How Fast Should a Student Be Able to Type?

 How fast should students be able to type? 

There is no universal answer to this question, but it is a question that we have to start addressing in elementary school. We don't want keyboarding fluency to get in the way of students sharing what they know. We want them to have transcription efficiency with keyboarding so working memory and cognitive resources are freed up for ideas. This is especially important when they are taking a test on the computer. In my district, every student beginning in kindergarten has to take a test on the computer within the first 30 days of school to determine if they need to be put on a READ plan. But then we have to wonder; are we putting some students on a READ plan simply because they don't know how to type/navigate a computer? The high stakes testing that begins in 3rd grade is also done on the computer, so keyboarding fluency is an issue that we have to start addressing in elementary school.

Unfortunately, there is no exact word-per-minute count that everyone agrees upon. Most keyboarding research is focused on middle school, and it's more than 10 years old. Technology has changed a lot in the last 10 years! If you check the Common Core State Standards, the expectation for typing begins in 4th grade, but there is no exact number attached to it:

With some guidance and support from adults, use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing as well as to interact and collaborate with others; demonstrate sufficient command of keyboarding skills to type a minimum of one page in a single sitting.

The CCSS do not become more specific for older students. Here is the standard for 11th - 12th grade:

Use technology, including the Internet, to produce, publish, and update individual or shared writing products in response to ongoing feedback, including new arguments or information.

So how do we know if our students are college and career ready with the fundamental concepts of technology operations and troubleshooting skills they will need to be successful? 

That's a tough question to answer.  It's a question that we have been wrestling with at my school for years, so we decided to do our own action research. We started with the end in mind. We began with this question:

How fast should an adult be able to type? 

If you check the internet you'll see claims that the average typing speed for an adult is anywhere between 40 - 65 wpm. I did find some recent research called Observations on Typing from 136 Million Keystrokes that states, "Typing speed of an average professional typist is usually from 50 to 90 wpm, and some advanced typists work at speeds above 120 wpm." 

If we want our high school graduates to be equipped for a job as a typing professional, they should be able to type at least 50 - 60 wpm with 80% accuracy or better, so we made that our goal for a 12th grader. We worked backwards from there creating a reasonable expectation for each grade level, then we monitored our students to see if this fit our expectation for students in the classroom. We are continuing to monitor our students keyboarding progress, but so far, the rate on this chart seems like a good measure of their success. 

Testing season is upon us, and we monitoring whether or not we think our students are ready for that high stakes test online. Based on our action research so far, we found that if 3rd graders' typing fluency is at least 10 wpm with 80% accuracy or better by March/April, they're going to be in a good place to focus on the content of the test, and not the typing. The same has been true for 4th grade (15 wpm with at least 80% accuracy) and 5th grade (20 wpm with at least 80% accuracy). 

The reason I shared this process of identifying typing speed with you is because THESE NUMBERS ARE NOT AN OFFICIAL KEYBOARDING FLUENCY RATE. There is no official keyboarding fluency rate at this time, but this is a reasonable guideline based on what we know and what we see in the classroom. I created the keyboarding fluency infographic, graph, and SMART goal page that you can download here on Teacher Sherpa. I also like to use these pages in SeeSaw so students can upload their progress and record their goals.

How fast should students and adults be able to type in your experience? Do you know how fast you type? If you check out this research page, it has a place where you can take a test to see how fast you type! Observations on Typing from 136 Million Keystrokes Let us know your score!

Guest Post: Sketch Notes for Research

I'm so excited to share this guest post from 5th grade teacher, Margot Hatch! We work closely together, and she's a master at integrating technology meaningfully into the classroom. Margot has been using sketch notes with her 5th grade students this year, and it has had more of an impact on their learning than we ever could have imagined! Here is her story, student examples, and teaching strategies . . .

Sketch Notes for Research

One of the biggest struggles my 5th grade students face when doing research is being able to articulate their understanding of the research they have gathered, so I knew I had to find a way to incorporate something different to help meet their needs. I began by laying out research criteria with categories that I wanted them to investigate, along with guiding questions to help them with their research. As they were going through the research process, I noticed that it helped them, but it still wasn’t the transformation in the research process that I had hoped.  

Thankfully, I work with a phenomenal English Language Specialist that introduced me to Sketch Notes as a way for my students to put their thinking down using visual cues. They could sketch their thinking by using words and pictures that represent what they have learned.  It would allow ALL of my learners access to show off their learning regardless of their reading or writing level. BRILLANT!! I immediately scheduled a co-teaching session so we could teach my students together. I have never looked back since! In our first co-teaching session with the students, we showed this video to introduce them to concept of Sketch Notes.    

