“Technology is just a tool. In terms of getting the kids working together and motivating them, the teacher is most important.” —Bill Gates

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

3 Tips for YouTube Safety

Did you know YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world? Yes, coming right after Google. YouTube is a very powerful tool that is used extensively by all of us when we need to learn about something on our own. This is the type of learning that is called "just-in-time" as opposed to "just-in-case". You know it will be available exactly when you need it.

Millions of videos have been uploaded to YouTube and many more are added daily. With all this content, it is probable that you will eventually run into inappropriate content. So, here are 3 simple tips to make your experience with YouTube a safer one when it comes to sharing videos with students:

1. Search for videos in trustworthy sites
Instead of performing a regular search, try one of these video sources that focus on education.

2. "Clean up" the video before sharing or posting
These tools will eliminate ads, surrounding videos, suggested videos at the end, and crop the time by generating a new link that you can then share or post.

3. Turn Restricted Mode On.
At the bottom of any YouTube page, you'll find the Restricted Mode button. Turn it on to enable the filter that will hide videos that contain inappropriate content that have been flagged by the users. If you're logged in, you can also lock this change.


Saturday, November 21, 2015

Communicating and Collaborating Through Skype

If you are thinking of ways to transform your classes, then consider the possibility of communicating and collaborating beyond your classroom walls. A great resource that can help you accomplish this goal is Skype in the Classroom. You'll find hundreds of lessons already created that you can participate in. Choose by subject area, age group, country, etc. Don't find what you're looking for? No problem. Create your own content. That's what first grade teachers did this year. 

First grade teachers Ms. Mireya Almaguer and Ms. Claudia Martinez were looking for an opportunity to interact with classes from other parts of the world. Early in the start of the school year, first grade focuses on the Mapping Unit. In it they learn about such topics as directions, the compass rose, legend, and locating parts of a map. A project they work on is creating the map of what would be the students' ideal classroom or school. At this time, they were looking for partnerships to transform it into a PBL activity and work collaboratively with other classrooms from around the world and learn what other classrooms and schools look like and what students enjoy. Inspired by the children's book, "A Fine, Fine School" by Sharon Creech, they created a lesson called "A Fine, Fine School: Mapping an Ideal Classroom or School". 

Shortly after it was posted, the responses started to come in. Several teachers were interested in this project. Eventually, Ms. Mireya and Ms. Claudia joined forces and contacted Ms. Christine Reischling, a first grade teacher from Ross School in San Francisco, California.

After several conversations, the teachers agreed on a date to have the classes meet each other. What an exciting experience! Both parties prepared questions to ask each other.  Watch this video to see parts of the Skype session.

The students learned about differences and similarities between both schools. ASFM students had gathered more information about what makes an ideal school and were ready to design their final project. Swipe through the slideshow to see the final projects for each of the first grade classrooms.

With the Holiday Season just around the corner, you might be interested in global projects that focus on Christmas as the topic for discussion. Here are a few that are currently open:


Sunday, November 8, 2015

Students Use Technology to Capture Their Learning

We never stop learning and students at our school are no exception! Students have embraced technology as a way to assist them in their learning. With the use of various devices, kids are able to capture their learning and gather feedback that will drive their learning. 

Take a look at a few examples through these very short videos:

Grade 5 Class
Mr. Marco Trujillo's 5th grade class took a trip into the Huasteca Canyon to meet face-to-face the forces of nature that have shaped our land. They took along iPods and recorded what they saw.

Spanish Class
Ms. Gaby de la Garza and her first grade students took advantage of the shared iPads to record themselves reading Spanish books that they later listened to again.

Music Class
Ms. Misty Flores and Mr. Ryan Branta encourage students to record their practice and check on their progress.

Kinder Class
Ms. Magda Arechavaleta and Ms. Miriam Campas incorporated iPods when they took their group on a Nature Walk around the school to collect items, both physical and digital.

Movement Class
Ms. Vero Martinez and Ms. Graciela Livas placed iPods in the tiny hands of preschool kids. They recorded each other's movements and after watching the video they reflected on their performance.

Like these, we can find numerous other instances around the school that demonstrate how technology has become second nature to students and how kids are constructing their learning.


(This blog post was also published in ASFM Learns)

Monday, October 19, 2015

iPods on a Field Trip

Hi! A couple of weeks ago, the grade 5 students set out to what promised to be an exciting field trip. Very nearby the school is a gorgeous canyon. With the guidance of an expert explorer and a young geologist, each of the grade 5 groups took turns to go deep into the canyon. I was lucky to be asked to accompany one of these groups and their teacher. So, here's my story.

