Saturday, October 28, 2017

Great Pumpkin STEM Challenge

I've mentioned before that I teach an elective to 4th and 5th graders entitled “Digital Design Process.” It’s a remarkably fun class to teach, as I never know that I’m going to get from my students because creatively is uniquely wonderful and individual like that. In addition to talking to them about innovation, I’ve taught them how to be innovative with tools such as Buncee, Canva, Padlet, and more… and then we capture them in our digital portfolios with Seesaw—which adds a nice paper-free, environmental layer to the class.  Additionally, we also do some no-tech or low-tech STEM/Design challenges like “Trying to ReasonWith Hurricane Season.”

With Halloween around the corner, it seemed like the perfect time for another Design Challenge—this time regarding “The Great Pumpkin.” While I’m a major fan and grew up on “The Peanuts” cartoon strip by Charles Schwartz, the name stuck, but the direction of the cartoon didn’t fit with where my gears were turning.

But I was struck by a book I read lifetimes ago when I was teaching Kindergarten: “The Biggest Pumpkin Ever” by Steven Kroll. This delightful story has two little mice inadvertently giving the same pumpkin extra love, attention, and nutritional power, causing it to grow like gangbusters and be the greatest pumpkin ever. This led them on the need to transport their super-sized pumpkin to the center of town to be shared with their pumpkin-loving peers.

So the challenge for students: Create a transport system to carry a mini pumpkin, where the “you” in this situation is a 2 inch Playmobil character.  (As a mom of 2 kids, I had plenty of these guys.)  With odds and ends Legos (minus any wheels!), a collection of corks and craft sticks, a yard of string, and some rubber bands--and of course a mini pumpkin-- the stage is set for my designers to design, my creators to create, my builders to build, and my engineers to engineer!  Their li’l Playmobil guy (or gal) has to pull the pumpkin across the designated space to cross the finish line, with students only able to drag their guy (not the transportation system).

I can’t wait to put them into action this week! I’ll be sure to share pictures in a future post!

For more Halloween STEM Challenges:

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

See-Through Camping

Today I just finished reading "The Way of the Peaceful Warrior" by Dan Millman. There were a lot of references to being outside and being one with nature. While reading it, I found myself craving the outdoors. Add in the fall festival photos on Facebook, and plethora of seasonal and open apple orchards/pumpkin patches/corn mazes that are out there, I think that intensified my desire to be one with nature.

Then I ran across this video.  This could completely be my ideal form of camping. Security against the threat of looming bears, inclemate weather, or critters in my sleeping bag. Then there's the awe and wonderment of the vast vista that surrounds. The best of all worlds (with a comfy mattress to boot). Yes, a weekend here, unplugged, could be just what the doctor ordered!!


Video from

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Earth Day's Half Birthday

As a kid, not a year went by that I didn't celebrate my half birthday. Now... not so much. But my kids
do. A year seems an awful long time to wait to get to that special day, just for you--your own personal holiday. Given that, celebrating a half birthday seems to make sense--honoring the fact that you are halfway to that special day... celebrating at least with an ice cream cone or a candy bar and that personal realization that you're half way there.

With that in mind, we're just 6 months away from Earth Day. Our very own planetary holiday. For that reason, since we're halfway there (and I've often said that Earth Day should not just be celebrated one day, but every day), here's a Green Team Gazette reminder to go out and do something for your planet today. (And I'll leave it up to you if you also celebrate with an ice cream or a mini-munchie!)


Buncee art created by me:; Half birthday pic from

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Digital Safety & Citizenship with Dr. Sameer Hinduja

As the Lower School Technology Specialist, I know about dates such as this: Digital Citizenship Week this year is October 16--20th.  (Which, ironically coincides with this year's White House proclamation of Character Counts Week, October 15-21st).

Last week, tying into that, we had an Internet Safety, Digital Reputation, & Cyberbullying Assembly at school. The speaker, Dr. Sameer Hinduja (Co-director of Cyberbullying Research Center with Dr. Justin Patchin), was amazing!  As a speaker, researcher, author of 7 books, and Professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Florida Atlantic University, Sameer is quite the expert in his field!

Sameer was on campus for approximately 48 hours, and spoke to all constituents in different assemblies: grades 4-5, Middle School, Upper School, Faculty, special group leaders, and parents too. Each assembly was geared to the specified group, and  Sameer spoke candidly and expertly to whichever group he was addressing. My own middle schooler and upper schooler came home telling me they enjoyed their assembly and the fact that Sameer really spoke to their level and knew what he was talking about. He had his finger on the pulse of social media.

The main messages were that of kindness, empathy, resilience, character, creating a positive digital reputation, anti-bullying, and avoiding digital drama. 

He. Was. Excellent.  