The first few sessions the English Language Specialist teacher and I did with Sketch Notes was just for the students to share something about themselves.  This way they were able to see how they could use it with ideas that came from their life experiences. Then I started thinking of ways I could transition them to use this when it came to their research process on our American Revolution Project Based Learning (PBL) assignment. First, I provided them with the transcript of a BrainPop video on the Thirteen Colonies we were going to see together.  This would allow all of the students to watch the video and then use the transcript later to remind them of what was covered. This worked like a charm! The students were able to listen to the information, and then use the transcript to write down specific dates, etc. that pertained to what they had learned about in that video. I have some students examples below of their sketch notes along their research journey.

The students continued using this strategy for taking notes the rest of the research process for the American Revolution PBL we completed.  I was blown away with how much they could tell me about each component they learned and how passionate they became on finding out various important parts.  When it came time to create their final products, they didn’t feel self conscious or uneasy about making something that would show off what they learned. The students partnered up to create a product of their choosing from a list of product choices I provided for them.  I was amazed at what they included in their products because they showed off a deeper level of understanding.

This process of using Sketch Notes made my students feel so much more confident as a researcher.  My English language learners and my special education students were able to really shine with this strategy.  In fact, it is now apart of one of my students IEP accommodations because Sketch Notes truly transformed his way of approaching and understanding research.  Now this student uses it in all subject areas because it helps him better understand the content he is learning. In the future, I am going to teach all of my classes how to use Sketch Notes as a way to visualize their learning in all subject areas, and as a way to use in the research process.  The possibilities are endless!

About the Author: Margot Hatch

I have been a teacher for 13 years. I currently teach 5th grade in a Title 1 school in the Denver area. I’ve had the privilege of being these students' fourth grade teacher last year as well.  I looped up with them to be their teacher in 5th grade this year. My classroom represents the multiple cultural backgrounds represented in my school, including nine students that are identified English language learners.  In addition, out of my twenty-seven 5th graders, I have seven students that are identified with special needs and have an individual education plan (IEP).

Check out more blog posts about Sketch Notes here: Close Reading With Sketch Notes and how to help your students cite their sources here: Do Your Students Know How to Cite Their Sources?

Thanks for reading!

From Drab to Fab: Transforming the Library by Taking the Flexible Seating Plunge!


Guest Post by Sarah Bellino

I had done a lot of research and contemplating before finally deciding to turn my elementary
library into more of a learning commons with flexible seating and a maker space area.  A few
teachers in my school were my inspiration, making flexible seating really work for the
students in their classrooms, so I decided to jump on the bandwagon.

This year started my 7th year as an elementary school librarian and I was feeling in a funk. My
craftiness could only turn my drab, boring library into so much, and I was ready for a change!  
My library was filled with long conference tables and chairs, great for meetings but not very
comfy to just read. I had 3 bean bags kids would fight over and take turns in each class time,
but with 25-30 kids in a class they only got a few times to sit in the snuggly chairs.  When I
thought about where I like to read, it’s curled up in bed or on the porch in my cozy chair where
I can just escape with a good book. I thought about those reluctant kiddos who spent their time
“wandering” around trying to find a good book but never really sitting down to read.  After
visiting blog after blog about the benefits of flexible seating I decided why not turn my library
into more of a homey feel so I could hook more kids on sitting and reading! So far, a month
into the school year with my newly transformed library and I don’t regret it!!

Of course financing the ideas swirling around in my head was going to prove challenging as
anyone in education knows there is no “extra” money for anything.  I contemplated a donors
choose page but with as much as I wanted to do I knew I needed to get creative. A fellow
librarian told me about local businesses such as Walmart or Home Depot that help fund projects
like this so I filled out a form online and my Walmart awarded my school a $500 grant to help
the project. I was so excited when I got the email and couldn’t wait to start.  

This summer was spent scouring garage sales and Facebook Marketplace for just the right
seating options (I loved the hunt). I began collecting gently “used” chairs, stools, end tables,
pillows and I even got a free futon. When I told people I was looking for items for my
elementary library I was suddenly getting things for free or very reduced price. It was amazing
how much people were willing to help!  With some spray paint and sheets (my mom covered
the chair pads with sheet sets to save $ instead of expensive fabric) and voila, I had “new”
furniture and flexible seating options! I did stay away from anything bouncy since I see the
whole school and I needed it to last. I was able to put my plan into action with a little
imagination and lots of time (which is why I gave myself the summer to work on the remodel)
and help from my mom and sister, thank goodness for family! Fingers crossed, I didn’t want
to go back to the way things used to be.

