Mystery Skype

“It is the dim haze of mystery that adds enchantment to pursuit.” By Antoine Rivarol

Guest Blog Post by Megan Mehta

We were a few weeks away from a unit centered on the 5 Themes of Geography, and my options were looking like either a) pull the info from the textbook, or b) do something the kids would be excited about.  So I started doing some research and some thinking and this is what I came up with:

We would still use the 5 Themes framework, but I wanted them to branch out beyond the borders of North Carolina.  I also wanted them to work collaboratively while sustaining interest in a project that was going to span a few weeks. I began with a regional map of the United States:


I split up the kids and let them choose their regions.  Each and every group was excited about their region because someone had some connection to a state, so we were off to a great start!  The next step was to figure out a way to organize our information.  We are a BYOD school, but not all of my kids have devices, so we discussed ways to keep track of our learning and research and decided on a common graphic organizer:


Hey! That’s only 4 themes! I decided to omit the “movement” theme for the purpose of this unit, as we will be learning about it later in the year.  Anyway, we discussed the themes as they related to Charlotte, North Carolina, and began with Location.  They immediately realized that finding the absolute location of their region was going to be tricky. One group’s solution was to do it just for the capital cities in their respective states; the other groups declared them geniuses, and everyone was happy with the solution. For relative location, some groups chose to describe it for the capital cities, some chose to focus on the region itself.

We went through each of the remaining themes like this: I modeled, they applied. I assessed them with a simple rubric of 3 (mastered), 2 (partially mastered) and 1 (not mastered), and provided support where needed. I expected to be tearing around the room with my hair on fire, but the kids were really into this and did an amazing job of working collaboratively.

We finished our graphic organizers (this took about 4-5 class periods of 45 minutes each) and I was (fairly) confident we were ready to set up our first Mystery Skype. I found a list of jobs and tweaked it to meet our class needs. What we ended up with was this:

1 note taker (records the clues on paper)

2 tweeters (to live tweet the event, of course!)

3 moderators (the faces of our class– asked the questions from the inquirers and relayed answers to the mappers)

4 state experts (answered the questions from the other class)

3 inquirers (asked questions based on the mappers’ notes)

4 mappers (used maps of the U. S. and Google Earth to narrow down the other class’ location)

2 photographers (used iPads to document the experience)

For the first call, I assigned the jobs but in subsequent ones, I have had them pull them out of a hat (a fancy word for “quart-sized storage bag”) and given the option to trade.

To set up the call, I turned to the Great and Powerful Twitter. Within hours, we had three classes wanting to connect. I learned quickly that scheduling can be a challenge with our regimented days, but with some creative rearranging we managed to find a time to connect with a class in Iowa. I told them from the get-go that we were completely new to this in case we breached some Mystery Skype protocol or etiquette that we were unaware of. We took our cues from them and we were off and running! Their first question asked us if we were in the U.S. and where we were in relation to the Mississippi River. It took all I had to restrain myself and let the kids figure out the strategy! I’d like to say that everyone stuck to their job and their assigned classroom area the whole time and everything went perfectly… However… we had sound issues which made it all much more difficult than it should have been. We couldn’t get skype to work on our desktop, so we were using an iPad. The speakers I had weren’t working, so the only audio we had were the tiny sounds coming from the iPad speakers. In a room full of excited 8 year olds, this is not ideal. At one point, I was leaning in to the speaker to listen, not realizing my face was right in the camera. Not exactly the big screen debut I was hoping for, and I’m pretty sure I reappeared in a subsequent nightmare or two because that was one intense close-up. Also, the kids were SO excited that they were (of course) all over the room, talking over each other, doing each other’s jobs, and often doing everything but paying attention to the clues. BUT, we made it! After 45 minutes, they had guessed our location and we figured out theirs (with a little help).

In all, it was and continues to be an amazing learning experience for these kids. They are learning so much about U. S. geography, and thrilled about connecting with other kids across the country. We will definitely continue this throughout the year! If you are looking to connect with us, our Twitter handle is @MehtasBESpandas.