It turns out that we were the first ones to take the trip. I had no idea of what to expect. I carried my water bottle, a light lunch, my iPhone, sunglasses, and a cap. So did the kids. They were so excited! The ride getting there was really fun, but what they were about to see I think blew everyone's mind even more.

Fifth graders had been studying the Changing Earth unit. They had learned about plate tectonics, erosion, deposition, earthquakes, etc. Imagine being able to witness the forces of nature first hand. Imagine being able to see where plates have collided; where layers of earth have emerged; how erosion and deposition have changed the land; or see and feel the land that used to be under water! Not only that, they even had a geologist offer them a scientific explanation and solve any questions they might have. It was around a 30 minute ride, but it really seemed like we had traveled back in time.

Hey! It wasn't all fun and adventure. The students had work to do too. In their backpacks they carried a worksheet and a pencil. As soon as they started to complete it,  they quickly make connections between what they were experiencing there and what they had learned in the classroom. They made drawings of course, but how would students be able to capture all this beauty? Yes, you guessed it, with iPods!

At school we have a cart with a class set of iPods. Not many teachers like to book them. You know, the screen is too small, they are getting old and they can't be updated anymore. However, this was the perfect opportunity to make purposeful use of such fine equipment. They're just the right size. They could be carried in each of the student's backpack, together with their notebook and supplies, and they could be held safely in their hands.

After a couple of hours, it was time to head back to school. It turned out to be a fascinating experience after all. I even learned a thing or two. Above all, I just love how the students were able to embed technology into their learning and make the most out of this amazing trip into nature!


Saturday, October 3, 2015

Kids Learn to Code

Having a computer science background myself might explain why I always get so excited when it comes to coding. In my good old days, I learned to program in computer languages such as COBOL, Fortran, Basic, Pascal, 6502 Assembler, and Logo. Each problem I was faced with represented a new programming challenge. Bring it on! Well, many years have passed since then and throughout them I became more involved with education, which is why I appreciate even more how programming (or coding as it is commonly known now) can benefit children. Knowing that coding can develop important lifelong skills in children makes me even more excited! Imagine being able to develop critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, logic, abstract thinking, design, experimentation, and algorithmic thinking, in a fun, play-like way.

What is coding?
Computer applications and games, Apps, websites, etc., have all been developed through coding. In short, coding is putting together instructions (or commands) to tell the computer or device what to do. For instance, this picture shows a snippet of the code that powers a Google Search web page. You don’t have to be a computer geek in order to code. There are much simpler ways, like what kids at school are doing.

Coding in Elementary
The Hour of Code was launched in 2013 with the goal to promote Computer Science in schools. In its first year, ASFM students participated during their technology class of the week. This meant only students in grades Kinder to 5th were able to participate. In the 2014 edition, the Tech Integration team went a step further and included students as young as Nursery and PreKinder, through the unplugged version of coding. Additionally, we invited all teachers to participate individually.

In Nursery, Pre-Kinder, and Kinder we decided to run an unplugged activity, in which no computer or device was needed. The goal was to practice very basic programming commands, such Forward, Back, Left turn and Right turn. We worked with arrows only. We introduced the concept of coding by making an analogy between how an author is the person that writes books and a programmer is the person that creates computer games. Their task was to become the “programmer” of a “robot”. After modeling how the robot was programmed, it was the child’s turn to pretend being a robot and a programmer. They just loved it!

FIrst and second grade students experienced coding with Tynker (http://www.tynker.com). A website that is just right for kids their age in which they learn how to create games.

Third, fourth, and fifth grade students spent the hour practicing the recommended coding sites from the Hour of Code web site. When finished with all the expected levels, they received a certificate from Code.org.

Teachers were also encouraged to participate by doing the “Hour of Code Challenge”, a special in-house challenge just for teachers. All teachers that engaged in at least one hour of coding entered a raffle for a chance to win one of three custom made trophies.

Apart from the Hour of Code week, all year round, elementary students continue to learn to code. Kinder and Prekinder students enjoy working with special iPad apps that develop coding skills, such as Bee-Bot and Daisy Dinosaur.

Students in grades 3-5 work with Scratch, an online and computer based application in which children use block programming to create stories, games, and animations.

As an end of unit Tech Class project, grade 5 students working in small groups created their own computer games. They did an amazing job and the games turned out to be so fun and creative! These are snapshots of some of the games they designed using Scratch.