Back to School Night I stood nervously awaiting the kids reactions. Would they love it as
much as I did? Would my principal and administrators approve? Would my labor of love pay
off?  I was relieved and ecstatic when the kids eyes lit up upon entering the library. As each
kid came in excited and exploring the new space my smile grew. Throughout the night kids
and even parents wanted to come see the altered library.  Word had it that was the talk of
conversations. I couldn’t have been happier! My hard work paid off and I couldn’t wait to
start the school year, everything newly refreshed. The head of district media came in to take
pictures and said she bragged to the higher ups about how my library was where we wanted
the future to be, a learning commons.  Even my new superintendent gave me positive
feedback on how he liked what he saw and how he would like to see more libraries make the
change. Yes, whew!!
It’s been trial and error.  I still pick 3 bean bag kids each class time (although it’s harder to
find kids who want to just sit in the bean bags) and I pick 3 different kids each time to pick
their “special spot”.  So far this plan has kept fighting over a spot very minimal. Kids know
they will get their turn to pick, even if it means a different spot every time. There is no saving
spots, they have to find their books first and then find a seat. During library time I also look for
kids who are on task and invite them to the creation station.  This is what I call the maker space
area. While kids are checking out and during read aloud these chosen few can remain at the
maker space area and create. I have legos, puzzles, checkers, chess, paper crafts, coloring, or
making bookmarks set up in this little area. Only kids that are chosen may be in this area so it
cuts down on fighting and noise.  I have found this little reward entices most kiddos to stay on
task. I plan on continuing to grow my maker space area by asking for donations from families
as time goes on.

So far the flexible seating journey has been a success and a much needed change for me.  Hope
my story can inspire others to take the plunge too!! Happy new school year.

Close Reading with Sketchnotes

Have you heard of sketchnotes? This visual note-taking technique uses pictures, words, arrows, lines, and doodles to capture a main idea, and you don't have to be an artist to do it! Sketchnotes are not about art, but about triggering both sides of your brain to help you remember important ideas using visual cues to highlight information. This technique requires a deep understanding and synthesizing of information in order to capture the big ideas. 

I see similarities between the concept of sketchnotes and book snaps, one of my new favorite ways of having students interact with text, and I fully intend to mesh these two strategies together this year!

Introducing Sketchnotes to Students

To introduce the concept of sketchnoting to students, we started with a low-stakes assignment where students got to share something about themselves. With a new concept and/or a new tool, it's important to give students time to experiment before asking them to do something that has a lot of heavy content. Think about your level of anxiety if you were in a class that asked you to use a technology tool you had never used before, and you were told you had to complete a high stakes assignment that you would be graded on the first time you ever used it. Yikes! The time spent "playing" around with it so you can figure out how it works is well worth the time spent so you know how to use it later when heavier content is layered in. When you're familiar with the tool you are using to create something, it frees up working memory to focus on your ideas rather than how to use the tool.

We introduced sketchnotes with a short video: Sketchnote Frenzy: The Basics of Visual Note-taking.

I created the sketchnote above digitally proving that you don't have to be an artist to try sketchnoting! I got the idea for the 4Cs sketchnote from Expressive Monkey's Sketchnote Toolbox on TpT. Here is her blog post: The Visual Structure of Sketchnotes.  We began with sharing what we did over the summer through the 4Cs. We started by putting our names in the middle, and in the upper right hand corner, we chose something important we wanted to communicate. In my example, I shared about the opportunity I had to take a tour of Google in Boulder, CO. It was amazing!  In the lower right hand corner, we shared something creative we did. This summer I became Raspberry Pi certified, and I learned how to do a lot of sophisticated programming. My picture shows a Raspberry Pi and the lights I programmed like a stop light. In the upper left hand corner, we shared people with whom we have collaborated. I went to two different conferences this summer, so in my example, I listed the teachers who came with me to those conferences. In the lower left hand corner, we used critical thinking to start brainstorming ideas for genius hour. Students wrote what they were interested in learning more about.

Technology Options for Sketchnotes

If you're using a windows 10 device, these apps are great for sketchnoting:
If you're using an iPad, these are my favorite apps:
  • Paper 53 
  • Book Creator – this is not a drawing app, but it has the potential for adding drawings, pictures, voices, and even videos in an ebook making it a much more dynamic way to create a sketchnote!
  • SeeSaw – this is another tool that is not a drawing app, but it has the potential to add drawings, pictures, voice, and create videos and put them into a digital portfolio. Another great tool for creating dynamic sketchnotes!
  • Pic Collage EDU – this tool is for making collages with pictures, but it also has the ability to add drawings, words, and pictures. Check out this post from Erintegration: Drawing on Pic Collage with A Simple Hack.  
  • Popplet – this is another tool that is not a drawing app–it's actually a visual mind-mapping tool or graphic organizer that has the functionality to add pictures, videos, words, or drawings to organize your thoughts or data. Popplet can be used on the iPad or computer.

