Saturday, August 27, 2016

Updated Science Safety Scavenger Hunt

Hey, friends! My poor little blog and teaching stores {TpT, TN} have been so neglected! Life has been crazy since I left the classroom during the 2015-2016 school year! I don't think I've added any new products to my stores since then, which says a lot about how busy my new job as an instructional technologist keeps me.

On a whim, I logged on to TpT last weekend and noticed my Science Safety Scavenger Hunt with a QR Code Option was popular. I quickly became panicky when I realized I'd changed all my cloud services -- where the QR code images were stored -- which may have broken a lot of links.

I spent the last week finding pockets of time to edit the packet -- updating the design, all the QR codes, the screenshot directions for the extension activity, and a few other things. While it definitely takes up a lot of time to produce a good, quality product, there was a part of me that felt so peaceful and joyful during the creation process. I'd forgotten how much I loved designing and sharing lessons! I think this is the jump start I needed to get back in the game. :)

As a reminder, all new products are 50% off for the first 48 hours, and you'll get an e-mail of all items I post if you follow me on Teachers Pay Teachers. Go ahead and follow now so you'll be prepared when I start posting all my new stuff!

And because every blog post requires a picture or two... here's the old packet design:

Remember when I used to be "The Teacher Garden"? I love my new name so much more!

Annnnd -- cue the drumroll -- here's the updated design:

Back in the day, I sure did love some chevron print, but I think the new design looks so much more modern and cheerful.

If you downloaded the old version -- ever! -- be sure to log in to your Teachers Pay Teachers account, go to "My Purchases" and scroll {or search} until you find my Science Safety Scavenger Hunt with a QR Code Option product. Re-download the packet so you can have all the updates + working QR codes! 

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Sunday, January 17, 2016

Tieks: An Update

Hey, friends! Hope your school year has been going smoothly so far! Can you believe we are halfway done?! Where does the time go?!

I've been enjoying my new position a lot! I do miss teaching kids directly but am so thankful to have a few teachers on each of my campuses that allow me to come in and teach their students whenever I want. Being able to focus on technology integration across all subject areas has been my favorite part so far. I've gotten compliments about my teaching ability and techniques before {although I certainly am not perfect}, but for the first time in my career, I actually feel like this job was made for me. It's kinda great to feel like you're a natural at your job!

I've been a major failure at adding new things to my TpT store this year... *hangs head* ...*cue the excuses about my busy life* However, it is -- as always -- on my to-do list, and for now, you can enjoy all of the cool science lessons I already posted. I'm flattered to say that the majority of the elementary science teachers in my district all continue to use my lesson plans, even after I left the position, so maybe you can benefit from them, too. :)


The real reason I came back today was to write an update on my Tieks review. It's now been almost two years since I wrote that post, and I feel it deserves an update, so here we go!

My last update occurred on January 10, 2015. I had just purchased the leopard print Tieks in preparation for the upcoming TCEA conference. {As a reminder, I received a special promo code to purchase the baby pink and matte black pairs at a slightly lower price, but all subsequent pairs of Tieks were purchased at full price with my own money.}

photo from the Tieks website

The shoes fit perfectly right out of the box, so I took them to the conference without a second thought. However, after wearing them 2-3 times in the course of one week {and walking over 10,000 steps each time}, I noticed the leopard print pattern wearing off the sides, particularly in the heel area. I contacted customer service, who was...not hear from me again. haha. They'd told me that the patterned Tieks {excluding the metals} are more susceptible to chipping/peeling than any of their other pairs, and that the patent kinds were best for longevity.

I considered those statements before writing customer service about my leopard flats chipping but ultimately decided to ask for an exchange because...really? I'd walked 30,000 steps in them in a carpeted conference center and felt that shoes that cost more than $200 should at least last longer than that, even if they are not the most "durable" pair the company offers.

The customer service representative I spoke to about my leopard Tieks reminded me that I was told these aren't their most durable pair, and I had to argue my point as to why this level of wear and tear is unacceptable. They reminded me a lot of Apple -- completely unwilling to admit that there could be something wrong with the construction of their product and insisting that it was the customer/user error as to why the product failed. To me, that is such poor customer service. The tone of my voice wasn't rude {although I did have to fight to keep my voice even when arguing why I should be allowed to send the leopard flats back, even though I'd already worn them outside}, and I didn't {and still don't} feel that I was asking anything unreasonable for them to just replace the shoes that didn't even hold up to 3 wears.

