Charlotte's Web ThingLink

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Take Your Students on an Odyssey of Discovery by guest blogger, Mary Pat Vargas

Screen Shot 2017-05-11 at 10.42.19 AM.pngWhen I began teaching in the Union School district over 20 years ago, I taught children in the district's gifted and talented education (GATE) program. Today I find myself in a very similar position as a STEAM ToSA. Of course, the curriculum is different, but the GATE and STEAM programs share a common goal: to provide opportunities for problem-solving activities, design thinking, and collaborative discovery.

Today, sites devoted to providing problem-solving activities seem limitless, and so many of them are excellent.  I would like to share an organization that I used quite often in the GATE program. If you investigate the methods described by the Odyssey of the Mind program, I’m sure you’ll agree that it is a wonderful way to encourage creativity, teamwork, and divergent thinking in your classroom.  Odyssey of the Mind problems follow a script; the procedure is the same every time you introduce a problem.  Students learn to listen, encourage, and to wait patiently - all important considerations when fostering the creative mind.

“Odyssey of the Mind is an international creative problem-solving program that engages students in their learning by allowing their knowledge and ideas to come to life in an exciting, productive environment.”
Although Odyssey of the Mind exists as an organization where students compete, they generously publish problems from previous competitions, and these are downloadable on the Internet. If you have a just a half hour – use spontaneous verbal problems to provide opportunities for students to work as a team and to think creatively. Here are a few to consider:

You’ll probably want to try a few hands-on spontaneous problems:

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Energize for the Coming Year with a Good Book

Break is coming up soon! Summer gives teachers an opportunity to relax and refresh, but it also gives us a chance to learn and explore. Many a teacher spends many an hour thinking about the next school year and the changes that the next school year may bring.

Some teachers use the time to take professional development classes, either in person or online. Or, they may finally get to one of those many books on education and changing pedagogy.  This summer, Gena and Mary Fran thought they wanted to share reading one of the many books on their long list with other educators. Sound intriguing?  

Here are the five books to consider as part of the USD Summer Book Club:

If any of these books pique your interest, fill out this Google Form. Vote for as many as you like. We will chose the two that gather the most votes, then L&I will buy the book for you. If interested, please fill out the form by Wednesday, May 17th. It'll give us a chance to order the book for you.

We will create a Google+ community where we can share thoughts, sketchnotes, and/or audio notes with each other. Those who want to try something new can share voice notes on Voxer. We’ll set up a schedule to read different chapters of the book and starting the week of June 18th (or thereabout), we’ll begin to read and share how the ideas in the book might impact our teaching and student learning. Keeping with “summertime and the living is easy,” the schedule will be a general guideline. Post when you want!

The final discussion/celebration will be held at one of the local coffee shops - L&I treating. The group will decide on the day and time.

Any questions? Contact either Gena or Mary Fran. We hope you will join us in delving into one of these insightful books.

photo by Ben White from

Friday, May 5, 2017

Reach Out and Meet Someone

Educator Alan November talks about the importance of connecting our students to students from across the country and around the world that might be unlike themselves. This same belief inspires some of our teachers to search for projects to help their students build a broader view of the world, and to invite experts into their class their students would not have had access to otherwise.

Google Hangouts

One of those teachers is Todd Sinclair, 5th grade teacher at Oster. “My class has had digital pen pals since early February.  We kicked it off with a Google Hangout (GHO) and then jumped into a shared Seesaw account that I share with my counterpart in Virginia.  We have shared out our state reports and other projects with our digital pen pals which has allowed my students to get some authentic feedback from outside of our immediate classroom community.  Students correspond and share about vacations, science camp, and other student interest items.  We have slowly expanded beyond penpal letters.  We are currently writing chain stories where a student writes a paragraph to a story and then hands it off to their pen pal for the next paragraph.  We started using Google Docs for this prior to Seesaw updating their site to allow easy uploads of GAFE tools.  We have shared My Maps of vacations, Google Slides of book recommendations, and created Venn diagrams with Google Draw to compare penpals and states.  The students' favorite activity was filming locations on campus with the iPad and sharing them with their penpals.  I have since loaded these into a shared map where we are also slowly loading up 360 videos to share (they were the inspiration for my DonorsChoose 360 camera project).

