“Organizing is what you do before you do something, so that when you do it, it is not all mixed up.” By A. A. Milne

If you know me you know I love to create to-do lists. The feeling of crossing something off makes me happy, and yes sometimes I put things on my list after I do them. :-)

Jake Standish introduced me to Google Keep about a year ago and I was not a fan, it just didn’t have a lot of the features I wanted until now. Google Keep has been updated and I LOVE it. It is now part of my daily workflow and it allows me to have multiple to-do lists in one place. It is not just for educators workflow either, imagine Google Keep for students!

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If you are a Google Apps for Education-GAFE school/district this is a great web tool to share with your students. Here are the reasons why I love using Google Keep and why students will love it too:

1. Simple and FREE to use; no account needed to be created as you can just use your google account. Great for GAFE school/districts.

2. I have saved it to my toolbar so every day I have easy assess and can add notes from any device. You will never lose anything because it is stored online and every device you use has access to the notes/lists. (If using an iPhone like me, you need to use the chrome app on your phone as there is no IOS app). This is great for BYOT schools.

3. You can make notes/lists different colors plus you can search and archive to make organization easy! This is great for students too, they can add assignments for classes and use different colors to help differentiate. No more excuses for the lost agenda or assignment.

4. You can share your notes or to-do’s with others, just click on the share button. It will appear on their Google Keep and they will get an email. This means as an educator you can make an assignment and push it out to your students so they will see it on their Google Keep!

5. You can add reminders to notes/lists quickly. All you need to do is click on the icon (finger with a string around it) and add the time/date of when you needed to be reminded. No more missing deadlines, homework assignments or when tests are!

6.  You can add imagines and web links to notes/lists. This helps if you are a visual learner or just want to remember an idea with a picture and a quick note or a web link. Students can also have a note that has the links they use daily for easy access.

8. The app keeps working even when you’re offline!

*Google Keep also has voice transcript. Adding voice notes in Google Keep is as simple as tapping the microphone and speaking but this only works on Android devices from what I understand. :-(


” The world we have created is a product of our thinking; it cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” By Albert Einstein

I had one of those days recently when I went down the internet rabbit hole and got lost. I don’t know how I got to learning about Hexagonal Thinking but I love the concept. Hexagonal Thinking is a creative way to show connections within concepts, a type of  ‘thinking map’ that allows students to visualize their thinking process.  In one of my many readings on the topic I came across Kristian Still and that is where I found my new favorite web tool, Think Link by Triptico, not to be confused with Thinglink (another favorite web tool, see previous blog post).

Think Link is FREE and user-friendly. To create a board start be clicking on ‘new board’. Then click on the plus sign to add a hexagon. Type in the term/word you would like to use. Repeat until all your thoughts are on the board. (*Note: Every time you make a new hexagon, you need to drag and drop it to the location you want it on the board or they will all pile up in the same original spot). Double click on the hexagon and you can add notes such as a definition. Use the wrench to delete a hexagon or save them.

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When using hexagonal thinking in the classroom have students start by brainstorming a concept such as leadership or with a driving question. You can also use as a way to have students take notes or understand how vocabulary is connected. You don’t need to use the computer program to incorporate hexagonal thinking, students can use hexagonal post its or draw them on their paper/notebook themselves.

Reasons Why I like Hexagonal Thinking:

1. It allows students to utilize 21st century skills with their learning. (4 c’s= collaborate, create, communicate and critical think)

2.  When you make a list, sequence or work in boxes the thinking is linear. Hexagon thinking allows for creative thinking.  (Literally allowing students to ‘think outside the box’)

3. Hexagonal thinking allows for student voice.

4. You can use it within all content areas and for any grade level (see video below of Hexagonal thinking in K). Here are some examples using essential questions:

  • Science: What are the relationships between forces and motion?
  • Math:  How is geometry used in the real world?
  • Literacy: What does the ___________ (book title) teach us about life?
  • History: How have ancient Greeks affected our society?
  • PE: How can sports advertising affect teen’s choices?
  • Art:  How do people express themselves through art today?
  • CTE or Technology Class: How would our culture be different without computers?