I was denied a complete refund and instead, told that I could exchange them {since I'd already worn them outside}. While I desperately wanted the leopard print pair to work, I asked something along the lines of, "is there a chance that the next pair could wear the exact same way?" They answered, "yes," so I ordered a pair from the metal line -- the wild copper pair.
picture from the Tieks website

Knowing that the metal and patent lines were hailed as the most durable, I was hopeful that this would be a better experience.

Unfortunately, since the shoes don't come in half sizes, and the company refuses to stretch them for you, I was left to my own devices to try to stretch them myself. I distinctly remember sitting on the couch during Spring Break, watching Criminal Minds while I wore my wild copper Tieks with big, fluffy socks. ...It was cute. lol. I wore those suckers around the house for a good month before I admitted that they weren't stretching at all and had to contact customer service...again.

Pretty sure they never want to see or hear my name again.

But at this point, I've invested $265 into friggin' ballet flats, and my husband will have. my. HEAD if I come up empty-handed!

Because I knew I liked the way the classic leather flats felt, I "bargained" with them to let me exchange the wild coppers for two pairs of the classic leathers. {In their defense, I didn't even ask to buy one pair and get the remaining money as a cash refund. Mostly because I was scared to ask -- I felt like I was annoying them and they hated me! Still: my fault. The worst they could've said was no!} I ended up with the cardinal red and fuchsia pairs:

At this point, I'd spent $350 and was really questioning my sanity.

Luckily, both of these pairs worked out beautifully. I did have to stretch them out myself, but the break-in period was just a week or two, and they are super-comfy. I am also happy to report that I wear these all. the. stinkin. TIME. They both provide just the right pop of color to "make" an outfit while still being comfortable and functional for day-to-day teaching activities. In addition, they are my go-to shoes for travel, as they fold up and don't take up much room at all in your suitcase.

Regarding wear and tear on the classic leather pairs I own, it's worth mentioning that after I noticed the scuffs on the bottom, back of the heel on my baby pink ones, I noticed the same wear on two pairs of fabric {non-Tiek} flats I own, so it looks like I just walk like a weirdo. :) I haven't noticed any damage to the heels on my matte black, cardinal red, or fuchsia pairs yet, though, and I wear them all the time. At this point, my light pink pair is quite stretched out and sometimes even fall off my feet when I first slip them on in the mornings. I assume this is because the leather has stretched to accommodate my swelling feet by the end of the day, but I'm a little bummed to realize that they obviously don't "stretch back down." Most people probably think of that in advance, but I thought I'd throw it out there, just in case... food for thought. :)

To add to the insanity, my little sister is getting married in March, and I am really considering purchasing the metallic gold {from the classic leather line} Tieks. So even with some weird return policies and less-than-thrilled-at-my-companionship customer service reps, the fact that I'm highly considering purchasing my fifth pair of Tieks must mean that these shoes are pretty awesome. They remain to be some of the most comfortable flats I've worn, and some of the only flats I'll wear for a full day of being on my feet.

What are the other pairs of flats I'll wear to stand/walk all day, you ask?


As of today, I'm partial to the black crochet glitter pairwhite silver leather scales, and rose gold sequins, but you can't go wrong with a classic, plain pair. While they don't exactly scream "professional," no one can deny how comfortable they are!

Butterfly Twists

This is the actual leopard print pair of foldable flats I ended up purchasing, and they've been great. I've worn them quite often over the course of the past year, and they still look brand new. {Of course, Nordstrom -- where I purchase mine -- has customer service that can't be beat, so that helps a lot, too!} I actually own a pair of their fold-up rain boots, too, and I loooove them.

Miz Mooz

Their Bindi flat is the one I keep coming back to. I currently own the tan and coral-red pairs, and they are crazy-comfortable! I'm currently debating on whether or not I should buy the black version of these shoes, too... I mean, I already have black matte Tieks, but the Miz Mooz Bindi flats have a pointed toe, which I think somehow looks dressier than round-toe ballet flats. Still working on the logistics as to how I can sneak these into the house without my husband putting me on shoe-buying lockdown. :)

Time for you to weigh in! What are your thoughts/experience with Tieks? What brand of shoes do you recommend to fellow teachers?

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Note: Affiliate links were used for the Toms, Butterfly Twists, and Miz Mooz links, which means I get a few cents if you decide to buy after clicking on the links I provided. I tried to provide enough detail in the text of the post so that you could conduct your own search and find the shoes I was talking about on your own if you decided not to use my links. If you do click on my links, my family and I appropriate the few extra cents! 

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Answer Garden for Quick, Paperless, BYOD Assessments

Answer Garden advertises itself as the "minimal tool for maximum feedback," and I have to agree. It's super-quick and easy to use with even elementary age students. You can use it on any device with a browser, and they recently launched a free iOS app.

