Monday, July 12, 2021

What's in Your Makerspace?

 Educators often reach out and ask for a list of materials when they’re getting started with a makerspace or STEM/STEAM program. I often hesitate to provide a list, because I believe every space should be unique.  With the opportunity to visit lots of spaces, each is a bit different--different set-up, different areas of interest, different feeling. That's what is great about a space that allows you to connect, collaborate, and apply your creativity in different ways.

 After the start up of STEAM Maker spaces into school districts that I worked on, I learned one important thing – that the materials you put in your space should be based on the needs and interests of your students. The ideas and experiences should be co-created with the students you serve. 

I understand that those just beginning this work may need a little jumpstart, so I created a blog post several years ago with makerspace items from A to Z. The list is often shared on social media and many teachers have reached out saying how helpful it has been. Whether starting a new maker space in your school or developing stem learning centers for your classroom, having a basic materials list is helpful. (especially for those writing grants or vying for budget items from school and district leaders.)

I figured that it was about time to update the original list and make it a bit more comprehensive, I reached out to my friend (and one of the most creative makers I know), Chris Woods.  You know Chris as @DailySTEM. His social media posts, podcast, and book have been an inspiration to me and many. We collaborated on this list in an effort to include a wide variety of items that we know kids love and educators need. It includes consumable items like glue and markers, as well as donated recyclable items like cardboard and plastic containers. The list also includes tools and tech items, like Hummingbird robotics and Makedo. 

While this is not an exhaustive list, we think it is a good start for maker educators and STEM enthusiasts. If you think we missed anything, add your comment below! 

Happy #MakerMonday!

Monday, May 24, 2021

Incorporating SEL into Your Interview Process

It is that time of year when school districts will be starting the interviewing process. Whether looking to add new teachers to the team or anyone from classroom assistants to school and district leaders, the process may likely include new and different interview questions. In response to the last year teaching and learning in a global pandemic, interview teams will be looking to see how you have been able to thrive during these challenging circumstances. Furthermore, schools will want to know how you supported students during a time when building relationships and fostering well being has been more important than ever. 

When preparing for interview season, consider the following questions with a focus on social emotional development:

What classroom practices have you implemented in the last year to build empathy and understanding in your students?

How have Random Acts of Kindness (or a similar experience) been used in your school? How did you contribute to its development? 

What do you do to ensure the ongoing social emotional development of your students? 

What do you believe are the essential components of social emotional learning? 

What SEL resources have you found to be the most beneficial? 

What strategies would you suggest to a student who was having difficult with self-regulation in the classroom? 

How do you develop social awareness within your students? 

What do you do personally to practice self care and social emotional development? 

The social emotional development of our students (and ourselves) is so important. When we are bringing new people onto our team, we need to have conversations, (starting during the interview process) that communicates SEL as a primary goal within the school system. What SEL questions have you asked interview candidates? As an interviewee, have you been asked any questions regarding social emotional learning in schools?

Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

The Gift of Time

The Gift of Time

Earlier this month we gained an hour of daylight with the change over to Daylight Savings Time. I love this change and the fact that it's still light out after dinner when my kids and I take our dog for a walk.  While it is still dark in the morning when we wake up, the later sunset in the evening is truly a blessing as our family can play outside take advantage of that extra time together.

Image result for timeLater in the month, we all received an unexpected gift of time, courtesy of the virus that is changing our world as we know it.  We now have this abundance of time.  The exterior factors that once governed the time and influenced many of our day-to-day decisions are no longer in effect for many of us.  Time isn't dictating when we need to get up in the morning, the time we needed to spend at work and school, the time we had to be at practices or events.  All of that has somehow been pushed aside.  Without the constraints of time, we now have choices to make on how we are going to use this gift.

Think about that.  How many times have you said, "If only I had more time."

I need more time to finish my work.  
There's never enough time to . . . 
If only there was an extra hour in the day.
If I had more time, I could . . .

Well, now you can.  We've all been given this gift of time.  

You can start that project that you've been putting off.  You can reach out to that person you've been missing.  You can spend the time doing whatever it is that you need to.  It's your time.

