Movie Premiere

I have been doing much reflecting, as most teachers do, upon this past school year. To say that there were many ups and downs would be an understatement. However, one of the best – if not THE BEST – thing I did this year was to have my students write, direct, act, and produce their own movie. With a full-fledged Red Carpet Event!

Thanks to Dominic and his efforts in A Tale Unfolds my students were able to have an incredibly memorable 5th-grade experience. This was, by far, one of the most fun and rewarding experiences in my teaching career. And I can’t wait to do it again! Throughout the process, I had been writing about this (A Tale Unfolds: Part 1A Tale Unfolds & Writing,   Writing and the CAASPP) and aligning it to 5th-Grade CCSS ELA. And here are the results of their efforts:

Red Carpet Event:

Cast Interviews:


Once again, thank you, Dominic, for creating a high quality, rigorous program.

Makeshift Keyboards

Recently I received a new student in my 5th-grade class. Great kid from India. He has some English, enough to tell me he wants a Punjabi Keyboard. So, we created a Punjabi keyboard for him. First, we selected the correct keyboard on his Chromebook. Then, he pointed out that the physical keyboard was still in English. So then we looked up a Punjabi Keyboard online and I printed it out. Using Google Translate, we affixed them on the correct keys. We used tape. We were in business! Things were going great. Score 1 for me.


This victory didn’t last long. He then came to me telling me that the paper was bugging his fingers and I needed to tape the tops too. I explained that the keys would then all stick down to the board. So then, I had another brilliant idea: Saran Wrap, poor man’s keyboard cover. Yet another score for me.


Yes! This worked. He was happy. Until…. He wanted it all off. Yup, it wasn’t working for him. He wanted to continue with the English Keyboard…

(Sigh) You win some, you lose some.

Classroom Success

Today I experienced a moment that made me proud to be a teacher. It was one of those moments that makes you look around and say to yourself, This is what a classroom SHOULD look like. 

This afternoon, after an hour of morning State Testing and an hour of afternoon testing, my students were focusing on finishing their Boston Tea Party Tasks (part of a larger hyperdoc). They needed to discover the events, people, and reasons for the Boston Tea Party.


Yes, that would be 2 green screens, several groups collaborating, and a whole lot of learning going on! They are posting final videos this week on our website.

Point of View

In Social Studies, my 5th graders have been learning about the causes of the American Revolution. Recently, they were researching ‘The Boston Massacre’. Being that we are in the US, the texts that we have, have a colonist/American point of view. This lead to; what was the British take on it? This lead us to a Google Search. However, we didn’t want to view anything that was written in the US, we wanted information from the UK. So how did we find out the UK point of view?

We navigated to a new tab, which brought up Google. While being logged in, we typed our query ‘Boston Massacre’. Now to filter our results for information from the UK. Located on the upper right side is a ‘gear’. Choosing it brings up a drop down menu. From this, click on ‘Advanced search’.

search 1

This sends us to a new page with several search filters. For our Boston Massacre example, we located ‘region’. This allowed us to narrow the region in which the information was published. We chose United Kingdom (this lead to a side conversation about ‘What is the United Kingdom?’). Then clicked the blue Advanced Search button on the lower right side.

search 2

This brought up the search results with the filter in place. All results were from the UK.

search 3

This, of course, led to an interesting discussion on why the accounts that we had been reading about and the accounts according to the UK were different.It was a great opportunity for my students to experience different points of view, why they exist, practice critical thinking skills, and begin to learn to question what really happened.

Gamification: Here’s the Deal

And what a deal it is! I have written about my use of Mangahigh in my classroom in the past (Gamify My Homework, Math In the Summer, Engage Student With Mangahigh, and Online Homework). I really do like the tool!

Here’s an opportunity to check it out…for FREE (for a limited time). Not only do you get to check out all the features, your class/school can participate in an online challenge! Adding to the gamification fun. Go ahead, sign up for the challenge. What do you have to lose? It’s FREE.

10% Discount

And if you like it and decide to purchase…You can receive a 10% discount and a 30-day FREE trial. See, it just keeps getting better! Email Amber ( with the code: NOWATECHIE10.


Challenge Details

The challenge will run from February 1st – 15th 2016 for all K-10 students at schools in the US and Canada. It’s completely free to participate and we encourage you to take advantage of this opportunity to explore Mangahigh and see the impact digital games-based solutions can have on students’ learning.


During the challenge, you will have full access to all of Mangahigh’s premium features, including 600+ activities aligned to Common Core and other state standards. You can assign specific challenges to support the topic you are currently teaching, or simply allow students to complete challenges independently.

What do we win?

The school that scores the most points during the competition will be crowned the Math Bowl Champion, winning a $500 Amazon voucher, $500 Mangahigh voucher, trophy plus medals and certificates for their top 10 students.