The Summary
Pose a question and give others the link. Participants can type in short answers that appear in a word cloud. The more times an answer is submitted, the bigger the word or phrase appears in the cloud.

  1. Brainstorming
  2. Voting
  3. Discussions
  4. Finding Common Ground/Getting-to-Know-You at the beginning of school

The How-To
1. Go to the home page, scroll down, and click "create an answer garden" or the + sign in the top, right corner.

Notice there is no account registration required! :)

2. Enter a question or prompt into the topic area.

If you don't want to do anything else, just scroll and click the "create" button at the very bottom of the page:

If you'd like to have a little bit more control, though, you have that option, too.

Change the mode
  • Brainstorm: the audience can enter an unlimited number of answers, including unlimited copies of the same answer
  • Classroom: the audience can enter an unlimited number of answers, but they can enter each answer only once
  • Moderator: you have to manually approve each answer before it is added to the Answer Garden
  • Locked: the Answer Garden is closed and no new comments can be submitted
Personally, I use the brainstorm mode if students are sharing devices and the classroom mode if we're 1:1.

Change the answer length:
Choose if your audience can submit answers 20 characters in length or 40. 

Password and Reminder E-mail
Personally, I utilize these options because I want the ability to delete unwanted answers, but it's definitely not a requirement. I do recommend, however, unchecking the newsletter box if you choose to have your password and link e-mailed to you.

Spam filter and network detection
I have no idea what Answer Garden deems as a "common, unwanted answer," so I've never used this feature.  

3. Share the link.  The actual URL is fairly short {for instance, the Answer Garden I just created has this URL:}, so students can just type it into their browser. {You can also use Google Tone to send the URL to student computers.} Answer Garden provides other ways to share the link, though:

Scroll down on the actual Answer Garden to see the share buttons.

Click the QR button to generate a large QR code that you can display on your Promethean for the audience to scan {I always had to turn the classroom lights off or else there wasn't enough contrast for students to scan from their seats}. 

The "share" button allows you to share on a variety of social media sites or embed your Answer Garden into another webpage. When embedding, you have two options. You can either embed the entire Answer Garden, like this:

<center> <iframe src="" width="640px" height="400px" style="border: none;" scrolling="no" frameborder="0" title="AnswerGarden" allowTransparency="true"><p><a href="">Go to AnswerGarden</a></p></iframe> </center>

or just embed a "microgarden" that only shows the answer box -- like a blind poll. That looks like this:

 <center> <iframe src="" width="303px" height="200px" style="border: none;" scrolling="no" frameborder="0" title="MicroGarden by AnswerGarden" allowTransparency="true"><p><a href="">Go to Answergarden</a></p></iframe> </center>

If you have a classroom website that students are used to accessing, the embed feature would be a really quick way for students to access your Answer Garden. 

Teacher Tricks
  • New answers do not automatically appear in the Answer Garden; refresh the page periodically to see new answers. 
  • Get an inappropriate answer? Walk the room. When someone posts something, the answer is underlined on their device. Find the person with the device that has the underlined inappropriate-ness, and you've found the culprit. {Mentioning this up front is a great deterrent!}

Ideas for Use

  1. Back to school getting-to-know-you project: everyone post 5 adjectives that describe themselves or their summer. 
  2. Back to school getting-to-know-you game: the teacher poses a question (ex. "Do you prefer fiction or nonfiction?"), and the students have to type in their answer. The answer that grows the biggest on the screen is the most popular. 
  3. Back to school learning styles group quiz: the teacher can pose questions (ex. "Would you rather show your learning with a song or a play?" ... "Do you like numbers or words more?"), and the students type their answer. If you keep it pretty simple, you'll get an idea about what the class as a whole likes the most, and you can design your curriculum around it. 
  4. Quick, anonymous poll: quickly assess if the majority of the class "gets" the concept before moving on to the next part of your lesson. It's anonymous to all the students, although you can walk the room and look at student devices to see how everyone answered. 
  5. Short discussion: ask or post discussion questions to a novel or topic you're studying and let students weigh in. 
  6. Exit ticket question {save the URL so you can review student answers later}
  7. "What other questions do you have about this topic?" 
  8. "What's one thing you're confused about in this lesson?"
  9. Ask for examples to illustrate student knowledge on a topic {Learning about the elements of literature? Ask students to submit examples similes, metaphors, onomatopoeia, etc. Learning about polygons or supply and demand? Ask students to submit real-life examples. Reviewing the scientific method? Ask students for examples of when they could use this concept in their life}.
  10. Get answers quickly to create a class graph. {ex. Students can post how many siblings they have. Once the page is refreshed, hover over the answers to see how many times each was entered. Then create a class graph with the data.}
  11. Vote. Need to decide on the class reward, fundraising idea, or class pet name? Use Answer Garden!