Other Resources on Hexagonal Thinking:

Design Thinking: Synthesis 1: Hexagonal Thinking

SOLO Hexagons

What computers can’t do: hexagonal thinking

I would love to know how you have used Hexagonal Thinking or Think Link in your classroom. Please share in the comments.

“Creativity is a great motivator because it makes people interested in what they are doing. Creativity gives hope that there can be a worthwhile idea. Creativity gives the possibility of some sort of achievement to everyone. Creativity makes life more fun and more interesting.” Edward de Bono


Recently I have been privileged to hear an amazing keynote speaker, Nirvan Mullick about adding creativity and imagination to the schools as it builds imagine, inspiration and the love of learning which then correlates to academic achievement. Mullick is the owner of the imagination foundation but more famously known for where it all started with Caine’s arcade. This is the video Nirvan created:

Below are ways to add creativity and imagination in classroom:

1. Genius Hour allows students to work on something they are passionate about.

2. Makerspaces is a community-driven workspace, where people with common interests, meet and collaborate on ‘Do it Yourself’ (DYI) projects. In schools it would be school-driven. Read more about Makerspaces from my previous blog post: Makerspace in Education. To get started with a makerspace you can use recyclables, crayons, paper, pipe cleaners. It is also great to have technology such as Little BitsSparkfun and MaKey MaKeys.

3. Challenges are a great way to see students add creativity. I loved the days we had challenges in my classroom such as build a boat to hold the most paper slips without sinking, the challenge you only have two pieces of paper and some masking tape. Here are some other challenges that you can add to your classroom activities to build creativity.

4. Books to read aloud or do activities with:

Another great resource full of practical ideas to do in the classroom that take little to no money or prep time are in the book: Sparking Student Creativity: Practical Ways to Promote Innovative Thinking and Problem Solving

These are other wonderful books on creativity and imagination for educators:

Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon

Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within All of Us by  Tom Kelley  and David Kelley

Show Your Work!: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered by Austin Kleon

Great Sites:

Creativity at Work

P21- Creativity and Innovation

TED Talk Video Playlist on Creativity

What are other ways we can foster creativity so it becomes not just a moment but a  movement in the schools? I would love to hear your feedback, ideas and book suggestions!

“Collaboration is the best way to work. It’s only way to work, really. Everyone’s there because they have a set of skills to offer across the board.” By Antony Starr

This past week I went to Edspace 2014. This was a unique experience as I have thought about what furniture a classroom needs but I never knew how much design really goes into schools and furniture. One session I went to I learned a lot about how to turn media centers into learning commons but when I started thinking about it, I realized it shouldn’t be limited to the learning commons but across classrooms.

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David Thornburg wrote an article called ‘Campfires in Cyberspace: Primordial Metaphors for Learning in the 21st Century‘  (great read) and the presentation I saw was adapted from his work.  Learning Commons or classrooms should have different ‘primordial learning metaphors’ in layman’s terms =  zones. Here are the different zones Thornburg says you should have:

Campfire: This space is where you learn from instruction. It fosters conversation and sharing between teacher and students.

Watering Hole: This space is where you learn from peers. It is a space for collaboration and sharing to take place.

Cave Spaces: This space is where you learn from yourself.  It is a space where you can work on your own, reflect and think. This space is quiet and ‘hideaway’

Life: Is where you bring it all together and apply it to the real world.

I also learned the rooms need to be flexible, adaptable and have a variety. These terms are not interchangeable but have specific distinctions. According to the presenters, these terms were adapted from the book: The Language of School Design: Design Patterns for 21st Century Schools.

Adaptable: Allows for change over time. Ex. removing a low bearing wall

Flexible: Allows opportunities for users to change the space themselves over the course of a week. Ex. Movable walls, larger furniture that is on casters (bookshelf)

Variety: Allows users to change the quality of their space moving to another area daily. Ex. Chairs and desks that are on casters

I would love to know how you design your classroom space. I would also love to know if you have used Thornburg’s research, what are your thoughts and results from your experience.