You can clean out that closet that you've been saying you would.  You can watch that old movie with your spouse.  You can read that extra chapter at night with the kids.  You can play that extra-long board game as a family.  Because there's time. 

There's time to do something for yourself--to take that bubble bath or read that trashy novel.  There's time to try a new recipe or take a long walk.  There's time to take extra good care of yourself and those around you.

Even though we are separated by distance, take the time to connect with those who matter most.  Take the time to reach out to a neighbor in need, to a former student, to a colleague.  Send a personal note to your best friend in another state.  Call your favorite aunt to say hello.  Set up a regular time for your kids to FaceTime their grandparents.  

Be intentional about making time to connect with others in whatever way works best for you--but take the time.

We can use our time to make a difference.  What are you doing with this gift of time?

Wednesday, March 18, 2020


I had to have a very difficult conversation with my mom yesterday.  She's 71.  She's a retail worker in a neighborhood store.  She's a friend, a wife, a mom, and probably her most beloved role, she's a grammy.

Most weeks, she drives out to our house (about 20 minutes away) and spends time with my sons, ages 5 and 7.  She plays WWE wrestlers with them.  She chases them around in our yard.  She walks them to the park.  She learns the names on all their Pokemon cards.  She reads books with them.  

She sneaks them extra treats like most grandparents do.  She lets them stay up later than they should.  She doesn't get mad when they break the rules.  

Together, they make slime with them and play board games.  They build Lego creations and have impromptu dance parties in the living room.  They have cereal for dinner.

My children cherish this time and can't wait to know when Grammy is coming to visit.  In turn, I know my mom looks forward to this time more than anything.  

My mom is active, but she is not always the picture of health.  She's in that over 70 age bracket that puts her in a vulnerable position, especially when it comes to my children and COVID19.  If it is possible that my kids could carry the virus and pass it onto her, then we could be putting her in danger.  

I can't do that.

I had to tell my mom that it was not a good idea for her to come out and see the kids for a little while.  I had to deny her the complete joy that I know she gets when she sees my boys.  While we believe that is the best way to proceed right now, it felt horrible, to say the least.

Since that conversation, I have been reflecting a lot about the grammies, nanas, paps, and poppas of the world.  While they are worried about their own health and wellness, they are also being separated from some of the people that they love the most.  Being with their grandkids brings them so much joy and often keeps them motivated to stay healthy.

How are you staying connected to grandparents and relatives in your family?  Here are some of the things that you can do while your kids are at home and separated from loved ones.

1. Facetime-- As you are figuring out your schedule for the "new normal" add in time to Facetime a grandparent or loved one each day.  Make that connection.  Revel in the smiles and check in with the people that matter.

Make this time meaningful for your kids and your family.  My boys are generating questions that they are going to ask Grammy when then talk to her today:

  • What do you like to do when you get bored at home?
  • Was school ever closed like this when you were little?
  • Do you have a favorite movie or TV show?
  • If you could safely travel anywhere right now, where would you go?
I'm planning to extend this idea as the days go on and have my kids interview my mom.  I'm thinking about all the generational things that my kids can learn from her, while also building a sense of family history.

  • Where did you go to school when you were my age?
  • Did you have a favorite subject? favorite teacher?
  • What activities did you like to do when you were little?
  • Did your family go on vacation when you were in elementary school? Where did you go?
  • What things do you remember doing with your grandparents? 

2.  Pen Pals--Keep your kids' minds sharp (and their older loved ones too) by writing letters to family members.  This can certainly be an email, but the idea of traditional letter writing allows kids to practice some academic skills at home, too.

Here are some things my boys are going to write (and draw):

  • My favorite thing to do with Grammy
  • The funniest thing Grammy ever did
  • What Grammy would do if she hit the lottery

3. "Play" Together--This is a challenge to do from a distance, but think creatively.  Create videos to share with one another.  Can grandparents share a magic trick or cooking tip with the kids?  Can the kids tell jokes or teach their grandparents how to code a robot? Send videos back and forth as another way to stay connected. 

I'm sure there are lots of other ideas that we can try, but my family is going to start here.  I will continue to post more ideas on how to stay connected.  We are going to do one thing each day to connect with the loved ones who feel so far away right now.  I know this will help my kids during this time of uncertainty, but it will also help my mom.  It will help all of the grandparents out there who are craving time with the little people in their lives.  What will you do stay safe and stay connected?