Why coding?
As you can see, computer programming has come a long way. Programming is not only exclusive for the computer geeks, but is available to everyone now. I believe that if children in their early years are given the opportunity to learn to code and program, they can develop thinking skills that could help them grasp difficult concepts or procedures in their future. Learning to code is one more step in becoming digitally literate. Imagine if this knowledge could help you become more efficient and effective by turning your computer into a much more powerful tool!

Recommended Sites

Recommended iPad Apps


Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Looking for a Better Way


In my previous blog post I wrote about my recent use of scripts and add-ons. I was thrilled to have found a way to make my work more efficient and effective. Shortly after, I was faced with a new challenge: How could we send approximately 170 emails (each one containing unique information, such as parent emails, usernames, and passwords) for each one of the second grade students?

In the past, I must confess, I composed one by one, each of the emails. But this time, I was determined to find a better way of doing this. I had a feeling that an add-on would do the trick. I had time to explore beyond the two tools I had just discovered, and that's when I came across formMule.

It didn't take long to figure out how to apply this tool to my personal needs. formMule is a free add-on for Sheets created by NewVisions CloudLab.

I had a Google Sheet already filled out that contained all the information I needed. I opened formMule and with very little configuration we were able to send off 170 emails with one click! Believe me, the time invested searching for the add-on and learning how to use it is just a tiny fraction of how long it would have taken to send one email at a time.

 I have learned that you have two options to apply formMule: On an already filled out spreadsheet, like I did, or triggered by responses coming in from a Google Form.

Yes! I know what you're thinking. This could have solved my previous problem about wanting to send confirmation emails when parents signed up in an even easier way.


Sunday, September 6, 2015

Discovering Add-ons & Scripts


It's back-to-school time. I hope your school year is off to a good start. As for me, it's been a very busy season. I can tell you that, amongst many other events, two major situations take place each year at my school: Open House and New Google Apps accounts.

What's so special about these two? They both require a great deal of prepping and tech assistance. For instance, during Open House, the Tech Integration Team takes advantage that all the parents are present to have them register for tech orientation sessions.

A couple of years ago, we'd lay out long sheets of lined paper, one for each different session, with a limited amount of lines. In the next years, we decided to take it a step further and created a Google Form. We had laptops available during each of the Open House nights and asked parents to register electronically to a tech session. While parents were submitting forms, I'd be in the background, checking numbers against the capacity we had for each of the sessions. I felt pretty techie as I had incorporated automatic counters and cell coloring into the Google Sheets to visually notify me when a session was full.

However, this time around, I thought to myself, "There has to be a more efficient and effective way!" Here's what I found. I'm sure there is even a better way, but I am quite satisfied with the solution I came up with. I created the regular form, but this time, I found a Google Form Add-On (Choice Eliminator) and a Google Sheets Script (Email Confirmation) that did just what I needed.

With the Choice Eliminator Add-on, I was able to cap each of the sessions. The filled-up time would be eliminated automatically. Awesome! No more counting or coloring in real-time. Choice Eliminator did the job for me. Thank you!

Now, if only I could send a confirmation email to each of the parents that signed up? That's when I came across, through a regular Google search, with the Email Confirmation script. It worked like a gem! With a little extra coding and customizing, it was good to go. Wow! This saved me hours of work. Thanks to you too!

I continue to explore Add-ons and have found out another very useful one. In my next post I'll reflect on how technology helped improve another tedious situation with the help of a Google Sheets add-on.

Do you have any experience with add-ons or scripts that have saved your day? I'd love to hear about it. Please write a comment and share with us.


Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Blended Learning Chat


Last night I had the opportunity to host the #MexEdChat on Twitter. This time we were talking about "Blended Learning". I was not alone. My buddy Doug Frankish co-hosted with me. I have built a Storify archive of the conversation. Take a look. You'll find a lot of great resources, recommendations, and great people to follow!

Tune in every other Monday at 9:00pm CST for a new #MexEdChat discussion. It's an awesome bilingual chat, in both English and Spanish, hosted by Google Educators. This group is out for the summer, but will be back in August with more chats. Follow the hashtag and stay tuned!


Saturday, May 30, 2015

Hooray for Haiku Learning!

Hi! A couple of blog posts ago, I talked about the process my school was going through in looking for a new LMS that would be suitable for all grade levels Nursery-12th. At that time, we were moving into phase 2 ready to test the two LMS finalists: Haiku Learning and Schoology.

Fortunately, for this round, the testing group grew. We had new teachers join us, in addition to giving all the school administrators access to the platforms. All the different stakeholders were well represented.

During the final days of phase 2, all pilot teachers were asked to submit a scored rubric evaluation of the LMS they each tested. Surveys were sent to parents and students. On a 5 point scale, Haiku Learning scored a whopping 4.66, compared to 3.33 for Schoology.