“The ultimate goal of classroom management should not be on simple obedience, but on having students behave appropriately because they know it’s the right thing to do and because they can understand how their actions affect other people” by Carlette Jackson Hardin

Having classroom management is key to a successful learning environment. Teachers who are ready maximize student learning, minimize student misbehavior. As teachers make the instructional shift to a student centered and personalized learning environments we need to keep in mind classroom management best practices but also make tweaks to fit our new approach to student learning. Educators need to be purposeful about student’s space, time and materials is so that instruction supports student learning. Here are some tips and tricks to help support classroom management and personalized learning (PL) environments.

  • Rules and Procedure: Just because your implementing a PL environment doesn’t mean that your class should not have rules and procedures. The difference is the students should be involved in making the rules and procedures and it needs to be consistent. You will be surprised how many good ideas they have.
    • For example, one teacher told me she was having difficulty when the students transitioned into math workshop. She would put the groups up on the smart board and they would all run to get the materials and go to their spots. She addressed the class about this issue and one student suggested the first persons name in the group should get the materials. The class agreed and this procedure was put in place. This saved her 3-5 minutes of  instructional time because she wasn’t dealing with the ‘fighting’ over materials and she could get started with her small group right away.
  • Morning Meeting: It is important to establish a safe learning environment and set the stage for a successful day. Often times teachers think that morning meeting takes up to much of valuable instructional time that the students are ‘freshest’ but in actuality you gain more instructional time because the students have time to focus on the daily and build relationships not just with their classmates but teacher as well. Students are coming in with more ‘baggage’ from home and this time allows students to set up for success.
  • Noise Level: In a PL classroom, there is going to be noise as student are collaborating and moving about the room to different areas based on their needs etc. Gone are the days where you can say ‘shh’ as students are actively learning different ways. Here are some suggestions:
    • Have classical music on and explain if the volume goes over the music it is too loud.
    • Having a signal such as  hand up or peace sign gains the student’s attention to redirect them to think about their volume level without stopping the whole class.
    • Visual aide to display when kids are in group work areas. Example cups…green=great volume control, yellow= volume is getting too loud, red= volume is WAY too loud.
    • Having procedures when you are working in a small group such as using six-inch voices.
  • Call and Response: In a PL environment, there is not a lot of whole group instruction but sometimes you need to address the whole class. Having a ‘call and response’ procedure in place is important if you need to address them. Some call and response ideas:
    • Class, Class…..students respond with Yes, Yes
    • Holy….students respond with Macaroni
    • Stop…students responds with Collaborate and Listen (my favorite and what I used with my class, my age is showing)
  •  10-12 minute mini lessons: Mini-Lesson are key no matter if you are doing whole group or small group instruction. The mini lesson should be short and focused on one strategy, skill, or concept.
  • Turn and Talk: When one student is working a problem out on the board, the other students should not be sitting in the small or whole group watching the students. Instead, have students turn and talk and discuss how they got the answer with each other. Utilizing this time with not only improve the use of your instructional time but students feel more empowered that their work is important and are held accountable.
  • Stoplight Cards to check for understanding: Green= all is well, Yellow= I have a question, Red= I am stuck. This avoids the line forming around the teacher, getting interrupted during conferring or small group mini-lesson. It helps the teacher facilitate the learning of the class and allows students ownership.
  • Students rate themselves:  Have the students rate themselves on a mini-lesson or topic to guide self-reflection. 4- Expert: I can teach it to others. 3- Practitioner: I can do this independently. 2- Apprentice: I can do this with help, I understand parts. 1- Novice: I need help as I don’t understand this yet. (It is key to add the yet as they will eventually understand and takes away the excuse, I can’t do it.)
  • Consequences: The best consequences are reasonable and logical. A reasonable consequence is one that follows logically from the behavior and has students reflecting on their actions. Giving them silent lunch or no recess is not going to change behavior but having them reflect will. Here is an example of a great reflection station I saw in a classroom.

self reflection

Other Classroom Management Resources:

Ten Tips for Classroom Management (available in Spanish)

Class Dojo (Web-tool to manage positive behavior)

Facilitating Student Focus and Attention

I would love to hear your classroom management tips/tricks to help in a student centered personalized learning environments.