**Update! This process has evolved throughout the year, and I’m sure it will continue to do so next year. I’ve since added the job of “back channellers” where we set up a room on and ask questions about how many kids they have in their school or class, what their school mascot is, etc. We also use Google maps to find out how long it would take us to travel to their school by car. Something we may do next year is come up with a short bio about us and the Charlotte area to use as a wrap up or conversation starter once the locations have been correctly identified. We also need to talk about time zones and the 13 original colonies– both those questions came up a few times and stymied our state experts. I’ve also learned that guessing the state is the easy part– guessing the town or city is really tough! I think the biggest take-away I have from doing these this year are how quickly my kids took over and rocked it out. There was a lot of initial coaching, but by the end of the year, THEY were the ones taking the lead, keeping each other in check, critically thinking, and collaborating. And no one will ever be able to say one of our Pandas can’t find xyz on a map of the U.S.!

Using Kodable App in the Classroom

“I can’t live without my smartphone, but I really geek on coding. It’s not so much technology that I like, but puzzle solving.” Sylvia Day


Last week I was lucky to meet the creators of KodableGrechen and Jon. Kodable is an amazing app that teaches programming to students K-2nd. It allows students to have an interactive learning experience using a gamification approach. That app will soon also have curriculum to help educators including lesson plans, vocabulary and activities. Jon and Grechen are also working on a web and android version which will be great for BYOT schools.

Kodable uses a scaffolding technique helping the students learn the positional arrows by dragging and dropping. Using key programing skills such as if – then statements the students steer a ‘fuzz’ character through a sequence of mazes. The students also earn coins and level up as incentives. Kodable connects with the Common Core curriculum. Here are just a few standards it meets: W.1.7, L.1.6, Math Mathematical Practices along with the many of the Anchor Standards.


You can have multiple players allowing you to differentiate and lets the students work at their own pace. The level ‘Bugs Below’ is a fabulous feature letting the students learn to de-bug; acknowledging problem codes and using critical thinking skills to work out how to fix them. You can take it a step further in the classroom by having the students blog on HOW they solved the problem.

Meet the Fuzz Family

Other articles and blog posts about Kodable:

Kodable Teaches Kids To Code Before They Learn To Read

Kodable: the First Step in Coding

Kodable: Engage Their Minds

Kodable: Gets Kids Thinking About Logic and More 

Katching up with Kodable: Bugs Below! KidTech Summit, and STEM

Using ThingLink in the Classroom

“An essential aspect of creativity is not being afraid to fail.” by Edwin Land


Thinglink was introduced to me when I was at the NC Technology in Education Society (NCTIES) Conference during a presentation by Richard Byrne (@rmbryne). I thought it was a really great FREE web tool but was disappointed it didn’t also have an app. A few weeks ago, Thinglink launched their FREE app, which I love!

What is Thinglink? Thinglink makes pictures interactive with text, video, images and links. When you click on a Thinglink image, you’ll see symbols such as red video circles and dots where it is interactive. Thinglink has endless possibilities in education. My top 3 ways of using it in education are below:

1. Student Portfolios: Teachers can use a picture of a student and through-out the year, students can add images of their work or video to show mastery of content. By doing this each quarter the teachers, students and parents can see the progress over the year. Each corner of the picture could represent each quarter/semester.

2. Assessment, Projects and Presentation: Students can create Thinglinks to show their understanding for any Common Core or Essential Standard. Teachers can have a rubric setting the expectation for what they want in the Thinglink. For example you could require, two text boxes, a link and  a video. Or you can set the expectation that the student must show mastery of a standard, and the student has a little more freedom to determine what that looks like. Having the students creating Thinglinks lets them use all their 21st century skills of critical thinking, creating, communicating and collaborating (if they work with a partner).

Ex of Assessment: The student can draw out any topic, for example the water cycle or a math problem, using the free Skitch app. The student can save it to their camera roll and then create a Thinglink demonstrating their knowledge by adding recordings, text and links explaining their thinking.