During the last pilot group meeting, each LMS pilot leader had the opportunity to speak about the Pros and Cons of their system. Feedback collected from teachers, students, and parents was shared.

Then, it was time to vote.

It was unanimous – everyone voted in favor of Haiku Learning!

ASFM is now preparing for the transition and will start the new school year with everyone on board. I am confident that Haiku Learning is a good choice and will very much support the Blended Learning environment that we strive to develop for the years to come.


Friday, May 22, 2015

Understanding Blended Learning through Design Thinking

The school year might be almost over, but at ASFM the learning just keeps on going!

As a way to socialize the concept of blended learning, teachers spent the last PD afternoon learning more about this educational model. The elementary staff was divided into 3 major groups. With the purpose to introduce an innovative approach to problem solving, each group went through the phases of the Design Thinking process.

1- Discovery
The advent of a new school wide LMS for the next school year comes along with other transformations in school. Challenge: How can we redesign the Blended Learning experience at ASFM?

2- Interpretation
Now it's time to gain empathy. Teachers paired up and took turns interviewing each other. How much of your teaching is f2f and how much is it online? How have you modified student learning? Focus question: What is your experience with blended learning, from a teacher's perspective?

3- Ideation
During the Interpretation phase, teachers were told to write down key words they heard from the interview. Using those words, the teachers' next task was to create as many vision statement prototypes as they could in a 2 minute time frame. They are asked to focus on quantity over quality. Take risks, it's all right to write down what may seem to you as a silly idea.

4- Experimentation
The next task was, in 5 minutes, to go with 3 different teachers, show them the prototypes and gather feedback. Remember: feedback should be kind, useful, and specific. Teachers can make comments, mark which is their favorite one, or suggest improvements. Once the teacher has collected this information, he/she will have 3 more minutes to modify his vision statement. Each teacher wrote down their final slogan. Through a voting process, one of the slogans was selected per group.

5- Evolution
Next steps: ASFM has yet to adopt a school wide vision statement that captures the transformation that will take place. The change has already started. ASFM is embracing the BL model and is off to a good start!


Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Online Safety Chat


We just concluded an amazing #ADEchat (Apple Distinguished Educator) on Twitter. So many amazing educators participated and offered a tremendous amount of resources. I have created a Storify of the complete conversation so you can take a look at it and "beg, borrow, or steal" any ideas, recommendations or resources you like.

Tune in every Tuesday at 8:00pm CST for a new #ADEchat. Topics are always relevant and interesting.




Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Exploring New LMSs

Greetings all!

This school year we have been revising the tools used at our school. One very important tool is our Learning Management System (LMS). We currently have a large number of LMSs being used. Three of them are used more consistently: SchoolWorld (N-2), Edmodo (3-5), and EDU2.0 (6-12). The task to find one sole LMS that would accommodate to the needs of N-12 began around October.

After thorough research performed by the LMS task force, four LMSs were up for testing: SchoologyHaiku LearningCanvas, and NEO. Four groups of volunteering teachers were formed, one each to pilot each different LMS. Once the phase 1 deadline was met, we all met to discuss any feedback regarding each of the LMSs we had tested. After casting our votes, the choices were narrowed down to two. We are now beginning the second phase of the piloting program, testing the finalists: Schoology and Haiku Learning.

I have been fortunate to be personally involved with these two LMSs as the pilot group leader. It has not been as easy task. The pilot teachers already have a full plate, and on top of that they graciously accepted to modify their lessons and pilot at least two full unit plans through the LMS, not to mention learn a whole new tool.

I'm sad to leave Edmodo behind. I started using this LMS in my own Technology classes and later encouraged the school to adopt it for grades 3-5. I realize that the change is needed to better serve the whole school community and am happy to move on.

One of the pilot teachers I'm working with is Emily, a second grade teacher. They have been using SchoolWorld as a communication tool to convey important information and events to parents and students. She started testing Schoology. The students had not interacted with an LMS before. This was their first time. I have to say, Emily was at a point in which she wanted to quit from the program due to several difficulties she was encountering. 

I can imagine the frustration. First of all, the students were logging in to a different web address, thus making the log in a long and difficult process. Second, she could not find a way to accomplish a very specific activity she had in mind. She was covering the poetry unit and wanted the students to video record themselves reading a poem and then be able to provide comments to each other.

I visited her classroom during the time of the activity and helped out. Magic happened! Everything worked out as planned! Emily was so happy to see how the students were engaged and interacting with each other. This took the class to a whole new level of collaboration that previously was not possible! Here are some pictures that show what happened that day.


