Monday, March 9, 2015

Cheers to Vocabulary Spelling City

In the spirit of the conference season, I would like to take the time to highlight some of my favorite edtech companies! First, I would like to start with Vocabulary Spelling City, a site that I have used to support our spelling/word study curriculum for at least the last 8 years.  

I was fortunate enough to be able to escape the frozen Michigan tundra and the sub-zero temperatures a few weeks ago and soak up the sun in Southern Florida.  My husband had a day planned with his dad, so he told me to find something to do with the kids. I thought about all of the obvious things to do in Florida: beach day, putt-putt golf, shopping, pool day, etc., and then I thought about Vocabulary Spelling City! They have their headquarters in Fort Lauderdale, so I decided to send Robert Laundrie, the National Sales Manager, an email to see if we could pop over for a behind-the-scenes look at Vocabulary Spelling City. I first met Robert at ISTE 2012 in San Diego, as we presented together at the Edmodo booth, and I have stayed connected with both him and Nancy, another wonderful Spelling City team member, over the years.

We arrived at Spelling City’s parent company, Time2Learn, and I was instantly drawn into the awesome collection of past technology innovations ranging from phones that crank to ditto machines and pastel cassette players from my youth to old cameras.  It was a neat collection to browse while we waited for Robert.  Robert graciously gave us a tour around the entire company and introduced us to the talented people behind the codes, voices, support, and more of Spelling City!
This is Robert and my kids. Notice the awesome tech museum on the shelves behind them! 

We were able to meet with John Edelson, the Mayor of Spelling City.  We learned a lot of neat things from him, including that Spelling City began in his living room 10 years ago!  He showed us a site that has a ton of games he and his team created called Learning Games for Kids. I had not visited it before. My students now play some of the games on it!  He was wonderful to talk with about features of Vocabulary Spelling City and was genuinely interested in the feedback that we had!
The Mayor of Spelling City, John, and my kids! 

My kids loved getting a behind the scenes tour too!  
My daughter loved seeing the graphic designers drawing new characters and graphics!  My son loved getting a sneak peek at a new game and meeting the lady that says, “Get ready for the test. Don’t peek at your list! Begin.” We even got posters and pencils to bring back to Michigan!  Overall, we had a great visit!

From being wonderful hosts while touring their headquarters to providing engaging ways for kids to practice their spelling, learn new vocabulary words, and assess spelling easily, Vocabulary Spelling City is a wonderful educational technology company!