“Reading furnishes the mind only with materials of knowledge; it is thinking that makes what we read ours.” By John Locke

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I am forever reading, sometimes I rather be reading on a Friday night then going out with friends. Okay truth be told a lot of the times because by Friday I am dead tired from the week. But in all honesty, I love books and I am always reading at least two, a fun personal read and an education book. I often get asked what are some of my favorite books in education are when talking with educators so I decided todays post would be a dedication to my favorite education books I LOVE right now.

1. Leverage Leadership: A Practical Guide to Building Exceptional Schools by Paul Bambrick-Santoyo

2. Soup: A Recipe to Nourish Your Team and Culture by Jon Gordan

3. Sparking Student Creativity: Practical Ways to Promote Innovative Thinking and Problem Solving by Patti Drapeau

4. Never Underestimate Your Teachers: Instructional Leadership for Excellence in Every Classroom by Robyn Jackson

5. The Third Teacher by OWP/P Architects, VS Furniture, Bruce Mau Design, OWP/P Architects

I would love to know your favorite education books as I am always looking to add to my list. Please leave your favorites in the comment section.

“The intention of the learning environment is to give children exposure to a range of materials, resources and experiences that give them practice in skill refinement, in language development, in creativity, and in play.” By Kathy Walker

Almost two years ago, I blogged about “The 21st Century Classroom Environment” and I still believe in everything I wrote and think it is still relevant but I also have learned a lot more about creating learning spaces, brain based research and learning within the last few years as well. Below I have compiled some tips and tricks based on what I have learned about creating learning spaces.

Tips and Tricks for Hacking Learning Spaces:

1. Student Designed: Let student design the learning space as this allows students ownership.

2. Make it flexible: Design the learning space to support quick transitions among different type of learning such as group work, partners and/or individual. I was in a classroom recently where the teacher called out ‘learning mode one’ and the students all turned their desks from partner pairing to small groups. This obviously took practice and procedures but only a few weeks into the school year and the students did it seamlessly.

3. Learning spaces should be comfortable: Students are in school for many hours, they should be comfortable when they are learning. Let them choose where they want to sit and learn. I am writing my blog from my couch with my feet up on my coffee table because it is comfortable for me; another blogger might like to stand as they write, we need to provide multiple learning areas so it is comfortable for the student.

4. Keep items at students eye level: I never thought about this before but when I took a webinar that @erinklein hosted on Learning Spaces, it made perfect sense. Now when I go into  schools and classrooms I notice how all the work that is supposed to help students is at adult hight. For example recently when at a school they had a “Read” Box but the books where not at the students level to be able to read what the other students wrote on why they should ‘read’ the book. If this was at students eye level, the students would be able to read the other students reviews.

 5. Technology: Technology needs to be accessible for students like dictionaries and encyclopedias were in classrooms. It should be fluid and not seen as a separate thing.

6. Declutter the Space: According to the latest brain research, having a room full of things such as posters and anchor charts over stimulates the students. As teachers we need to deduce what is learning information and what is decoration. With Pinterest so popular, it makes it easier for teachers to think cutesy equals learning. For example, a word wall is important for students learning. A word wall that is on chevron print is over stimulating for the students and is really just there for decoration.

7. Gender Neutral: Classroom colors should be warm and calming; not over stimulating and distracting.

8. Active Spaces: Classrooms should have active areas where students can be kinetic learners such as a Makerspace.

 Pictures of different learning spaces I have come across in schools:

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Other Resources for Designing Learning Spaces:

The Third Teacher

Classroom Cribs

Designing Spaces for Effective Learning A guide to 21st century learning space design

Design of the Learning Space: Learning and Design Principles

Classroom of the Future Wiki

I would love to hear  or see pictures of how you have changed your learning space, please share in the comment section.


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