Ex of a project: The students can make book reports by taking a picture of the book cover and embedding a movie trailer that they have created for the book. Or for non-fiction the student could find a picture of the person like Steve Jobs, and they can show their understanding of the book. Click here for my example, I chose to do a favorite quote and speech.

A fabulous teacher, Lisa Maples, embedded her class Thinglink into her wiki, as an end of year project. There are  links to various digital projects that the students have created.

3. Lesson Plans and Homework: Teachers can create Thinglinks to help differentiate lessons and homework. Using any image, the teacher can add the content they want the students to know. You can even spice up graphic organizers and info-graphics.

Ex of  a Lesson Plan: The teacher can take a picture of an ecosystem and add all the vocabulary words and/or videos that can help the students learn the topic.

Ex of Homework: This is a great way to flip the classroom. You can embed videos and practice problems on a  topic and have the students complete for homework. Click here for an example using comparing fractions.

Thinglinks are easy to create on both the website and in the app. First create an account at (it is free). If you want to create a Thinglink on the app, download it, and then sign in. Using the pictures in your camera roll, chose one and then tap anywhere on the picture. Here you add the content you want such as video or text, add a title and you are done. You can share it by emailing the link from the app but it also automatically syncs; when you log into your account through the website, you can share it many more ways. If you are creating a Thinglink on the website, click on create in the top right corner and chose an image that is on your computer or for a website (make sure it is a creative commons imagine) and add your content. That is it, I love free and simple!

Any of these Thinglinks can be made into a QR code as well. You can have these posted around the room as helping aids or to inform the students. Just copy the url and paste into any QR code creator such as qrstuff or follow my directions on my blog post about making  QR code in google drive.

I would love to hear how you have used Thinglink or want to use it in your classroom, please share in the comments or on this open Thinglink I created by clicking edit and adding your idea. (To make a Thinglink where anyone can add info, click on the edit tab and set your settings to anyone.) Another great way to have students collaborate in the classroom.

Follow me on Thinglink:  Edu_Thompson. Here are some more great Thinglinks done by other educators! Click on the links to view.

Flexible Learning Paths

Web Tools and Literacy

Let’s Teach Kids to Code

Creating Games with the Tiny Tap App Based on Common Core

“Any teacher that can be replaced by a computer, deserves to be. ” By David Thornburg

Tiny Tap

Tiny Tap is an app that I came across when I was waiting to get my oil changed in my car. I was sitting next to this little girl who was in Kindergarten and she was playing on the app. I asked her to tell me about it and she was showing me all the games she could play on the app and then the game she created on the app herself. Of course I had to also test out this new app and see how I could apply it to the classroom curriculum.

Tiny Tap is s a free iPad app that allows you to create simple games based on pictures that you take, find or ones you draw. The app is very user friendly, even a Kindergarten could make a game. 🙂 It is easy for teachers to use for differentiated instruction because students can play a game that is based on their needs. Within 10 mins I made a game that connected with the Math Common Core standard K.CC.7.

Here are the steps on how to create a game:

1. Click on create a game and add the title of your game.

2. Tap on the add photo and either upload pictures, take new pictures, find picture on the web or draw a picture based on your Common Core curriculum standard you want to address.

3. To create your question press the record button and start talking.

4. When you have finished recording, select the portion of your picture that is your answer by circling it.

5. Click on done and it will appear on your shelf.

If you want to go back and edit any of the games you created, you can at any time, by clicking on the edit button in the top right corner.  There is also a TinyTap Market where you can see what other people have created, some are free and some are paid. You can also edit others games once it is downloaded into your shelf.

The best part is students who have shown mastery can make games for students that still need to practice certain curriculum skills. This allows students to use their 21st century skills by allowing them to critically think, communicate and create.

I hope you enjoy this app as much as I have!