The 9 runners up with all receive a $100 Amazon voucher$200 Mangahigh vouchermedals, and certificates for their top 10 students.

Students with 200 points or more will receive a Mangahigh medal!

Who can enter?

The competition is open to all schools in the US and Canada for grades K-10 regardless of school size, location and previous experience with You are welcome to enrol as many teachers and students as you like.

Who will join me?

I’ve already signed up. Who will join in the challenge?


Make It Ourselves!

We have been working on division with and without decimals. To help my students gain experience with the computation, I found a game (Four in a Row) in Georgia Math. They enjoy the game, but you always have those few who get board because it’s too easy. And yes, I had some of those. However, these 3 boys didn’t complain. Instead, they asked if they could make their own.


Screen Shot 2015-12-14 at 5.22.42 PM
Credit: J-Jey, Julian, and Adan

The boys chose the numbers and did the division to fill in the boxes with the quotient. This week, the rest of the class was able to enjoy the fruits of their labor. It was a hit.

Now, this same group has decided to recreate another game. It was a multiplication board game, also found in Georgia Math. They are pretty excited.

Why was this so important? First of all, we talk about differentiation but aren’t alway great at it. This allowed my more proficient students to be challenged yet work on the same goals as the rest of the class. Secondly, and more importantly, my students took control over their learning and thought of a way to challenge themselves. What a powerful lesson for all.


After-School Tutoring

The last few days, I’ve had students contacting me, at home online, to help them with their math homework. The first time, the student contacted me via email and we had a series of emails going back and forth. In class the next day, I mentioned how a student contacted me for help and how awesome that was.

The next day, I received a chat invite via Google Hangouts on my personal GMail account. My students know what the email is, but never (until now) use it. It’s used for web tools sites. She choose to contact me on this account as our district has disabled chat on the student domain. Here is a portion of our conversation:

How #awesomesauce is that? Next, I’m secretly (well not so secretly now) hoping that someone will figure out how to do the video chats and we’ll do a study group hangout.

This is what makes my job so awesome!

Supporting the Beginner

Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 6.38.00 PMA few weeks ago I got together with a first grade teacher at my site. We decided to video tape her students holding high frequency words. The idea was to create a fun way her students could practice their words, at school and home. Needless to say, it has been a big success. The students love it, and the parents love seeing it on our school’s FaceBook Page.

So today when I stopped by to see if she needed another taping session, I was sad to find that she was a little down about the project. She had been so excited about this idea and how well it went, that she shared it with others – in hopes that they would find it as inspiring as she had. This is where she became disappointed. Unfortunately, some that she shared this with, immediately disregarded the idea saying that it would never work [for them].

And this is when I realized that those ‘new’ to technology in the classroom can be fragile. Fragile in the sense that this great new ‘thing’ that they are excited about and finding success with, which is then quickly disregarded by others, can easily break one’s spirit. She was truly disappointed that others had not wanted to try this. However, I quickly reminded her that 2 other teachers were inspired by her and had also taped their students.

It is stories like this, that encourage me to be the cheerleader for those who are willing to try. It is because of this teacher, who is now thinking of other ways to incorporate tech into her classroom, I will do what I can to support all those who dare to try something new. It’s not easy being the ‘Lone Nut’ [Jon Corippo & CUERockStar reference] in your grade level, on your campus, or in your district. But when a bunch of ‘Lone Nuts’ get together, amazing things begin to happen! And for this reason, I am looking forward to working with her with all the crazy ideas we can dream up!

Oh, and did I mention that she is a self proclaimed ‘non-techie’? Yeah, she’s THAT crazy – willing to dive into tech even when it’s outside her comfort zone. Mrs. Bolger, you inspire me!

Check out her kiddos:

A Young Transgender Student

*Disclaimer: This is solely meant as my account with a student who identified himself as the opposite sex in which he was born. While the title suggests the student was indeed transgender, I cannot say for certain if he was or was not. If I wrote any pronouns incorrectly, I apologize.

A TransGender-Symbol Plain3
By User:ParaDox – en:User:ParaDox – de:Benutzer:ParaDox (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

Student Teaching

Back in the mid 90’s I did my student teaching in a first/second grade classroom. I was assigned to two teachers, each with their own classroom. There was another student teacher assigned to the teachers as well. The assignment went from January to April.

So why am I bringing up something that occurred so long ago? Well, recently Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie‘s daughter, Shiloh, has stated that she would like to be called John, and identifies as a boy. This got me thinking about my student teaching days and a boy named William.

He’s Gay

That’s what I about William after my first day in my assignment. The other 3 teachers said that I was being mean. I explained that I was in no way judging or being mean, I was simply stating my observations. It was clear from the beginning that William had very feminine traits and played mostly with the girls.