Creating a space for the students to share their experiences with students from across the country has been a valuable and unique experience for my students this year. I look forward to expanding these lessons and building on the lessons I've learned this year getting it started. I'm actually taking a family vacation in VA this summer.  I am planning to meet with my tech/teaching peer while we are there to plan out a few our adventures for next year.”

Another 5th grade teacher at Oster, Jason Tarshis, reached out to Lauren Tarshis (no they aren’t related), author of the I SURVIVED series of books. “We did the hangout back in the fall and it was great. She was in her Connecticut office and talked about how she picks a topic, does the research, etc. She inspired my kids to read and write more and the next day more than a dozen kids had one of her books. She talked about publishing and New York  City too.  It was super cool and the kids loved it.”

Reaching out does not have to be confined to upper grade students. As early as Kindergarten, ELA standards require students to “Participate in collaborative conversations with diverse partners…” and to “Ask and answer questions in order to seek help, get information, or clarify something that is not understood.”
Through the Connected Classrooms Workshop G+ Community, Nikki Grist and her Alta Vista Kinder class “Connected with a kindergarten class in rural Vermont that was studying communities and wanted to connect with a more urban classroom. We had a great time learning about life in rural Vermont because it was very different from life around here. For example, many children lived on farms and went home after school to help around the farm. The local farms provided the food for their school lunches. They only had around 12 students in the class. We discovered many differences between our school and their school.

To prepare, I had the students make a list of questions that they wanted to ask the students at Lakeview School. You can see the list of questions in the pictures. We also took pictures of our school and area and put together a digital photo album to share with them. It was really fun and I'd definitely do it again!”


To help her students learn more about community helpers, Helen Kamali, Kinder teacher at Noddin, had her students make a list of what they would like to learn about. Then, she recruited parents to help her find people for her students to Facetime with. Each week, students meet someone else on their list. Students meet in groups to write questions they would like to ask. Each student uses a different color pen making sure everyone contributes. Then, the groups take turns Facetiming and asking their questions while the rest of the class tunes in. “My students learn there is a whole wide world out there. One time we met a class in Florida. They wanted to see our mountains; we wanted to see their ocean. Then, we compared and contrasted our two schools.”

Mystery Calls

A number of teachers have tried Mystery Google Hangout or Mystery Skype calls this year. Through a series of yes-no questions, students narrow in a the state the mystery classroom is from. But younger classes do mystery calls too. Jackie Knudson, a kinder teacher at Noddin, has a sister who is a kinder teacher in another school. They spend a lot of time honing skills with Mystery Number or Mystery Letter calls. “The students find it so engaging, and I have really seen a growth in higher level thinking skills.” Hoping to ease the transition to first grade, Jackie plans to GHO with a first grade teacher so her students can get an idea of how first grade compares to kinder and the changes they can expect.

When doing a Mystery call, it’s best to have students prepare questions and have roles. Here is a resource from Pernille Ripp to use as a guide.

Virtual Field Trips

There are lots of other resources to use to invite experts into your class. One is the California Parks Dept. PORTS program. Rangers will tailor the interactive presentation to students from K-12. Some of our 6th grade classes have learned about Roman and Greek mythology through the art at Hearst Castle.

Another is Exploring the the Seat of Your Pants (EBTSOYP). They bring “researchers, daring adventurers and innovative conservationists, and to give them the chance to ask big questions.” Every Virtual Field trip offers five classes from somewhere in the world to have an “on camera” spot. Those students get to ask the scientist questions.

Global Read Aloud 

There are so many ways for you and your students to reach out and meet someone new. At the beginning of this school year, many USD teachers and students took the first step in sharing experiences with students from other states and even other countries through the Global Read Aloud project. We hope that you will join the 2017 GRA that begins in October. Look for the Google Form to poll teachers for interest in August. We’ll begin matching classes then.

However, no need to wait until next school year. There’s still time for a mystery GHO or Skype call or to arrange a PORTS or EBTSOYP virtual field trip. You might want to practice a Google Hangout with another class in the district or your school. Dianna Talley and Carole Lynne Brasher at Guadalupe plan to do just that. Jackie, Kevin Deaton, Kay Flodquist, and Sharon Victorine put together this Hyperdoc of K-5 grade level ideas.

Just follow the links to get started, or call on one of your Tech Integration ToSAs, Gena or Mary Fran, to get started.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Digital Citizenship Parent Morning Coffee with Merve from Common Sense

On Tuesday, April 25, Merve Lapus, Director of School Partnerships for Common Sense Education, came to the Union School District board room to talk with parents about current media trends in the lives of our kids.