Thursday, February 12, 2015


As a child, I had a memory book for each grade level, and each year I was able to check off what I wanted to be when I grew up.  Among actress and singer, teacher was always a box that received a check.  I couldn't wait for the day I would be able to use a chalk holder as a teacher!  I was very fortunate to have great teachers that inspired me, cared for me, and gave me leadership opportunities in all grade levels.  I knew that I wanted to be a part of the educational world!  In high school, I was able to volunteer in a Kindergarten class, as part of my National Honor Society service hour requirement.  This solidified that my childhood dreams of being a teacher were still relevant, and I went right into Western Michigan University with a set plan!
      I am now in my sixteenth year as an elementary educator, and I am still confident in my career choice!  I was able to look back and reflect on my experiences by looking through my teaching portfolio.  The things that I thought were important as an undergrad are still the things I think are important, which makes me very proud that I have stayed true to the ideals I had set for myself as a young adult.  Of course I have evolved, yet my value system remains.  I value creativity, classroom community building and risk taking, technology, and the integration of the arts into curriculum. The contributions I have made to education and the impacts that I have had all fall within these themes.
      Creativity is the heart of my teaching!  I strive to give students opportunities to express their learning through their creativity, as well as give students the opportunities to develop their creativity.  My greatest contribution through the years has been managing Destination Imagination, an after school creative problem solving program.  I have been involved for 15 years, and I have worked with over 400 students developing their skills in collaboration, creativity, problem solving, STEM, and the arts! I have taken many teams to the state competition, and I was blessed to join a team at Globals! I received an email from one of my former students, and this is how she closed it: “I believe that learning to think critically and creatively in DI set us up for a lifelong love of learning and the skills that accompany it that will get us far in life.  The creative and challenging environment you provided for me as a student and DI participant affected me in ways that will stick with me forever.”  I hear things like this often from past Destination Imagination members, and it is what drives me to continue offering this program to others.   This year I have even extended my love for creativity to a pilot program I am doing for the Imagination Foundation. I am facilitating an after school program at Hornung Elementary (the school that my own children attend) to promote creative play on a weekly basis. The Hornung Imagination Chapter has been a wonderful addition to my life, and I am looking forward to helping the program grow and grow throughout the years! Creativity is at my core and it makes me #LoveTeaching!
      As a teacher who is passionate about technology, I am constantly evolving the set of tools I use in the classroom (something that has been even more fun than getting to use a chalk holder!)  Some of my highlights include being the first Edmodo user in my district.  Edmodo is a social learning platform often called a Facebook for classrooms.  This led to a leadership role in launching it out to the rest of our district.  In addition to helping teachers in my district with Edmodo, I have also led sessions around Michigan and the United States to help educators integrate Edmodo into their classroom.  In recent years, I have become a leader for Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) with elementary children, which was highlighted in the educational documentary, Look I’m Learning.   I have allowed my students to bring their devices for the last few years, and I now see other classrooms adopting this as well.  I know I have made a difference with my students’ use of technology, and it is wonderful to see other teachers open up to it as well.
This week in particular was a great week letting me see that kids love my teaching. Yesterday I received a handmade sign from a student that embodied my motto for life...Live, Laugh, Love! She did this just because...something that I am lucky enough to get very often. Third grade students tend to have an enormous unconditional love!
Another awesome thing that I got in the mail yesterday was an invitation to the Walled Lake Northern Musical, Cinderella...complete with a personal note from a former student.  She reflected on the shy, self-conscious student she was back in third grade, and she expressed that she had grown by leaps and bounds in the personality department since...even giving me credit, as I pushed her out of her cozy, little shell. She is now playing the part of a sassy step-sister, and I am looking forward to seeing her shine on stage!  

What I love most about my job is building the social intelligence of my students.  I know that I have made a difference when I can help students find and celebrate the gifts they have inside!  It makes me #LoveTeaching!  

      I went into teaching because of the wonderful teachers that I was blessed to have in my life, and I believe I am making the same type of difference in the lives of my students.  Through creativity, technology, and the arts, I have been able to impact and inspire, and I know that my greatest contributions to the world of education are tucked away in each and every student’s heart and mind!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Hornung Imagination Chapter Update!

I posted this on my Hornung Creative Play Blog today, so I thought I would share it here too!

(Logo created by Heidi Gates of Blue Platypus)
Years ago I was getting rid of some small electronics, and instead of throwing them away, I decided to turn it into a learning station in my third grade classroom.  My students LOVED opening the things up to find out what was inside!  Last year we had a take apart station for Sunday School and the kids turned the guts of the electronics into wall art. Take Apart stations are an awesome way to expose children to electronics, circuitry, and give them insight to what products are made of!

The Hornung Imagination Chapter had 2 weeks of take apart action, and they had a wonderful time!  Fortunately, I also had the help of extra parents too! Last week the kids took apart their small electronics, and today they turned the dissembled parts into imaginative creations.  From games to robots...the chapter members collaborated and created some cool things.  Here are some photos from the past 2 weeks!


 As the kids discovered the circuits, I walked around with the SparkFun Inventors Kit to show them what the parts looked like before they were soldered into the electronic.  It was neat to have them make the connection with the resistors. We are going to focus on circuitry later on this spring, so this was a great pre-teaching experience for them!
 Kids were super pumped to manipulate the parts and make things move! Gears were a favorite!


Each child put their electronic guts into 1-2 gallon ziplock bags, and they were able to take their bags today and get to work on making something from the pieces.  Creativity was flowing as the little bits and pieces turned into many cool things.
 The students above collaborated to create one large, awesome robot for their classroom.  I am sure Mrs. Giannandrea is going to love it!  I was very proud of how well they worked together as a team!
 Even the students that were not here last week were welcomed into new groups! There were plenty of spare parts to share!

 The CD Player above was combined with a dissembled computer mouse, and a super cool carnival game was created!
 This student did bring her small parts back this week, but that didn't stop her from creating!  She went to the odds and ends that I had out for the kids and created this creature! Toothpicks for teeth, a gear for an eye, a goggly eye for the other eye, and a clothespin!  We may just use this type of an idea for a cute Valentine activity.
 Safety glasses were a hit!  Perhaps we should invest in a chapter set!  The above alarm clock pieces were turned into a house with the addition of a cereal box and glue! Thankfully his mom was rocking the hot glue gun station!