*Note: I was younger than the other teachers in the room. I took a more liberal view to ones sexual orientation than most. My experiences with the GLTB community were very different than many around me. I have long since held the belief that you’re born gay; you don’t decide or ‘change’. It is who you are.

Now it’s not like he was the only child we discussed. The teachers were filling the other student teacher and I in on some of the specifics of students. Who went to speech, who benefitted from SpEd, who to academically keep our eye on, etc.

When I Grow Up

As a part of the daily routine, we would do ‘Calendar’. If you’ve ever taught the younger grades, you know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s a time students gather around a large calendar discussing days of the week, months, counting, place value, weather, etc. Part of our routine must have been to ask about what they wanted to be when the grew up. I remember when it was William’s turn to be ‘Person of the Day’ that question was posed to him. His immediate response was, “I want to be a girl when I grow up.” I asked him why (I know, rookie mistake; shouldn’t have done that in front of the class). Without hesitation he replied, “So I can have long blonde hair and long fingernails.” This answer was accompanied by running his fingers through his imaginary long hair and stroking his imaginary fingernails. I didn’t think much of it and moved on. So he wanted to be a girl, and had an age appropriate reason. It’s no different than another boy saying he wanted to be a firefighter so he could ride in a firetruck. First grade answers are pretty basic.


Then came the day he went around asking the adults how to spell Christina. This must have been around mid February to mid March. He was now writing Christina on all of his papers. He came to school with a yellow bandana on his head. He asked me if I liked his blonde hair. He was quite happy with his hair. I believe the girls also started calling him Christina. The master teachers refused, and immediately scheduled a meeting with the mom.

Somewhere in that time period, he developed a crush on another little boy. He would sit by this boy and try to hold his hand. This freaked everyone out, especially the other little boy.

In the meeting, as a student teacher I was to observe and not say anything. I don’t remember much from the meeting. I was of the mindset that if he wants to be called Christina do it. If she wants to grow up and be a girl, it’ll happen. I do remember someone asking if the father not having a strong presence was to blame on his behavior.

After the meeting he was once again called William, and no longer wore a yellow bandana. It seemed as if things had ‘calmed down’. I don’t know what ever happened to William/Christina. I don’t know if it was an exploration into the other gender or if he really was transgender. I would venture to say he was/is transgender. I openly admit that I am no expert. Where ever he is I hope he is happy and doing well.


What lessons can be learned from this? First of all, there needs to be more education on this topic. As a now ‘seasoned’ teacher, I’m not sure I would have a conference with the parents when a child wanted to change his/her name to something of the opposite sex. On one hand, I’ve had students who have wanted to be called Justin when their birth name was say Raul; I didn’t call the parents then. So why would I call in this case? On the other hand, it does signify more complex factors are at play. Being a 5th grade teacher, I might try to talk with the student one on one.

I also think that the stigma of being boys being boys and girls being girls needs to go away. We need to embrace each other, and especially children, for who we are, not what we identify as or who we like.

In Conclusion

I applaud Brad, Angelina, John, and their family for shedding light on this. It was brave of John. It is heartwarming to see he has the support of his whole family. I can only hope that all children who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender receive the same love and support.

Student Presenters

Recently a friend and I were talking about some of our district meetings, some of which are the occasional ‘Tech’ meetings. We have tried the ‘Cafeteria’ style, where teachers choose from a list of presenters & presentations/workshops. It’s worked ‘okay’, but not great. And as my friend and I were talking, we got around to all the different things that my students do in class. She then suggested having students give some of the presentations/workshops!

I know, she’s brilliant! Now many would be skeptical of the idea of having 5th graders presenting to a group of adults. I will admit that, while I thought it was brilliant, I had my doubts that my students would be open to the idea. To my surprise, they were on-board. Many of them asked when the meeting is, and what they should present! Two girls want to show off their knowledge of ‘Animoto’, another boy wants to do a whole presentation on using iMovie from an iPhone (via Reflector – his idea), and a few others that want to present, just not sure on what. My students are FEARLESS and amazing!










After school I was talking to another teacher about the idea and my students’ responses. She also felt that it was an awesome idea. She pointed out that many teachers don’t think students can do what they have seen in the (past) presentations/workshops. She went on to state how powerful the experience could be for the students and the teachers. Teachers would not only see that students COULD do it, but have a deep understanding of the different tools or apps being used, and how these tools can be used to show their knowledge in different subjects. And the students would shine, gain confidence, and experience something so HUGE at such a young age.

I can’t wait to see how this ends, or should I say begins (let’s hope this is the beginning of something great)! I’m so excited. I will definitely be blogging about their success in about a month! Stay tuned.