He shared eye opening videos and statistics from a 2015 Common Sense Census of more than 2,600 8-18 year olds regarding tween and teen media use and a 2016 Common Sense Census of about 1,800 parents titled Plugged in Parents of Teens and Tweens. This helped open up a discussion about strategies for tackling the surrounding issues. Parents asked lots of questions and shared their own personal experiences and tactics for dealing with technology and media use in their homes. Merve stressed that it is always a good idea for parents to have open conversations with their children before jumping to conclusions and simply taking devices away. I was drawn to a quote that he shared from a 2014 Common Sense Focus group, "Adults don't get it. They think I'm addicted to technology - but I'm not. I'm addicted to my friends." Todays kids deal with the same basic issues that we dealt with when we were young, just in a very different way. With the power of social media, teens can now show their popularity by the number of likes that they have on their Instagram or Twitter feeds. Instead of having 100 friends, they can have thousands of followers.
Media Use by Tweens and Teens Full Infographic

Merve also shared Common Sense Education resources and gave tips to help parents connect with children on important issues regarding technology and media use. Common Sense understands that it may be difficult for adults to keep up with their children these days. He shared that parents can find descriptions and read parent tips for apps, tv shows, movies, websites and video games on their Reviews page. This is particularly helpful in helping parents decide weather or not to allow their child to watch something or play a game that may be popular among peer groups. Parents can also find a whole section titled Parent Concerns where they can find answers to frequently asked questions.

Connecting Families
Before closing out the presentation, Merve talked about a whole community approach to digital citizenship. He emphasized that it is OUR responsibility to reinforce that kids think critically, participate responsibly, and behave safely when engaging with media and technology on a daily basis. As teachers, we have to do our part to educate our students in the classroom, but it is equally important that parents do their part at home and in the community. He even shared with them Common Sense's Connecting Families page and how easy it is to hold parent group discussions using their Series of Conversation Cases that includes event fliers and discussion guides with questions about carefully selected videos that open up great conversations about tough topics like Cyberbullying, Video Games & Violent Content and Sexual Imagery & the Internet.  

The two hour presentation flew by and at the end of the event, parents were lining up to speak with Merve and thank him for his knowledge, expertise and advice. One parent came up to me and said, "We need to hold more events like this. All parents should come and see this." After sharing my sketchnotes about the event on Twitter, Merve tweeted, “great turnout today, & parents from room to parking lot praised the event.” 

Here's a link to his presentation slides: Don't forget to check out all Common Sense parent and educator resources at

Friday, April 21, 2017

Path to Presenting

We all agree that Union School District has a number of amazing teachers who are doing amazing things with students. Some of our teachers have accepted the responsibility to share their best practices outside the district at local and state conferences. Fifteen of the accepted presenters at the recent Teach through Technology, SVCUE conference, were from USD! Helen Kamali and Jackie Knudson, both Kindergarten teachers at Noddin, were two of the presenters.

As a math lead, one of Jackie’s responsibilities was to present to her grade level. Helen’s introduction to presenting was as a Tech Teacher Leader. She presented a Union University session. Both got their feet wet in a supportive environment, to a known audience of colleagues, in a familiar setting.

Since then, Jackie and Helen have had the opportunity to present outside the district to increasingly larger audiences.

“I never wanted to do presentations. That has never been my goal,” said Helen, “but there are so few sessions for primary teachers.”  Jackie added, “We didn’t think what we were doing in our class was special. But we were encouraged to present and share what we were doing, and now here we are, soon to be, CUE RockStar Faculty!”

Jackie was part of an Android tablet pilot. Her kinders had one-to-one tablets, as did Dianna Talley’s first graders. Mary Fran Lynch, always a Google advocate, encouraged them to submit to present at Fall CUE 2015. Jackie remembers writing the proposal with Mary Fran’s help, and hoping they wouldn’t get chosen. Against hope, they were chosen. The upside was getting to attend Fall CUE. Knowing that being accepted to present at a pre-approved conference means getting to attend, Jackie knew she wanted to present again!

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About the same time, she and Helen had gone to Lakeshore to buy a book on STEAM in Kindergarten. Helen was especially excited and encouraged Jackie to jump in. “Let’s just do it.” So they did.