How would you use Answer Garden {or would you use it at all}? What other BYOD tools do you use?

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Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Collecting Back to School Information {Without Paper}

As much as I'd like to push this fact to the back of my mind and forget it, I can't: it's mid-July, and back-to-school events are right around the corner. With that comes the gathering of all kinds of information about your new students. Here are some helpful hints about how to collect information in a paperless way.


I've written before about a free service called Remind; click here for more information. I highly recommend inviting parents to join your Remind class during a back-to-school meeting because you can clear any confusion immediately and make sure everyone is signed up before they leave!

Now you can use Remind's "stamp" feature to conduct polls or get feedback on your announcements. Not only would this be super-handy for collecting information at a back-to-school meeting, but it would be an extra incentive for parents to sign up for the service since they can't participate in the poll if they're not connected to your channel! Keep in mind that recipients are only able to send stamps from the app -- not from the web or through text messaging. {The Remind app is available in both the App Store and the Google Play store.} The stamp feature is applied automatically to all announcements, so there is no extra work on the teachers' side.

There are 4 different stamps. Typically, the = the recipient acknowledging the message, the  = "yes," the  = "no," and the ? is self-explanatory. :) However, you can easily conduct quick polls of your own by giving new meaning to each symbol. Here's an example of using Remind to ask parents how their child will go home:

I sent a message to my "test" class, asking how each student would get home this year. If I'd been thinking clearly when I did it, I would've just copied and pasted the actual icons into the message to save myself a few characters. :)

A parents' view from the app: he/she gets the announcement you just sent 

A parents' view from the app: he/she clicks the star in the bottom, right corner to reveal the stamp options

If the announcement was sent to the entire class, parents can see an overall tally of each stamp (so they could see that you received 10 stars, 3 checks, and 5 X marks), but they don't get to see how each person answered.

As the teacher, though, you can see who answered and how they answered:
A teacher's view from the web: I can see the name of the person associated with the account and how they voted {in the picture above, "C TestParent" voted with an "X."}

Click here to read more about the stamp feature on the Remind website.

Ideas to Ask Parents at Back-to-School Meetings:

  1. Travel: How will your child normally go home this year?  = bus,  = walking/biking,  = picked up in car/truck or by daycare
  2. Internet: Do you have internet access at home?  = yes,  = no
  3. BYODCan your child bring his/her mobile device to school for academic purposes?  = yes,  = no
  4. Contact: How do you prefer to be contacted:  = phone,  = e-mail
  5. News: How do you prefer to learn about classroom news:  = blog/website,  = social media,  = e-mail, ? = printed paper
  6. Tutoring: Will your student attend my tutoring club on Tues and Thurs from 3:00-3:30?  = yes,  = no

Ideas to Ask Students at Back-to-School Meetings or the first week of school:

  1. Feelings pollHow do you feel about being in this new grade level?  = excited,  = happy,  = nervous or scared, ? = not sure or combination of these
  2. Multiple choice pop quiz to assess prior knowledge: 45 - 12 = ...  = 57,  = 33,  = 35, ? = 24
  3. Getting-to-know-you: Have you ever been to the beach?  = yes,  = no; Did you read a book this summer?  = yes,  = no; Coke or Pepsi?  = Coke,  = Pepsi
  4. Anticipatory set: What's your favorite genre out of these?  = non-fiction,  = realistic fiction,  = sci-fi or fantasy, ? = historical fiction

Google Forms

I heart Google forms! Forms are so easy to set up, all information is stored in the cloud so you can never lose it, and all entries are organized into a nice little spreadsheet that you can sort however you wish. This is perfect for collecting a lot of information, since you can ask an unlimited number of questions and receive answers in many different formats {typed/free text, multiple choice, checkboxes, scale, etc.}. Here's a blog post about utilizing Google Forms in the classroom.

Extra tip: Put the link to your Google Form in a QR code, and post the QR code by your door. Parents can scan it during meet the teacher hour or back-to-school meetings and quickly provide you with all the information you need.

Sign Up Genius {Or Volunteer Spot}

Need help in your classroom? Want to schedule Mystery Readers? Need to know who is helping with the class store on shopping days? Organize volunteers the easy way by using Sign Up Genius. It's super-easy to use; just write down the days and times you need help and send the link to parents or post it on your classroom website/blog/e-mail signature. Here's a post I wrote in January about Sign-Up Genius.

What are your thoughts on collecting parent information digitally?

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