One of the best parts of Imagination Chapter creations is the home sharing.  My daughter couldn't wait to share her game with her brother and her dad right when she walked through the door...she didn't even wait to take her coat off!

Once again...give the kids time, some odds and ends, and they will let their imagination take over!  (And I bet they were able to learn a thing or two about engineering, circuits, motion, etc. along the way!)

Here are some video highlights as well!  Enjoy!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

My Recent Adventures with Creativity

I have a passion for all things creative, so I am naturally drawn to opportunities to bring creative opportunities to children.  I am celebrating my 16th year leading teams of children in creative problem solving through the Destination Imagination (DI) program.  If you haven't heard about DI before, you HAVE to check it out!  It is one of the best after school programs out there!

This year I am tackling another after school program that focuses on creativity.  I applied to pilot an Imagination Chapter through the Imagination Foundation, a program to foster creative play in children. Since I already run DI at Glengary Elementary, the school I teach third grade at, I decided to begin the Imagination Chapter at my son and daughter's school, Hornung Elementary, in Brighton, Michigan. So far we have had 2 meetings, and we are off to a great start.  To communicate all of the adventures, I have created a blog called " The Buzz on Creative Play."  (Hornung's mascot is a hornet, so thus the buzzing bee connection! )  I look forward to impacting the lives of around 33 students in grades 2-4 on a weekly basis, in addition to the 35 kids at Glengary Elementary through Destination Imagination.  2014-2015 is the Year of Imagination for me, and I am looking forward to the awesome adventures ahead!

**** For other adventures with creativity and innovation, check out my web page!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Making Memories at Maker Faire Detroit

This past weekend, I had the wonderful opportunity to share Maker Faire Detroit with a handful of my students from last year.  During our Goal Time last year, our own version of Genius Hour, there was a group of students who created the T-Spa and began a sugar scrub business.  With the funds collected from their sales over the year at Glengary Elementary in Walled Lake, we were able to purchase materials for Maker Faire Detroit, and teach other people how to make their own sugar scrub.  In addition, a second business was created towards the end of the year making paracord bracelets.  C and J’s Paracord was also able to attend the Maker Faire.  Together, the businesses merged and became SpaCord. Maker Faire Detroit waived the fee to sell things, as the kids wanted the profits to go to foster kids. There is a resource for foster families in Livingston County called Hope's Closet that helps out foster families with getting clothes, hygiene supplies, and bedding for foster children.

We were lucky enough to be able to join together last week to prep our materials for Maker Faire.  We were not sure how many to prep, but we wanted to be efficient at our booth. We spent about 2 hours getting things ready! I was thankful for the help of supportive parents as we planned for the weekend!

My garage became a staging area for the weekend, complete with small 4 oz. cups of coconut oil, 60 pounds of sugar, marketing materials, and more!  I wanted to have a formal banner for our booth, and I lucked out, as Staples Copy Center was having a sale on banners.  I was able to get a grommeted banner for $25.00.

Here are some photos from Maker Faire Detroit!

My students shared the steps in making your own sugar scrub. 2 parts sugar...1 part coconut oil! 

There were awesome glasses that people could geek out with duck tape. 

Here are some members of my PLN making their own scrubs...Rachelle(@Miss Galang) and Mary (@WeverWorld)! 
We all had fun with our geeked out Maker Faire glasses! 
In addition to showcasing our Goal Time projects, I also promoted Destination Imagination, a creative problem solving competition for K-University students. I was fortunate enough to have promotional materials from the Michigan Creativity Association, as well as instant challenges I put together for the attendees of Maker Faire. People of all ages loved trying out the tasks, as well as learning more about this wonderful after-school program.  I am embarking on my 16th year as a team manger/coordinator, and I loved sharing my passion for the program with others! 
The challenge was to create a device that would balance a cup at least 6 inches about the table using an index card, a straw, 2 paper clips, and 1 label. :)

I have to give a special thanks to my family.  My husband had to make a special trip back to Brighton to pick up the banner that I left behind, and he hung out at the booth doing a great job of marketing our sugar scrub!  He's a salesman by he worked his magic on the attendees of Maker Faire! 