If you don't have access to a classroom set of devices or you prefer to write/draw with a pencil and paper, there is still a technology option for you that I'm SO excited about! I recently learned about Rocket books. These notebooks look and feel like real paper that use Frixion Erasable pens or markers (some of my favorite!). You can add your sketchnotes into the notebook, then scan it with the rocketbook app and send it straight to your google drive, dropbox, email, or even send it in a text (which is great for my son when he wants to send his picture to grandma and grandpa!). Once you have saved your sketchnote digitally, put your notebook in the microwave with a mug of water on top of it, and it wipes all the pages clean so you can use them all over again! Amazing! These notebooks are pricer than regular notebooks, but if they hold up, they can be reused over and over by different classes each year. I'm writing a grant for a couple of class sets so I can test that theory. I'll keep you posted on how that experiment goes . . . 

Close Reading with Sketchnotes

Now we're ready to jump into content using sketchnotes. I chose the picture book Stellaluna by Janell Cannon. According to the article Closing in on Close Reading in ASCD's Educational Leadership, "When students are learning a process, such as how to search for a recurring theme, reading short texts allows them to make more passes through the entire sequence of a text. It could take weeks or even months to read through a 100-page novel to identify a theme or concepts related to the text as a whole. A short text of a page or two can be digested in one lesson."

Stellaluna was a bat that landed in a bird's nest when she was just a baby after falling out of her mama's grasp during an owl attack. Stellaluna was raised by the mama bird, and although she had some similarities to her adopted bird family, she did not always act like her bird brothers. Stellaluna did not like to eat bugs, she had trouble flying and landing during the day, and she liked to sleep hanging upside down by her feet. After her three bird brothers tried hanging upside down by their feet too, mama bird told Stellaluna that she would have to stop teaching the other birds bad habits if she wanted to stay in that nest. Later Stellaluna meets other bats, and she discovers that she was not wrong, she was just different than her bird family. But in the end, they can all still be friends despite their differences. 

First Read: Determine what the text says.

In my sketchnote example (I used the app fresh paint to create it), you can see I labeled a #1 and #2 to represent my focus during the first and second read. Sketchnotes are a great tool to use when close reading because you can easily go back to your notes and add more during successive readings. On my first read, I focused on comparing the bat Stellaluna to the birds Pip, Flutter, and Flap. I made a kind of double bubble map with their similarities and differences. 

Second Read: Figure out how the text works.

On the second read, I was focusing on the author's purpose.  When Stellaluna met other bats, she saw that they hung upside down when they slept, they ate bugs, and they flew in the dark. When the other bats asked her why she wasn't hanging upside down she said, "Mama bird said I was wrong." The other bat responded, "For a bird maybe, but not for a bat." I added this quote after my second read because I thought it was a good illustration of the author's purpose. It is also a great opportunity to apply the author's purpose to students' own lives and have a discussion about race or peer pressure. Stellaluna tried to do the "right" thing when she was in the bird's nest, but was she really doing anything wrong? How do you think that made Stellaluna feel about herself? Have you ever felt like Stellaluna where something you do is wrong in one place but not in another place (like at home)? Why do you think that is? How do you handle it?

Third Read: Analyze and compare the text.

On the third read, in my sketchnote example (created in a rocket book), I compared Stellaluna to a poem by Maya Angelou, Caged Bird. An except of this powerful poem can be found in the book Poetry for Young People: Maya Angelou. I added the quote, "The caged bird sings with a fearful trill/ of things unknown but longed for still/and his tune is heard on a distant hill/ for the caged bird sings of freedom." In this poem, the bird is in a cage and his wings are clipped and his feet are tied. It made me think of Stellaluna, and although she wasn't in a cage in the story, in a way she was caged too. She did not have the freedom to do things that came naturally to her like eat fruit and sleep upside down, and she forced herself to live in a way that didn't allow her to be herself. In this poem, it's as though the birds and Stellaluna trade places, and they know what it feels like to lack freedom. This poem is a metaphor that has implications for things students face today. There are a lot of ways that you can experience a loss of freedom. Have you ever done something because everyone else was doing it? Did it make you feel like your wings were clipped and your feet were tied? In other words, did you feel like you couldn't be yourself? 

These short texts give a lot of opportunities for deep, rich discussions, and you can capture this higher level thinking with sketchnotes. 

How will you use sketchnotes?