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Cool Tech for Creative Learners

*This post includes affiliate links.

Do your students love creating videos? In this YouTube generation, many creative young minds in our classrooms crave the chance to make their own videos. Some might have the imagination but not the interest in being in front of the camera. Others might want to design the background or do the sound effects. In creative classrooms, students are embracing these challenges and turning them into opportunities to communicate with peers, think critically about new ideas and collaborate with others.

Ask a group of elementary students if they want to try out a new creative technology tool and chances are, they are going to jump at the chance. Add to the experience that they get to connect with the designers of the game and provide feedback after playing it. This was an opportunity posed to some of our students this year.

With their curiosity piqued, a group of third-grade students in our district had the chance to try out Toaster Pets. This is a new classroom tool that pairs digital creation through a simple-to-use app with the hands-on manipulation of character blocks. With a tabletop green screen and small animal characters, Toaster Pets provides a variety of options for students looking to design and create. This collaborative tool turns students into script-writers and movie makers.

What can students create in the classroom?

When students use their device to open the Toaster Pets app and try out their characters, they can use their imaginations to create just about anything. Your students might create:

  • Animated movies
  • Music videos 
  • Educational videos 
  • Video messages 
  • Cartoons 
How did our students respond?

Our 3rd graders absolutely loved the app and hands-on characters. With very little direction at all, the students were quick to figure out features like adding music and adding their own voice recording for each character. Working in small groups of 2-4 students, groups accessed virtual props and colorful backgrounds to tell their stories and create their videos. Students adjusted images and added different effects as they enhanced their scenes and developed interactions with their characters.


Students explored the app for about 45 minutes and could’ve kept going, but paused to reflect on the experiences and share some feedback with the design team. Students wanted access to more props and characters. They had ideas for different scenes and types of music to add.  Some were even ready to design their own! Each group was thoroughly engaged in the discussion and had meaningful feedback to share with the Toaster Pets team.

At the conclusion of the experience, students were asked to leave a compliment on a sticky note for the team to take back with them. Here are a few things the students shared:

“I liked that you could unlock multiple characters.”

“I made a racing scene and another scene with soccer.”

“I loved it! It was so much fun.”

Ready to try it?

You will be amazed at the imaginative thinking that happens when students are given the freedom to create using this tool. Toaster Pets can be used with Apple or Android devices. Use this link to check out all that Toaster Pets has to offer!

Monday, December 30, 2019


Over the course of the last year, I focused on the word Balance.  2019 brought a new sense of balance for me as I continued to juggle being a mom, a wife, a friend, an educator, author, and speaker.  Within all of those roles, I also tried to create a particular sense of balance when it came to my personal health and wellness.  While that will always require an ongoing effort, I know that I made great strides in the last year--losing 90lbs, regaining my energy, and carving out time each day to exercise.  I regained a sense of balance that I never thought I could!

Since my word for last year was so fitting and much needed in my life, choosing a word for this year was quite challenging.  Just like you, I looked for inspiration in lots of places, through my social media #PLN and through things that I've read.

About a month ago, a friend of mine suggested that I read Melinda Gates' book.  We were chatting back and forth on Voxer and agreed that we would both grab a copy and read it.  Although I didn't know much about Gates' personal story, I recalled seeing it in an airport bookstore while traveling to a speaking engagement the week before.  I hopped onto Amazon and had the book in my hand the next day.

The book, The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World has inspired my one word for 2020 . . . LIFT.

If you haven't had the opportunity to read this book, I would highly encourage you to grab a copy.  The stories that are shared span the globe and detail the inadequacies that exist within systems throughout the world.  Gates shares her personal journey towards empowerment and the importance of the relationships that she has built over time through the work of the foundation.  And while there are numerous takeaways from this book (gender equity issues in the workplace, developing empathy, and enacting change), I personally kept returning to the title and the simple idea of LIFT.

Particularly in the fast-paced world that we live in and with the abundance of things that we all try to balance in our lives, it is important to stop and think about the potential opportunities that we might miss to create those moments of lift.  As Robert Ingersoll reminds us, "We rise by lifting others."