My own children enjoyed hanging out all over the Maker Faire.  They wandered around each day finding awesome things to do, in addition to helping out at our booth.  My daughter loved Theatre Bizarre, as well as taking apart laptops at the MSU/4H booth! 
One of the highlights was having Dale Doughtery stop at our booth!  We had tweeted back and forth at ISTE last month, and I tweeted him again while we were at our booth. 

 He found us and hung out for a bit!  We even sent him off with his own sugar scrub sample! 

Our Maker Faire Detroit experience was cut short due to Mother Nature.  We knew the rain was coming in, and actually it held off longer than I was expecting.  Luckily I had a wonderful family that helped me with our booth materials...even though we all got soaked in the process!  Thank-you Zube family! I left Maker Faire looking like a drowned rat and chilled to the bone, but inside I was thankful for the experience and glad that I participated as a maker! I received wonderful comments from the families that participated, and I am so glad that I was able to continue my impact on their lives...even in the middle of summer! 
My daughter and I were soaked from the rain but still smiling!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

ISTE 2014: Thank-You for Valuing Teachers!

I am a blogger that blogs when I am excited about things.  After 5 days in Atlanta for ISTE 2014, my head is full of blogs that I can’t wait to write. However, I also have 2 young ones that haven’t seen their mom in a while.

Though I would love to spend all day composing my thoughts while they are fresh, the reality is, I need to transform from the EdTech Cheerleader to Mom. Ideally, I am going to try and take a few moments out of each day to work on my blog posts, but I also know the holiday weekend is here, which also means family time and fun! So here is my first ISTE 2014 blog post with hopefully more to follow.

One of the greatest things about ISTE is meeting the founders of the apps and digital tools we use in the classroom. When I meet them, I can’t wait to talk to them and let them know how they have impacted my classroom. They are like celebrities to me, as I am so impressed with their innovation, risk-taking, and impact on education. I would like to take this time to highlight a few of them that impacted my ISTE 2014 experience.

Write About This:

One of my great EdTech friends that I met years ago at EdCamp Detroit is the creator of Write About This and Tell About This, Brad Wilson.  If you haven’t checked it out, it is one of my favorite tools to use in my third grade classroom.  Not only can children respond to tons of high quality prompts, but students and teachers can also create their own prompts.  This has been great to use when writing reflections, taking notes during science experiments, and responding to our reading. It is EASY to use and my kids love it!

2 of my students wanted my iPad while we were waiting to be called into the Michigan State Board of Education meeting.  Instead of playing a game, they chose to use Write About This! 


Another Michigan connection, as he graduated from MSU, is Brett Kopf , co-founder of Remind (formerly Remind 101).  I had the wonderful opportunity to meet him at my first ISTE, which was in 2012 in San Diego. After that I got to know both Brett and his product manager, Christine Garland very well while visiting conferences! They were, and continue to be, so great at grassroots marketing, and in of the best I have witnessed!  Smiles can be found on their faces wherever they are, and I am so proud of their growth as a company.  They have expanded their team, and I have enjoyed getting to know the wonderful staff members they have added.  This ISTE I was able to get to know Clara Galan better over a coffee meet-up with others, which was a treat! If you see the Remind team out and about, definitely take the time to say hi.  They are a welcoming crew and truly have great minds and caring hearts!


In March I came across Plickers, and I was soooo excited about it, I jumped on my computer to write a post about it right after school! (Click here to read it and learn about Plickers.) In Atlanta, I saw some people walking on the streets with Plicker shirts, and I was going to approach them, but I was also running late, so I decided to wait.  After the EdTech Karaoke party, I ran into a young man with the shirt on.  When I asked him, “Are you the Plickers guy?” He said, "Yes," and I squealed with delight, as I love, love, love the tool and the quality technology that it includes.   In short, you can print off ½ sheet QR codes that are numbered for your students.  Each side of the code as an A, B, C, or D. When you ask a question, students make sure the side that is the answer they want points up. Using the camera on your device, you can scan the class and the results will be recorded and even graphed instantly...while you are still viewing your kids through the screen!  It is AWESOME! Plickers only has to be on 1 device, so if you are a teacher with no wifi, but have a smartphone or a teacher that lacks a 1-to-1 environment...this is the tool for you!