I am very happy that Emily got a breakthrough and is now eagerly working with her students on phase 2, now with Haiku Learning. I'll report the final results in a later post.


Sunday, March 15, 2015

Live Curious, Go Beyond 2015

What do you do if suddenly at school you are granted (almost) one full day for professional development? You run a conference! That's what happened to us. 

These were exciting times for the Tech Integration Team. Just a few weeks ago, on February 20th, ASFM offered its first in-house conference. The name of the conference was inspired by the TI Team's belief statement: Live Curious, Go Beyond _______. (You fill in the blank.)

With only a month to get ready, we were faced with an enormous challenge. A great deal of planning and organization took place. All the details could easily be taken care of, but, who would run the sessions? We sent out a call for presenters form. Fortunately, we can always count on the amazing group of digital teachers. ALL of them jumped right on and registered as presenters. Even a few other teachers participated too. 


  • Presenters - 32
  • Attendees - 225
  • Sessions - 32
  • Learning talks - 6

For all the details, visit the Live Curious, Go Beyond web site. Follow the hashtags #asfmtech, #livecuriousgobeyond for snippets of the conference too.

Each of the sessions focused on one of the six strands, that stemmed from the Ed Tech Challenge.

  • Collaboration Tools
  • Learning Management Systems
  • Personal Learning Networks
  • Formative Response Tools
  • Open Educational Resources
  • Electronic Portfolios

One week prior to the conference, all ASFM teachers responded to the Ed Tech Challenge self-reflection survey, customized to our school and named ASFM Tech Challenge. Teachers reflected on what were their personal needs and this guided their decisions as to which sessions to attend.

Organizing a conference proved to be a huge challenge, but it also turned out to be a huge success. We are already looking forward to next year's and hopefully we will be able to open it up to external participants. We'll see!


Friday, January 16, 2015

Minuto Edutec

Hello everyone,

At this time I would like to direct this post to all the Spanish speaking community. My friend Marybell Rodriguez and I will start an online program called "Minuto Edutec".

Minuto Edutec will offer weekly tips on how to use technology in your classroom. In 2 or 3 minutes you will see recommendations on how to integrate technology, how to promote a positive digital life, and other related topics. Each Friday we'll publish a new tip.

Our goal is to share content in Spanish for teachers that are interested in integrating technology into their classrooms. By doing this, we hope teachers can generate meaningful experiences for their students.

We start Friday, January 23, 2015. 

Don't miss it! Every Friday!

Follow us:
Twitter @MinutoEdutec

Heres' the video we created that explains better what our project is about.


Thursday, January 8, 2015

Hour of Code 2014

Hi! Wishing everyone the best for this new year!

Just a few weeks ago all around the world we celebrated the Hour of Code. Remember? A lot of preparation took place at my school to ensure that all our students participated during that week.

How was everyone involved?

Students in grades 1-5 spent their regularly scheduled technology class time learning to code through various activities available on the Hour of Code site. I am very thankful with the Tech teachers who were kind enough to give up a whole week of classes that would allow all students to participate. (This in fact works pretty well!) As for the teachers, they were invited to accompany their class and learn together basic coding skills.

Students in grades N-K participated in an unplugged activity. Nursery students don't even have a tech class. The other grade levels were on week B and did not have tech class at that time. Therefore, we came up with a plan to visit these classrooms and have the students pretend to program a robot.

First we explained that we were in their classroom to talk about the Hour of Code. We gave them a simple explanation that children all around the world were spending time to learn about how computers and applications worked. We made the analogy of author-book with programmer-application. It was perfect because they had just learned about authors!

We started by modeling how to follow instructions (act like a robot) and how to give the instructions (program the robot). We only used a couple of commands, the up arrow=forward, down arrow=backwards, left-turn arrow, and right-turn arrow.

Afterwards, we invited one student to program the robot. Once we thought they had understood the mechanics of the activity, we invited two students, one to become the robot and one to become the programmer. This went on several times. Finally, we asked the kids to challenge the robot: Make the robot perform a job! Now the students needed to have an end in mind and be more purposeful when giving the instructions. They could make the robot perform a simple task such as, "take this marker to the teacher that's on the other side of the carpet".

The students had a blast! And so did we! The time spent in each classroom was no longer than 15 minutes. Before we left, we gave each student a sticker as proof that they had participated in the Hour of Code.

I wonder how many kids are already considering being a programmer or developer when they grow up. That would be awesome!

Watch the following video for a glimpse of what happened that week in one of the groups.