Their passion, excitement, and growth mindset (“Lots of times we failed.”) led them to develop STEAM centers, run for two hours on Wednesdays with the help of parent volunteers.

Knowing they had something special that should be shared, Jackie and Helen were encouraged to present, by Cindy Loper who told them, “You can do this,” Genevieve Pacada, who asked if they would consider presenting at SVCUE, and Mary Fran Lynch, who helped them write the presentation proposal and encouraged them to resubmit their proposal when their 90-minute workshop proposal was rejected by National CUE.

Even with presenting at Fall CUE to 30 people and at SVCUE to a classroom full of people, they didn’t know what to expect from National CUE where they presented to over 150!
“We focus on why would people want to see our session and what can we give them that they can turn around and use next week in their classroom. And, we practice.”

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“Presenting is an opportunity to make connections, help other teachers, and learn about what is happening in other districts. And, we get to attend the conference.”

Interested in taking the first steps towards presenting? At Union SD, you have a lot of opportunities to hone your skills. Consider presenting to your colleagues either at a staff meeting, a grade level meeting, or at a Union University. Next, apply to present at a local conference like one of the CUE affiliates, like SVCUE. Or, suggest and facilitate a discussion at an EdCamp. Then, you might like to consider presenting at a larger conference.

Learning & Innovation is thrilled for you to represent USD at conferences. Follow these steps to help you on your journey from a district presentation to presenting at ISTE!

View with working links at:
Before applying to present, make sure you receive approval from L&I (email the conference details to Andrew at Pre-approval is required if you would like to have your travel expenses and sub days covered. Many (but not all) conferences provide free or reduced rate registration for one presenter, so, make sure you check before accepting. If you are presenting along with a colleague, check with L&I to ensure the co-presenter’s registration will be covered too.

Here are some conferences and deadline dates you might want to look for:

Conference Dates
CUE Affiliates
eg. East Bay Cool Tools, Sept. 30
CA Math Conference
Pacific Grove, Dec. 1-3
Palm Desert, July 16-17
CA STEAM Symposium
San Francisco, Dec.10-11
CLS Technology
Monterey, Feb. 2-4, 2018
Annual CLS

Fall CUE
American Canyon, Oct. 27-28
National CUE
Palm Springs, March 14-17, 2018
Chicago, June 24-27, 2018

When you are ready to take the next step, any of the ToSAs would be happy to help you complete the presentation proposal form. While that is no guarantee for acceptance, having another set of eyes before pressing Submit can be helpful.

Good luck! And thank you for considering sharing the great work you are doing in your classrooms and here are USD!

Friday, April 14, 2017

Looking Ahead to Showcasing Student Digital Portfolios

It is already April! It won’t be long before families will be visiting to celebrate the learning the students have done over the year.

One of the ways to catalog and showcase student work is through their digital portfolios. Whether your students have created Seesaw portfolios, Google Sites, or chosen another platform, students can display much of their digital work through these sites.

Often, a URL can be uploaded. In the first example, the student added the URL of an Adobe Spark video through “Link” in Seesaw.

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That same video can be added to Google Sites by using the URL.

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When students chose that method, the link will take the viewer out to the original website where the student work was created. The downside, is that if the work is deleted from the website, the URL will no longer work. The plus side is that the work can continue to be edited and reposted.

To avoid losing work when website work is deleted, work can be saved on the device and uploaded.  The downside is that downloaded copy of the work will not be editable in the iPad’s Camera roll or through Google Drive.

Here, the student used Download to save a copy of his Adobe Spark video. Once it is downloaded, it can be uploaded or saved to Google Drive. From there, it can be added to Google sites by using the insert function. See how to save it the file to Google Drive on a Chromebook by reading the blog post, Adobe Spark Update with Help from John Funk's 6th Grade Class .

In this case, the video will play in Google Sites.
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If you choose to upload a video from Google Drive or from the iPad Camera roll to Seesaw, there is an extra step. Make sure, you choose to use the Upload Video option when you Upload File.

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There are lots of creative web and iOS apps that can be showcased in Seesaw and/or Google Sites. Check out this Symbaloo site for some examples.

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Looking at all of these apps can be a bit overwhelming. Your Tech ToSAs are happy to talk to you about what you are doing in class and how an app can integrate into your curriculum, and provide your students a way to demonstrate their learning. We’d love to help. Please contact us at or at