Create Your Own Auto-filling Data Spreadsheet With These 4 Tips

This summer I became Level 1 and Level 2 Google Certified. Woot woot! I even got to visit the Google faciity in Boulder which was AMAZING! Some of the things that I learned make analyzing team data much easier. For example, the kindergarten team at my school assesses students with the Literacy Skills Assessment 3 times a year. They wanted an easy way to compile the data from all of their classes to analyze how all students in kindergarten are performing.

First, I created a google sheet that had a page for each individual teacher on the team and one page for the whole grade level called the Team Data Wall. 

1. Freeze Rows

Image from Gyazo
This is simple, but important! You want to freeze your headers or titles so that when you sort data, it doesn't move the headers into your data. Go to View–Freeze–2 rows. I needed more than 2 rows frozen because I have a big header. A line shows up to show you which rows are frozen. You can just grab the line and pull it down to freeze more rows. 

2. Automatically Add Totals

Image from Gyazo
Another simple but time-saving trick is to make sure your spreadsheet does the math for you. On this google sheet, there is a column called upper/lower that calculates the total number of upper and lower case letters that the student knows. The total LSA score is all the data added together. These columns are set up to automatically add the total scores for each trimester. To do this, click in the box you want to calculate the total and type =SUM. Next, click in the boxes that you want added together with a comma between the numbers. My code in the example is =SUM(E7,N7,Q7,T7). Once you create the command for one box, you can copy and paste in another box. It will automatically adjust to fit the numbers in that row.

3. Automatically Populate Data on a Shared Page

This gets a little more sophisticated, but it's one of the features I'm most excited about! I found the video above which does a nice job walking you through each step of combining data onto a new page. The problem we had when analyzing this data before was that the teachers wanted to see their individual classroom data, but they also wanted to see the data as a whole grade level. That meant they were typing the info in more than one place, which was a waste of time. This feature let's teachers type in the names of students and data on their individual classroom page, and it automatically shows up on the Team Data Wall. This is the function I added to do this on my Team Data Wall: 
=QUERY({'Teacher #1'!A7:Y;'Teacher #2'!A7:Y;'Teacher #3'!A7:Y;'Teacher #4'!A7:Y;'Teacher #5'!A7:Y},"select * where Col1 is not null",0). 

The information from every classroom is automatically entered. Such a time-saver! The downside is that you cannot sort the data on the Team Data Wall itself. You can only sort it on the original page, but that is where pivot charts come in handy. 

4. Create Pivot Tables to Analyze the Data

Pivot tables let you analyze a large set of data in different ways. For example, this sample pivot table shows us column A is the number of rhyming words students knew, and you can see how many students in each class knew that number of rhyming words by following the columns across the top. Therefore, 2 students in Teacher 1's class and 2 students in Teacher 2's class knew 0 rhyming words.  It also gives a grand total of students in kindergarten that knew 0 rhyming words. Just move down the rows in column A and follow the data across to see how many students knew 1 - 10 rhyming words. These pivot tables do live updates, so as soon as the data changes, so does the chart. 

Creating pivot tables on my spreadsheet makes me feel like a real coder! It seems really fancy, and while this is the most difficult tip in this post, it is really not that hard to do once you get the hang of it.  The video above is a little long, but it shows you how to create different kinds of pivot tables in your google sheet. You really need to watch the video to understand the logistics of how to create and code your pivot table, but here is the data I used to create the example pivot table on rhyming words.

These tips can help you analyze your grade level data much more efficiently! You can also download a copy of my LSA Kinder Team Data Wall here on Teacher Sherpa if you don't want to make your own. Happy analyzing!

Literacy + STEAM= Design Sprints: Ada Lovelace

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One of the first computer programmers in the world was Ada Lovelace, a woman who lived during the 1800s, yet the number of women in STEM careers today is lower than in any other field.  AAUW did some research to find out why women were under represented in this field in a report called Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.  Here is a synopsis of their findings:

So how can we, as educators, encourage more women to join STEM related fields and debunk the gender bias that exists in STEM? We can start by integrating it into the classroom so that all students gain experience with STEM concepts, and Design Sprints are a great place to start. I recently learned about design sprints from my friend Kristen at while I attended the #InnEdCO18 conference in June. Design sprints ask students to answer a question or solve a problem in a specific amount of time using the design thinking process. The ISTE Standards for Students defines the deliberate design process as: A methodology for problem-solving; a series of steps used to solve a problem and design a solution. For example, human-centered design process, project-based learning, engineering design processes, scientific method. 

The last design sprint in this 4 part series focuses on computer programing using Code Club: Scratch as part of a bigger PBL unit. Discover more great picture books to launch a design sprint with a STEAM challenge in your classroom using the 4 picture books highlighted in this series: What If . . . , Abby Invents Unbreakable Crayons, The World is Not A Rectangle, and Ada Lovelace.