Applying 21st Century Skills with Common Core and Trading Cards

“Critical thinking is thinking about your thinking while you’re thinking in order to make your thinking better.”  by Richard Paul

My new favorite FREE tool for the classroom, for grades 3-12, is Trading Cards; which is an iOS App and also web based  by ReadWriteThink. This tool is user-friendly  and allows students to practice 21st century skills with integration of Common Core Curriculum. The Trading Card tool gives students a choice to demonstrate their literacy knowledge by creating a trading card about a real or fictional character.

When you use this tool in the classroom, the learners apply all their 21st century skills. The students  have to….

– critically think about the information they need to write in each section. The sections have guiding questions to help the students if they need it.

– communicate the information in 120 characters or less per section.

– create the card adding a picture of the character they are describing.

– collaborate if you have the students work together.

The tool is user friendly and the creator can chose different backgrounds/designs and can also organize the cards by putting them in different collections. My favorite feature is that you can also share the cards multiple ways. One way is you can download them to your camera roll and then upload them to Edmodo or Gaggle accounts and have class discussions about the cards. Having students create cards based on characters in their books help them think about perspective in a creative way. This is also a great way for students to reflect on a biography they have read to synthesize the information.  There are a lot of lesson plans already created for grades 3-12, check them out here.

Here is the one I created on Steve Jobs on my iPad, then saved it to my camera roll.


If you have used ReadWriteThink- Trading Cards in the classroom I would love to know how; please share in the comment section.

Using Paper Slides in the Classroom

“Digital Media enables us to build more stages for our kids to express themselves.” – Marco Torres

I believe paper slides are under-rated and under-used in the classroom. Paper slides are a very simple and engaging way to have students demonstrate their knowledge in any subject area and any grade level. Paper slides also don’t require much; as you only need paper and a recording device, such as an iPad or flip camera. Another reason I love paper slide is because it is an easy way to bring in all the 21st century skills students need such as communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity.

Ideas for using paper slide that connect to Common Core or Essential Standards

1. The students can create a ‘how to’ book explaining a concept such as how to classify shapes based on properties. (5.G.4 )

2. The students can explain (pull in almost any standard) but here are examples.

– Explain how the sun’s energy impacts the processes of the water cycle (5.P.2.1)

– Explain such questions as who, what, where, when, why, and how to demonstrate understanding of key details in a text.  (RI 2.1)

– Explain how people change over time (self and others). (K.H.1.1 )

3. The students create a paper slide vocabulary book. Each slide is a different vocabulary word that has a picture visual along with the definition. (This will help the students remember the words in a fun way and you can reuse it for other students as a study guide.)

4. The students create a timeline of a historical event. (Many Social Studies objectives can be covered but one is key historical events that occurred in the local community and regions over time. 3.H.1.1)

How can you implement paper slides in your classroom?

1. Model what a paper slide should look like using a lesson you are going to teach or to show an example of a product.

2. Make sure the students write a ‘script’ that you approve before they go into ‘production’.

3. Have the students create the clip art/ pictures they are going to use for visualization.

4. Have the students practice, practice, practice before they tape.

5. Tape  and publish for others to see.

Here is an example of a paper slide explaining Revised Blooms Taxonomy (RBT):

Other Examples:

I would love to hear how you have used Paper Slides in your classroom?

5 Best Practices for BYOT in the Classroom

“Technology is nothing. What’s important is that you have a faith in people, that they’re basically good and smart, and if you give them tools, they’ll do wonderful things with them.” By Steve Jobs

I hear often, how am I going to manage 10 iPads in my classroom when I have 25 students or how am I going to manage bring your own technology/devices (BYOT/D). Here are some best practices that can help you manage the classroom with any device the students are using….

1. Model, Model, Model!! Model what you want BYOT to look like in your classroom on the first days of school, just like you do with all your classroom expectations. Don’t forget that sometimes you also need to revisit modeling and expectations throughout the year. You can even take it a step further and come up with a mission, vision and your own classroom expectations together.

2. Treat the devices like books. Have them take them out when you are doing a lesson that incorporates the use of them and when you are not, have them put them away.