My favorite take-aways (in no particular order):
  • Sameer's definition of 3 important words definining behavior:
    • rude: unintentional insult which upsets someone
    • mean: intentional insult which upsets someone which happens once
    • bullying: intentional insult which upsets someone which happens over and over, even when you tell them to stop.
  • You can't perfectly insulate children and teens when online. Given that, you need to teach them to be smart consumers of tech (especially since that's their world).
  • 1 of 3 kids have been victims of cyberbulllying--the results were from an anonymous poll of numerous 12-17 year olds...this impacts the dating world, which then leads to the potential of dating violence. I love that he spoke to Upper Schoolers about this, and how pressure to "sext" could lead to future dating abuse down the line!
  • Communication is key... and parents need to enter their teens worlds.
  • Encourage kids to make kindness go viral and do something legendary. (He shared so many "good videos!")
  • The "X Plan" is a great tool for parents to set up with their kids to give them an "out" during difficult party/group situations.
  • Raising moral kids and kids with a moral compass is the best line of attack! Build creative problem solvers in your children with resilience, who rise above, who overcome obstacles, and who fail forward.
  • The more people succeed over time, the more "haters" they'll be exposed to.
  • When it comes to "tech time," creation is always more important to consumption. Let that be the guide to your "tech time policing."
  • When it comes to digital presence and digital response to other, just like the toothpaste...once it's out there, it's out there.
  • "Pause before you post, think before you text or type."
If you ever get a chance to see Dr. Sameer Hinduja, please do. You'll be glad you did. His future schedule is taking him to Nashville on November 5-7, 2017 to the 14th Annual international Bullying Prevention Association Conference.

Resources from Cyberbullying Research Center worth diving into, on specific topics:

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Trying to Reason With Hurricane Season: Design Challenge

This hurricane season has done a dandy on us all, and we still have a month and a half to go. Between Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, we've all gotten an education on hurricanes this year!

Given the degree to which hurricanes have been on all our minds and in the media, I decided a "Trying to Reason With Hurricane Season" design challenge was just what my 4th and 5th grade Digital Design Process elective needed.

I found this "Building From Hurricanes: Engineering Design Challenge" from NASA's Precipitation Education website. That site is laid out well & has several printable lesson files that you will want to be sure to print to help guide your students. With some minor tweaks (most notably: trading the tennis balls to these cute Dollar Store "emoji guys"), we were set.

Using Buncee, I created this slide show to set the stage and intention of the challenge.

30 minutes.
Teamwork & collaboration.
Emoji guys for the win.
Shelter-building on all sides.

We all gathered around to watch as we worked through the 3 fan speeds (now known as "Category 1," "Category 2," and "Category 3" hurricanes), then moved the fan closer to the structures for a more direct hit for a Category 4 & Category 5 hurricane.  This brief snippet tells the whole story on what a success this whole activity was!

Trying to Reason with Hurricane Season Design Challenge Fan Testing from Vicki Dabrowka on Vimeo.

Presentation created in Buncee and can be found at; Photos from my camera. Video from

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Booklists for Budding Young Social Justice Activists

 A quick Google search for definition for “social justice” and “activism” give you these two definitions:
Both can be seen in the political sphere, as certainly there are line-item beliefs from both of the American parties that clarify a particular "party stance" on certain social, economic, and even civic ideals. 

Yet, one can also look to the social science side of the terms instead… focusing not on what’s Democratic or Republican, but rather looking at it more from a humanitarian or cultural side. As teachers, that’s really what we do in our classrooms when we discuss issues—whether it’s in the kindergarten classroom or up to the college level. We inspire our students to think, to ponder, to weigh the issues, and consider the alternatives and even the consequences. Our students bring their personal experiences to the table, and sometimes they widen their view after encountering other’s perspectives. It is through this that students begin to develop their own perspectives amidst the insight of their peers. It can often work that way for adults as well. (Insert open-mindedness here, though! 😉)

Social justice topics are many, including some the following:
  • Racism
  • Sexism
  • Ageism
  • Gender/sexual rights
  • Human rights & equality
  • Bullying & discrimination
  • Poverty 
  • Homelessness
  • Food & hunger issues
  • Environmental issues 
  • Access to clean water
  • Access to health care
  • Access to education
  • Access to a living wage
  • Child & migrant labor laws
  • Acceptance of others’ cultural beliefs
Of course there are more, and I purposely left out the outwardly governmental issues that we can all read about in the newspaper.

Lucky for us in the age of the Internet, we have resources that abound—both for our own personal growth and life-long learning, and also to use in our classrooms. Additionally, there is such a wealth even in the picture book genre that can be used as teaching tools for our youngest (and also our oldest) students. Sometimes the visuals in a picture book paint a very clear picture that can speak volumes to 5th graders or high schoolers. I witnessed this in action this spring with our school-wide study of Karen Williams’ books on both Haiti and Malawi. Picture books can be ageless!

Here is a bounty of social justice & activism booklists, a mere click away:
Of course, this is just a start and a fraction of what is out there and available.

I’ve said it before: I’m not sure when I became an activist. Certainly in high school “apathy” was more my view when it came to issues of any sort (unless of course it was girl drama, buddies, and boys of high school 😉). But a girl who writes an environmental education blog, has spoken at state governmental committees about Earth Hour, has written letters to the editor, has attended marches in DC, and has squawked her political views on social media is an activist, no doubt.

May this booklist broaden your perspectives, and bring out a little bit of your own inner activist!