Little People, Big Dreams Ada Lovelace by Isabel Sanchez Vegara

This book was first published in the US in March of 2018, and it is one of the best children's books I have read about the life of Ada Lovelace. Born in 1815, Ada Lovelace was the daughter of the famous poet Lord Byron and the logical mathematician Lady Byron. Ada was equally creative and mathematical. Since her father left when Ada was just an infant, however, her creativity and imaginative inventions were not encouraged by her mother. Instead, her mother wanted Ada to focus solely on logic and mathematical thinking. 

When Ada was 17 years old, she was introduced to Charles Babbage, the inventor of a large calculator machine. She was one of the few people who understood how the calculator worked. "Ada thought she could use math . . . to make the calculator do even more amazing things! She wrote a code made up of numbers that would tell the calculator what to do. Ada didn't know it, but she had just invented the language that computers use today." This well written story conveys complex ideas in simple language for children, and the lovely illustrations help capture the life of Ada Lovelace. It also includes more detailed facts about her life in the back of the book. Her story is a powerful one–a woman who invented the language of code in a time when women were not thought to be capable of this type of complex thinking. Even today, the number of women in the fields of math and science are startlingly low, so I love sharing that a woman from the 1800s was the inventor of computer programming. It was her work that led to the invention of the first computer 100 years later. The book ends with this idea, "She showed that when you use science and imagination, your dreams can take flight." 

Science + Technology + Math= Scratch Poetry

This summer I became a Raspberry Pi certified educator. During our training, I learned about code club, which was designed for after school clubs that get kids coding. They have step by step tutorials which kids can walk through independently, and they can even cross off the items on the list as they complete them! It's great for after school programs, but it's also great for teachers who want to implement coding in the classroom but may not know how to start. Code Club has courses for projects done with Scratch, Raspberry Pi, Python, and more! If you haven't tried it, I highly recommend checking out their resources here!

One of the resources created by Code Club is a tutorial using Scratch called Ada's Poetry Generator. Ada Lovelace is generally recognized as the first computer programmer, and there is even an Ada Lovelace Day on the 2nd Tuesday in October, which was founded to celebrate the achievements of women in STEM. This would be a great time of year to launch a PBL unit that includes computer programming as an entry event. As part of the Ada Lovelace Day celebration, read about Ada Lovelace and have students code their own poetry generator! The instructions for this program have students create lists of nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs to generate poems (a great way to integrate literacy as well!). 

I coded my own poetry generator, but I tweaked the program to create poems about Mars so that it would fit into a PBL unit on the solar system. I coded the poems to start with "Mars . . . " and ended with the line "Interesting Mars" in the style of a diamante poem. The other words and phrases in poem are random, however, so it does not follow the poem's structure exactly, but you should get a different poem each time.  Click on the picture of Ada Lovelace below to check out the example I created. Be sure to type in your name when she asks you what your name is, and she will tell you to click on the computer to generate your poem.
As an entry event for a PBL unit about the solar system, students studying the solar system (4th and 5th graders at my school) can try using the poem generator above (or one that you create to align specifically with your standards) and write down the words and phrases that are generated. Then, students can follow up with their own research to see how the words and phrases are related to Mars. Next, students split up into groups to do research about planets or other elements of the solar system that they are studying to create their own poem generator using Scratch with the facts that they learned about the solar system. As a learning center, students could explore the other poetry generators created by their classmates in a jigsaw style learning activity to learn about other parts of the solar system researched by other students. These poetry generators could then be used as the PBL entry event for students the following year. 

Tip: Use thinglink to share all the poem generators that students create on different topics.  

There are so many topics that could be used with this poetry generator! How would you use this in your classroom?

Literacy + STEAM = Design Sprints: The World is Not a Rectangle

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Student engagement matters. This infographic based on the Levels of Engagement from the research of Phillip Schlechty define what level of buy-in you really have from your students. Sitting quietly does not necessarily equal learning. When students are authentically engaged, they learn at high and profound levels.

So how do we create high levels of engagement in our classroom? Design sprints are one answer! They fit perfectly into a Project Based Learning unit, which is another way to create high levels of engagement. I recently learned about design sprints from my friend Kristen at while I attended the #InnEdCO18 conference in June. Design sprints ask students to answer a question or solve a problem in a specific amount of time using the design thinking process. The ISTE Standards for Students defines the deliberate design process as: A methodology for problem-solving; a series of steps used to solve a problem and design a solution. For example, human-centered design process, project-based learning, engineering design processes, scientific method. 