Reflecting on the way that this word connects with my personal and professional life, I was flooded with questions:

Who do I lift? Do I take opportunities to lift up my children and family?  In what ways can I do a better job of creating moments of lift for the teachers and students in my school district?  How can I use my platform to lift up important ideas and share them with others? In what ways can I let my guard down and allow others to lift me?

How might I grow through a yearlong focus on this one word?

Believing that this single word can create positive momentum for others, how might I support those who need lifting?  Are there small steps that I can take to build up and empower others? What conditions need to be present in order for someone to find their moment of lift? 

Within the different roles that I take on--as a family member, friend, colleague, leader, I need to be intentional about seeking out ways to create lift, accept lift, and promote lift in others.

I don't claim to have the answers to any of these questions yet, but I know that over the course of the next year, I will pursue each of them in an effort to explore the importance of lift.

I think about all of the tremendous ways that Melinda Gates and the Gates Foundation have lifted up the voices of women and others who are on the fringe.  While I know that the magnitude of their work is unmatchable, I hope that I will find small ways each day to create lift--for others, for students and teachers that I serve, and for myself. 

I wish everyone a Happy 2020.  As you discover moments of lift this year, please share the ways that you are lifting others or ways that you have been lifted by those around you.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

3 Holiday Gift Ideas to Unlock Creativity in Everyone

Are you struggling with last-minute gift ideas?  Do you want to find that perfect something that will excite the young person in your world and keep them engaged all year long?  Impossible, right?

When you tap into creativity you can unlock a world of imagination in others.  This might mean the children in your home, the ones in your classroom, or even yourself.  Young and old alike can benefit from that creative spark that motivates them to create new things or explore new ideas.  Sometimes it just takes some simple materials or an imaginative tool to get the mind going.  Here are a few gift ideas to unlock creativity in everyone:

Image result for scratch art1.  Ok, this may date me a bit, but I remember being about 7 or 8 years old and making my own "scratch art" paper with my neighbor.  Did you do this too?  We would heavily scribble rainbow colors to cover an entire sheet of paper only to then cover it all in even heavier black crayon.  (My Crayolas definitely took a beating!)  Once our sheet was covered we would scratch the black away in intricate designs revealing bold colors underneath.  I remember creating dozens of these and hanging them on the fridge.  Boy, we were innovators back then because now you can buy your own ready-to-go sheets.
Plus-Plus - Construction Building Toy, Mini Maker Tube - 70 Piece - Unicorn

 I shared this with my own children (ages 5 and 7) and I think we might stick with the homemade version.  #MakersGonnaMake

2. Maybe you're not the artistic type but still enjoy creating.  Tired of Legos or K'Nex and looking for a new and different type of building material?  Try Plus Plus. These mini plastic "plus signs" interlock as you design 2-D and 3-D creations.  They now come with a base plate that allows the creative genius in your family to engineer multi-level structures and bring new ideas to life.  Plus Plus are cool tools for any classroom and great for home use, too.

3.  Paper.  Yep, just paper.  There are so many cool paper crafts that can be enjoyed by the whole family.  Check out this video that shares 10 ideas for kids that can engage their creative minds through measuring, cutting, folding, weaving, and curling.  Simple activities like these don't require lots of fancy materials, but can provide hours of fun!

When in doubt and you need some creative stocking stuffers--head to your local dollar store.  (It is a makers best friend!) You can find tons of materials to make your own little creativity kit.  Markers and construction paper.  Stencils and colored pencils.  Crayons and coloring books.  Stickers and notebooks.  Glitter, glue, and borax (to make some slime).  String and beads for necklace making.  Balloons, tissue paper, and glue for papier mache.  The possibilities are endless!

All of these gift ideas are pretty simple, but especially useful when you are on the go this holiday season.  Toss them in the car for the road trip to grandma's house or the plane ride to visit Aunt Barb and Uncle Ned.  Staying at home for the holidays?  Gather around the dining table for some messy creativity and try some artistic design with the family.

Want more ideas for unlocking creativity in the classroom?  Check out my book Unlock Creativity: Opening a World of Imagination With Your Students