I was so excited when I first used it, I ran and got my wonderful co-worker, Jennifer Bonkowski, to have her demo it!  

Nolan Amy is the founder of Plickers, and he was just as excited to meet me...something I had not encountered before.  Then I was able to meet Jenn Kim, another team member of Plickers. They were awesome!  I used Plickers in my Digital Tools for Formative Assessment session at EdCamp Detroit, and Plickers was a hit.  I am a true fan, and I can’t wait to see them grow in the educational world in the near future! The icing on the cake was we figured out that we were in the same hotel...and right next door to each other!  ISTE Neighbors! What are the odds?


It was surprising to me that founders of apps and websites are equally excited to meet teachers.  In fact, sometimes even shy and intimidated to approach.  That is crazy to me, as I would think it would be the other way around.  Hanging out in the Blogger’s Cafe prior to the closing keynote, Nitesh Goel, the founder of Padlet (formerly Wallwisher) introduced himself. Again, when I found out he was the creator of Padlet, I was honored to be in the presence of such an amazing app developer.  Not only that, but I had no clue he created Wallwisher as a college project!  Wow! What an impact he was able to make at such a young age! (I found this interview which tells his story.) I shared the ways Padlet has been used in my class...and even during Vacation Bible School at my church! He was so excited to meet me, which again, was crazy! I am not a teacher that has thousands and thousands of followers on Twitter.  Having the last name of Bond, as you can imagine, is a fun conversational piece. On my daughter's birth announcement DVD, I even joked that she liked her bottles "Shaken not stirred." However, I had never really taken a Bond photo until I met Nitesh.

Meeting the people behind the digital awesomeness of these companies is one of the things I love about educational technology.  Their stories are amazing, their impact in education is inspirational, and they also have something in common...modesty.  Though they may not be giants in the educational world, they have made a great impact in my life, and they are well on their way to growing by leaps and bounds.

In April of 2010, I was an early adopter of a digital learning platform that changed the culture of my classroom.  I shared my love for it at conferences all over, including my very first ISTE!  4 years later, I am still one of their biggest fans!  Edmodo had my heart when they were just a toddler in this EdTech world, and through the years they have grown into a huge company impacting millions of educators and students around the world.  Despite their growth, I have remained connected and truly feel part of the Edmodo family.  I feel valued and appreciated...something that I don’t always feel in my normal life as a teacher in this educational world.

Edmodo Cheer at my first ISTE! Notice the handmade bow complete with puffy painted icons! 

So thank-you Write About This, Remind, Plickers, Padlet, and Edmodo...thank-you for making me feel like I matter!  It means a lot! For those of you who have opportunities to meet the faces behind EdTech tools...go for it!  They can be a wonderful member of your PLN!

Saturday, June 28, 2014

ISTE 2014...Let the Fun Begin!

It's hard to believe that three years ago I was a newbie to ISTE. I had always wanted to attend, and I thought San Diego would be a great place to travel to. Knowing that it would be a hard sell to my husband to just go to San Diego as an attendee, I thought I would jump in a give presenting a try to justify the trip. I was thrilled to be accepted as a presenter, in which I did a BYOD session on Edmodo. What a wonderful experience I had! Thankfully I had fellow Michigan educators that were my security blanket for that first ISTE experience. From a fellow Walled Lake teacher, Mark Lada, who worked at the TechSmith booth to my fellow EdCamp Detroit organizers, Erin Klein and Nick Provenzano, it was nice to have a bit of home amongst a gigantic conference! One of the highlights was being selected by Texas Instruments to ask a question to Mayim Bialik during her session on the TI-Nspire, which led to a fun roof-top reception.
Now three years later, I though I still have my #MichEd security blankets, I also have the security in knowing that no matter where I go at ISTE, I am sure to find awesome educators from around the world. Educators that I have connected with face-to-face over several conferences and events, educators that I chat with each week on Twitter, educators that I have collaborated with on Edmodo, and my newest tech tool, educators that I have connected with on Voxer. Last year my ISTE blog post focused on my ISTE connections feeling like an #EduFamily, and I am so excited to be back at ISTE strengthening our family bonds and impacting the educational world together! Cheers to ISTE 2014...let the fun begin!
(ISTE 2014 with Erin Klein and Todd Nesloney)