This design sprint is going to focus on Project Based Learning. This is the third post in this 4 part series: Literacy + STEAM= Design Sprints (Check out the first post in this series What If . . . and the second post in this series Abby Invents Unbreakable Crayons). Discover great picture books to launch a design sprint with a STEAM challenge in your classroom. 

The World is not a Rectangle A Portrait of Architect Zaha Hadid by Jeanette Winter

This book, published in 2017, is about the creative designs of architect Zaha Hadid. She was an Arabic, a Muslim, and a woman who designed unusual, flowing buildings without traditional corners, and that made her designs controversial at times. She wanted her designs to reflect nature in the world around her. One of her quotes is the title for this book: "The world is not a rectangle. You don't go out into a park and say, 'My God, we don't have any corners.'" This book does a beautiful job of showing the inspiration for Zaha Hadid's work. It describes, "Her buildings swoosh and zoom and flow and fly." It shows illustrations of the swaying grasses and marshes that inspired the Signature Towers in Dubai, and the wind in the sand dunes that inspired the Bee'ah Headquarters in Sharjah. She holds the shell that inspired her design for the Al Wakrah Stadium in Qatar, and she sees the Guangzhou Opera House in China that looks like pebbles in the water on the outside, and, "Inside the opera house, a singer is the pearl in an oyster shell." This tribute to the career of Zaha Hadid includes facts about the life of this influential architect and over 10 of her designs and the inspiration behind them: galaxies, the flow of the water, the mountains, and jungles. Zaha Hadid passed away in 2016, but she left her mark on the world. A note from the author at the end of the book sums it up perfectly, "When I first saw photos of Zaha Hadid's architectural designs in 2010, the buildings seemed to fly. My spirit took flight–to a place in my imagination that only landscape had taken me before. I had to find out more about her."

Science + Engineering + Art = Minecraft Designs

I took a class this summer from my good friend Brandon Petersen who works for Microsoft, and I learned about how to use Minecraft EDU in the classroom. It is amazing! It is the perfect tool for students to use as an entry event or to create a product during a PBL unit. My district invested in computers from Microsoft, and with it came a free Minecraft EDU account for every student for the next 3 years! Woot! Woot! If you don't have Minecraft EDU accounts for your students, you can purchase school licenses for $5 per student (Click here for more info).  There are some amazing things you can do with Minecraft EDU as a learning tool in the classroom, and there is a whole bank of lesson plans to get you started.

Using the PBL Project Design Overview from BIE, here is a PBL unit that can be done in the architectural style of Zaha Hadid with flowing lines that mimic nature, so students can become architects using Minecraft EDU.

Name of Project: Design a Zoo
Subject: Life Science
Grade Level: 2nd and/or 4th

Key Knowledge and Understanding (CCSS or other standards)
In Colorado, 2nd graders and 4th graders life science standards and essential questions focus on habitat: How do living things depend on their environment? Organisms depend on their habitat’s nonliving parts to satisfy their needs. (2nd grade). How are resources shared among organisms in a specific ecosystem or habitat?  How do nonliving components of an ecosystem influence living components? There is interaction and interdependence between and among living and nonliving components of systems. (4th grade).

Success Skills/21st Century Skills (to be taught and assessed)

Project Summary (include student role, issue, problem or challenge, action taken and purpose)
On the Minecraft Education Edition website, there is a lesson plan called Design a Zoo. Students research 8 ecosystems and 1 animal for each ecosystem. Then they design a zoo in Minecraft that houses 5 different animals in different ecosystems.

Driving Question: Can you design and create a zoo in Minecraft EDU that simulates the habitat of 5 different animals found in 5 different ecosystems?
These Guiding Ideas were on the lesson plan on the  Minecraft Education Edition website:
What is an ecosystem? 
What is the difference between a food chain and a food web? 
What happens to animals or plants that live in an ecosystem that does not meet its needs? 
Give some examples of living things in an ecosystem and some nonliving things. 
What are the basic needs of animals? 
What do herbivores eat? What do omnivores eat? 
What do carnivores eat? 
What does extinction mean? 
What does adaptation mean? 
What are the five groups of vertebrate animals?
Entry Event
Take students on a Virtual Reality field trip to see The Birds of Denver Zoo, or The San Diego Zoo with Google Expeditions. Included in these virtual reality field trips are questions and facts to share with students as you take the tour together. For example, in The Birds of Denver Zoo, it says, "Welcome to the Denver Zoo! You're now in our Rainforest Exhibit in Bird World. In this immersive habitat there are lots of different species, but they can be difficult to spot. As you look around, find features of the exhibit that could help meet the needs of birds. Hint: food, water, shelter, and space to be active!" It also includes information about the waterfall found in the exhibit, "In this exhibit, there is a waterfall as well as a small pond. How might birds use these to meet their needs? Fun fact: Some of the birds perch by this waterfall, using it like a shower to clean their feathers!"