Definitions screenshot from a simple google search and put in the Li-Pix app.; Social Justice books image from; Wordle from; Stand-Speak-Act image from

Saturday, October 7, 2017

The Artistic & Alternative Side of the Department of Energy

Thinking back to the "American Eclipse," there were some great posters created this year in the style of WPA (Works Progress Administration), akin to those of the New Deal era, highlighting and advertising the momentous occasion.

The secondary cool thing about that is that another series of other cool posters, done in the same style, that were created in 2016 to commemorate alternative energy and the anniversary of 2009's Recovery Act (aka the Stimulus Bill). They came from the Department of Energy's Loan's program office to celebrate the numerous projects and jobs created via the Recovery Act between 2009 to 2011.

To download your own high-resolution set (for your classroom decorations, for your bedroom decor, or as conversational pieces), click here. Let's hope that with all of the alterations and changes within this current presidential administration that the Department of Energy keeps them here for a long while!

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Buncee: My New Favorite #EdTech Tool

I was tickled pink early this September when I got the email that my application was chosen for the Buncee Ambassador program. I first learned about Buncee from Shannon McClintock Miller when I attended her workshop at FETC this past January. I have been hooked ever since.

I've used Buncee for my own creations and I've used it with my upper elementary students in my role as Lower School Technology Specialist. (I spent a lot of time this summer experimenting and creating, earning my "Buncee Master" badge for making 30+ items). Kids and teacher alike...we all love it and the possibilities it offers. One of my favorite parts about Buncee is its ease of use and it's availability across platforms. It's web-based and works with all devices--plus there's a simplified version within the Buncee app, making it user-friendly across the ages.

Here are 10  13 ways teachers can use Buncee (more than just to make really cool presentation for your students):

1. Buncee Book Doodle
In my Digital Design class (which is a 4th and 5th grade elective), I had students make Buncee Book Doodles. They enjoyed making these visual riddles and trying to guess their classmates' creation. They loved both sides of it. Here's mine (Scroll down to find the answer at the bottom of this post--see if you can guess it.) Of course you could do this for anything: famous people, songs, historic events, etc.

2.  Interactive Notebooks
Use Buncee to make detailed notes with visuals and annotations. This is a perfect way to showcase student learning. Here is an excellent example of illustrated learning (and the rationale behind it) from Sean Farnum, who leads the Buncee Ambassador Program. 

3.  Use with Global Read Aloud 
Global Read Aloud has been a growing since 2010 as a way of connecting with others and bridging through books. The official start to 2017 was October 2017. Shannon McClintock Miller has shared several ways to combine Buncee and Global Read Aloud in her blog "The Library Voice." To learn more about Global Read Aloud and this year's books, start here.

4.  Booksnaps 
Check out Amy Nichol's guest post on Buncee for a step-by-step list of how to create an engaging way for students to annotate pictures of the books that they are reading. Doing so will enhance their reading experiences. I love that her story example in her post was the book Me...Jane, a biography by Patrick McDonell about Jane Goodall. What a super #eco & #edtech pairing!

5. Bring Book Reports To Life
This Buncee blog post from Cynthia Stogdill illustrates some great ways to do just this. Given that Buncee has a feature that uses only Creative Commons images from Pixabay, the act of citing images is a built in feature. Additionally, by having the ability to add videos and voice along with the art and animations, your students have much more depth than a traditional book report. The same is true whether you are writing book reports, author studies, biographies, character analysis paper, or other written research.

Here's an excellent example of how one 2nd grade teacher, Amy Nichols, used Buncee in coordination with her Genius Hour research projects. Be sure to click this link for the detailed article on her activities and process, which may build your own inspiration!

6. Graphic Organizers
Templates on the Buncee website can serve as graphic organizers--or make your own! This sample shows how the image was cited.  When choosing a background for your Buncee slide, just go to the category "Educational Templates" to find a wealth of choices.

7.  Inspire your students to make math games.  
Here is a direction slide and game board created by Buncee user Kimberly to do just that. I like how she used audio to give directions to her students right inside her presentation slide--perfect for providing solid directions at a center activity for your students.

8. Vocabulary Building
Buncee makes illustrating vocabulary a breeze.  Click through this Buncee and also this blog post by Shelly Sanchez Terrell for more ideas.

9. Formative Assessment
Use creation as a way to for students to show their understanding. For more formative assessment ideas check out the Buncee below and also this Buncee blog post by Sean Farnum.

10. Personification Challenge
Put a little life into figurative language.  Have your students illustrate personification. Check out these examples here.

11. Make Invitations
Make an invitations to a class event for parents. This Buncee visual below as well as this blog post show you in great detail how you can create invitations. 

12.  Tie it in with your foreign language program or use with your English Language Learners. This post by Shelly Sanchez Terrell has a lot of ideas.

13. Staff Pics
When in doubt, check out the Buncee "Staff Picks" page. This gallery has a wealth of inspiration all in one place!

I could keep going, but you get the idea: you can do a lot with this simple yet powerful #edtech tool! Check it out!

Buncee Book Doodle Reveal:  "Little House on the Prairie" by Laura Ingalls Wilder.