3. Have a charging station but make sure you have rules for your charging station just like you do with other classroom management issues like sharpening pencils. Maybe you can only charge once a day for example when the students are at lunch or specials. Do what works for you but whatever you do make sure you are consistent.

4. Just like with textbooks you will have early finishers, have a procedure/plan in place for those students so they are not having ‘down time’. Remember students are going to read and also type at different speeds. If students are typing up notes in a Pages document, tell them when they are finished to close their device and have another task ready. Or have options such as you can create on these three apps/sites.

5. Don’t be scared of letting students have innovate time where they ‘play’ on different apps but make sure to have expectations. When you are teaching students to learn a new site or app they are going to want to play just like you would and  get to know it. Have an expectation in your classroom once you share a new app/site etc that they get 5 mins to ‘play’. You never know…they might teach you something new too about that app or site. If you aren’t comfortable with that, start slower and have innovate time during morning work or recess if they chose.

Remember the biggest thing is to have expectations just like you do with everything else in a classroom. I would love to hear other best practices for BYOT, please share your ideas in the comment section below.

Evaluating Apps for the Classroom

“We need to use technology to actively engage students and do different things, not just do the same things differently.” David Andrade

With iPads becoming more popular in the classroom, I wanted to share the app evaluation and submission form I created for my school and now district. It is based on Harry Walker’s app rubric and with his permission I adapted it to fit our schools needs. This rubric will be used when the technology team at our school looks at the apps teachers have submitted for approval for their iPads.  When I shared my idea with a colleague, Emily Casaboone @millielikesthis, she had a fantastic idea to go paperless by creating the submission forms using Google Docs. This also keeps them all in one place when you go to review them.

Our technology team consists of one teacher from each grade level, the technology teacher, a faciliator and administration. Our technology committee plans to meet five times a year; August (when school starts for those of us in the south) and then at the end of each quarter to review submissions.

Having an app evaluation process is becoming cricial  in schools because you want to make sure the apps are promoting higher order thinking and not rote skills. You can’t judge an app based on it’s ratings in iTunes because they could be using the app for a different purpose and not for the classroom. In an article I read, Diane Darrow (@dianedarrow ) said it best, “Creating an app evaluation system that empowers teachers to delineate their own criteria puts curriculum design back into their hands.” We have to remember that just like technology is a tool in the classroom, so are the apps we use.

App Eval Rubric and Submission Form

For more resources on iPads in Education visit my wiki page on iPads in the classroom resources

Using ShowMe App for iPad in the Classroom

“Technology is not a new tool for learning. It’s a whole new way of learning.” Dan Roberts

Recently at an iPad chat, I discussed along with other educators, the benefits of certain apps for the iPad in the classroom. The app I discussed was ShowMe, which allows you to create whiteboard tutorials and share them online. I was surprised how many educators did not know about this app so I decided it needed to be my blog topic this week.

Why is this app ShowMe amazing? Here are 10 reasons!

1. It is a free app, as educators we need that

2. Once you create an account there are numerous already created tutorials’ in the ShowMe community

3. You can create videos for your “flipped classroom”

4. It is so easy to use; 1st graders I worked with were able to use it

5. Great way for teachers to assess student’s knowledge

6. You can change the background from the whiteboard to a map (or any background) and use it to enhance your lesson

7. Can be used for any subject (Ex. Math-how to add fractions)

8. Receive information through visuals as well as audio

9. Can be shared easily by embedding it into your website or sending a link to email, Facebook or Twitter

10. Videos can be as long or as short as you want them to be. I taught the students how to use the application in just a few minutes.

Below is a fifth grader using the ShowMe app as a way I assessed his knowledge. I gave him the task, “Using this app, describe the water cycle.” I walked away and worked with other students. When I came back, I taught him how to save the video with his name and topic. I then was able to go back later and view his water cycle video. I was able to see that he understood the water cycle and the key vocabulary.

Some of you may be saying, but he could of just drawn the water cycle on a piece of paper and handed it in. True, but having him complete it on the ShowMe app he has able to take it a step further and explain how it works verse just drawing it. This shows true comprehension of the topic.