Then read the book, The World is Not A Rectangle by Jeanette Winter. Discuss how architect Zaha Hadid used nature as an inspiration for her architectural designs. Tell students their task: Can you design and create a zoo in Minecraft EDU that simulates the habitat of 5 different animals found in 5 different ecosystems? Then ask them if they can design their zoos with nature as an inspiration for the buildings they must include in the habitat, just like Zaha Hadid. Try to avoid corners and square spaces for their animals and use nature as an inspiration for their space.

Working in groups of 5, students create a scale model of the zoo in Minecraft EDU from their initial design. (I suggest having one Minecraft world for each group of 5 students, and each student in the group can build one of the habitats for the zoo in that world in collaboration with the other members of the group). It will include 5 different habitats with a different animal in each habitat. It must include the important things that those animals depend on in their environment to survive. Students will be able to speak to the following questions as they relate to the animals in their zoo:
(2nd grade)
What are the basic needs of plants and animals?
   How are the basic needs of all living things similar and different?
   How do living things depend on their environment?

   How does an organism respond when basic needs are not met?
(4th grade)
   How are resources shared among organisms in a specific ecosystem or habitat?

   How do nonliving components of an ecosystem influence living components?
  What would happen if the Sun’s energy no longer reached Earth?
  What would happen if water were removed from an ecosystem?

Making Products Public (include how the products will be made public and who students will engage with during/at the end of project)
Because of the similarities in the 2nd and 4th grade life science unit, students in those grade levels can present and/or collaborate on the design of their zoo. They can ask students to take a tour of their zoo.
For a more authentic audience, contact your local zoo to see if someone on the staff would be willing to listen to students present their ideas and give feedback on the virtual zoos they created.

Resources Needed
Minecraft EDU accounts (Click here for more info)

Reflection Methods (how individual, team, and/or whole class will reflect during/at end of project)
Have students use Flip Grid (which is now free for educators!) to reflect on different stages of the process: The research, the design, building in Minecraft, and feedback from students and zoo staff members.

Click here to make a copy of this plan on a google doc to get you started. I know you will need to make changes in order to add details of the research and learning your students will need to do, and to add specific details for your unit, but this should help you get started. There are also more great lesson plans you can find on the  Minecraft Education Edition website that relate to this life science standard:

Students use Minecraft to create a bird-attracting garden.
Lesson Objectives
  • Students understand adaptations for survival of living things.
  • Students understand how the environment can impact a living thing.
Guiding Ideas
Students should be able to include a variety of features in their garden which will allow a bird to survive such as; a bird bath, bird house, plants of varying sizes, a fence to keep out predators etc.
Students should consider the adaptations of the particular birds they are trying to attract and design their garden based on these adaptations. For example, if the students were wanting to attract an eagle, they would need to include other small animals in their garden to ensure the eagles would be attracted to a food source.
Students should include a description of their garden on a sign-post created in their world. They should include their design decisions and the justification for these decisions.
What will be providing the birds with a food source?
What will provide the birds with a water source?
What will provide the birds shelter?
Will there be any protection available in your garden?
What information would be important to include in your signage?
What types of tools will you need to construct your garden?
What resources will you need?
Can you design it to scale?
Would your design be feasible to implement in reality? What about the school setting?

Deforestation is occurring at an alarming rate! Since the 1990’s it has doubled and continues today. Deforestation happens all over the world.

Learning Objectives

  • Students will design and create Minecraft worlds illustrating the before and after effects of deforestation from 1990 or prior and 2016 in an area
  • Students will make predictions for the next 5-10 years in that same area based on the rapid rate of deforestation since 1990.
  • Students will research and present their call to action for slowing the process of deforestation in their community.

Students investigate the relationship between elephant and man. 

Learning Objectives
  • Students develop an understanding of the complex issues surrounding habitat destruction and land-use conflict
  • Students use case studies to identify solutions that have been tried and tested – and use tools to assess their relative success
  • Students use their developing understanding of the needs and preferences of both elephant and human communities to design and trial a range of solutions in Minecraft
  • NGSS - HS-LS2-7. Design, evaluate, and refine a solution for reducing the impacts of human activities on the environment and biodiversity.

Have you ever used Minecraft EDU in the classroom? What was your experience? I can't wait to give it a try this year!

Don't forget to check back for more ideas in the series Literacy + STEAM= Design Thinking Sprints! The last post in this series will feature the book: