directions. Then ...

We read the directions to them. We dissect the directions for them. We clarify the directions. We ask if they have questions. Then we answer each question as they work through the activity.

And then we are surprised. Why can't our students follow directions? 

We are doing it to ourselves.

At the beginning of this school year, I made a pledge to myself to be more intentional. Directions are an easy area to be more intentional. Here's the recent scenario I experienced ... the one that inspired today's post. And I saw that I have a choice in how I behave.

I regularly work with small groups of students and recently, we were working on the "Thankful Thoughts" activity. I found the students were struggling. They didn't know what to do or how to do it. Then I found myself explaining the directions (that I wrote on brightly colored speech bubbles so they couldn't be missed). After all, they are "only 4th graders". And, we didn't have a lot of time. 

And then, I stopped myself ... if I explained this - and allowed myself to make the excuses-  what were they really learning? It was in that moment that rather than explaining the directions, I went back to a routine I had when I was still in the classroom full-time. I told students to read the directions to me. This changes things. It puts the ownership back on them. Forcing them to read it out loud also allows me to gauge if they truly don't know what to do, or if they haven't read it.

This leads me to ask, "Do we give our students a chance to read and follow directions independently or are we doing them a disservice when we spoon feed the directions?" 

With a new calendar quickly approaching, let's be intentional and work toward creating less frustration for ourselves and at the same time, students who can follow directions. When we include directions, let's give our students - no matter how young - the opportunity to read and follow the directions. Independently. Not on everything, but we have to start somewhere. Try it with a lesson or two. Let your students show you what they can do. And then let's work toward letting them fly!

And kudos to those of you who have already learned this lesson and are already on the road to giving your students the space and time to read the directions. Thank you.

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

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Research Template You Can Do

For the past 3 weeks, I've shared about doing better Google searches, results, and citations. During this time, my own 4th grade daughter brought home a research project ... to be done at home. (How ironic?!) 

As I was writing "Citations You Can Do" last week, she began doing her own research ... and quickly became frustrated. Now, she knows how to do the basics: she created a Google Doc, opened a tab and began doing her research. But she became frustrated with HOW to go about collecting information. She had her rubric in front of her with her teachers' requirements, but from there she was lost. She hasn't done much research, nor has she been given much direct instruction on research. She started copying and pasting information from the Internet and told me she was done. When I questioned her on putting it in her own words, she got frustrated and walked away from the computer.

It dawned on me in that moment:
  • it's not that she didn't WANT to research (she was actually very excited!)
  • it's not that she COULDN'T research (she understood the process of looking up info), and
  • it definitely wasn't that she didn't have the TOOLS to research (we have a desktop & various devices along with her info from her teacher).

It was simply she didn't know HOW to take the requirements from her teacher and use it to guide her when she researched.

Now let me give you a little background on her ... she asks questions all the time. She is happy to ask ANYONE questions ... me, her dad, sisters, teachers, principal, even Siri & Google. So why not this time? Why not now? I didn't realize it at first, but I realized she didn't see the requirements as questions to answer. They were statements. She read "climate" and researched "climate". She found a paragraph about the climate for her ecosystem and copied & pasted it. Done, right? Requirement fulfilled?

With this new realization, rather than argue with her, I tried a different tactic. While she was taking a break, I jumped onto her Google Doc and wrote the requirements as individual questions. One piece of information at a time. For each of the 3 required paragraphs. (I also included a direction at the end of each paragraph for pasting the URL of her sources.) When she came back over, she asked what I was doing. I asked her to try again, and this time, answer the questions. Just type out the info she finds. We didn't worry about complete sentences. She searched, she read, and she jotted down info in her own words because she was answering the questions. It worked!

* On the left is the paper she brought home. The typed part on the right is what I did for her. *

Once she had the research part done, I took a deep breath and told her it was now time to write her information in paragraph form. I waited for a negative reaction. BUT ... she jumped in, restated the questions, and wrote her paragraphs (clearly, she's had practice doing that!). And since I had her copy and paste the URLs from her searches (for her citations at the end), if she had questions, she was able to open them up and confirm her own questions. She even took the time to include a few pictures of the plants and animals she included. (That's my girl!) And since she is confident enough in Docs, she tackled the spelling & grammar errors like a champ!

The realization that there is a difference between giving students a set of requirements to include in their research and the ability of them to DO the research smacked me in the face. How often have I assumed students know HOW to take my expectations and turn it into a report? How often has that word "assume" come back to smack me in the face? How many more times will it?

So rather than sit back and hope this gets better, I created a template to share. There is no way I can anticipate every research project for every teacher, but hopefully, you can look at this and recognize ways you can make modifications to your rubric/guidelines/ expectations/etc so your students are able to better research.

Research Template
To the left is a peek at the research template I created. (It is a Google Doc since most reports are seen as word processed documents, but I can easily see this done on Slides, too.)

I broke it down into 4 parts. Feel free to use or adjust what works for you.

At the top, there is space for students to write down the topic. This is very important, especially working with younger, or first time, researches, or if your students will be researching with the help of parents or another teacher.

Part 1 is dedicated to the actual research. I suggest teachers write the requirements on the left in the form of questions. Students are asked to write their info on the right side of the chart.

Part 2 asks students to write their paragraphs directly below the chart of info they gathered. This is helpful so they are working only with the information for that paragraph. I also hope it limits the fear of being overwhelmed. One paragraph at a time.

Part 3 guides students in turning their sources into citations. I like using "Cite This For Me." However, if you are working with older students and have very specific guidelines, please feel free to substitute your instructions.

Finally, Part 4 is all about cleaning it up. (I called it polishing up.) Since it's a Google Doc, the version history will always tell the full story. I included a couple of suggestions on how to polish it up. You'll have to decide what's the best for you and your students.

Click here for the link for the "Research Template". If you like what you see, please click on "File" and then make yourself a copy. I cannot stress enough that you are welcome to use what works and adjust anything that doesn't.

I've also added this template to my co-created website "Templates for Teachers". This site is devoted to sharing out items similar to this research template. My friend & colleague, Beth Kingsley, & I created this over a year ago and we have just about 70 templates for various activities. You are welcome to make your own copy and fit it to you and your students.

And if you are looking for help on how to guide them to better research, please check out these previous blogs:
Research is something we all want our students to do and to do well. Please do not assume they know how to do it, or that they know how to do it well. Even if they are high school students, I'd love know how much they improve if we take a little bit of time and do some direct instruction on good research skills.

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

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Citations You Can Do

The last two weeks, I've shared how to help students do better searching and then choose better results. The final piece to this series focuses on helping your students do better citations. This piece is easy to forget or let fall by the wayside. But it is in incredibly important for us to teach.

Students will not understand - unless we teach them - how important it is to give credit to the places where they are gathering their information (or using their photos) from. Our students are not being malicious when doing their research. They are simply answering the questions that often, WE are asking them to answer. We cannot let citations be skipped. We need to teach our students how important it is to give others credit. AND ... we are lucky to have tools that make citations incredibly easy. 

Here is a quick Google Slidedeck that shows how citations can be super easy. Tonight, I showed my own 4th grade daughter use it in her latest project. She used it for both her information and her images. After doing it with her twice, she was able to cite all of her sources independently.

The link to this presentation is "Citations in Google". 
Feel free to use it in your class "as is" OR make your own copy of it.

And finally, I have a confession to make. There will be one more post in this series. It came as quite a surprise to me. As is true of many of my blogs, one of my daughters plays a starring role . . . she brought home a research project and asked for my help. Next week, I'll be back with the whole story and the addition to this research series. It really changed my thought process about research with students.

I've also gathered several resources in my Google Chrome Wakelet collection. 

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