education, ITRT

Olympic Makerspace – Part 2

As we prepare for the closing ceremonies of the 2018 Winter Olympics, our students have been busy crafting their own designs and modifications to make the events safer, faster, and more enjoyable for all.

Four weeks ago, Ms. Banton and I introduced our Olympic Makerspace project to every fifth-grader in our school during their library time. We mapped out specific tasks for each week that included building background knowledge about the various sports, pondering the “I Wonder” questions that filled our minds, then narrowing down our thoughts to one driving question:

“How can I improve the Winter Olympics?”

Friends, let me tell you… we were BLOWN away by their ideas and suggestions. With over 100 students participating in this project, their passions shined through as they dug deep into researching their topics. In addition to learning more about the Winter Olympic games as a whole, they discovered specific nuances of each sport, like how the bars work to guide a bobsled and what makes the blade of a skate glide faster over ice.

Our students became researchers, not simply Googling a sport, but asking more questions and searching for more answers. “How do athletes keep warm on the snow and ice?” sparked deeper research into fabrics and costume/uniform designs. “Where do athletes stay during the Olympics?” transformed into a conversation about architecture and interior/exterior design. Students started analyzing photos and replaying YouTube videos to hone in on specific details they wanted to improve.



In Week 3, students began designing their projects on paper, identifying what materials they would need to build their prototypes and sketching out models of their improvements. In Week 4, we set out all the materials and let the students GO!

Some students worked together in small groups. Others worked alone. All students were engaged and focused on their projects. They grappled with the logistics of how to make their visions come to life and when their prototypes didn’t quite work, they revised their plan and made adjustments to redesign.









We used Seesaw as our tool of choice to capture students’ projects, which allowed them as much time as they needed to explain their projects. We literally handed them the iPad and they did the rest on their own!




This snowboard includes straws on the bottom for smooth traction and additional safety over bumps.

As we reflect on the success of this project, we are already swirling with ideas of how we can take this concept of making and apply it to other themes throughout the year. Having a dedicated space in our school with ready-to-use materials and flexible seating makes this style of innovation quick and easy for our students!



A new ramp complete with safety sled


A redesigned ice skate to provide more stability with the country’s colors!


Did you know you can learn about math with making? Lots of angles in this design!

If you would like more information on how we redesigned our traditional computer lab space into an Innovation lab or various ways we have used flexible seating, please view the links below! We hope our Olympic Makerspace projects inspire you and your students to dream big!


September 2017
October 2017
December 2017
December 2017
January 2017


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grief, kindness, reflection

I Can

Today was a difficult day.

I arrived at school, the hearts of gratitude created by our students still sparkling on my table, their endearing messages and sweet sentiments reminding me of our kindness lesson the day before.
Students entered the building and several peeked in the Innovation Lab, seeking me out, smiles and open arms reaching for the hugs they receive each day on the way to class.
To an observer, it was a typical day.
To an educator, it was anything but.
My heart is heavy.
I feel guilty that I could tuck my kids into bed last night when others faced empty bedrooms.
I am heartbroken that there are students in this world who feel so unloved, filled with so much pain, tortured by so much hate, that taking the lives of others is acceptable in their minds.
Today I looked around at the students entrusted to my care and made a point to show them respect.
Show them patience.
Show them love.
In times like this, I feel completely overwhelmed and helpless. Who am I to think I can change the world? How could one little act of kindness truly make a dent in all these horror stories that fill each news channel I see?
I can’t fix yesterday.
I can’t bring back lives lost.
I can’t ease the pain of a grieving parent, nor can I mend the broken heart of a family who will never see their dad again.
But instead of focusing on the cant’s and can nots, I will chose to embrace I can.
I can call a student by name with a smile.
I can stop in the hall and listen to a story a child is bursting to tell.
I can remind students that they matter, that I care about them, that they have value and worth in my eyes.
I can choose to believe in the good and the power of positivity.
I can believe my planted seeds of kindness will one day sprout into a heart of compassion and empathy for others.
I can look for the good in others and trust that the ripple effect of your kindness and my kindness and the kindness of many will spread far and wide to make this world a better, safer place to live.
I can.
And so can you.


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kindness, mom

RAK Week 2018 – The Gift

Today is the start of Random Act of Kindness week in the US! I’m so excited!! Promoted by the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation, based out of Denver, Colorado, this is a week-long celebration of kindness ending on National Random Acts of Kindness Day (February 17). The week spans over Valentine’s Day which is a perfect holiday to show the world a little extra love and joy.

I absolutely LOVE this week, because the RAK Foundation does such great work in showcasing all the different ways people around the world are being kind. (For this year’s RAKs, check out the #RAKweek2018 hashtag on Twitter!) As a RAKtivist, it’s my joy to share my experiences with the world!

Yesterday, as I was making my final plans for all the little ways I would show kindness this week, a package arrived at my door. I looked at the return address and saw it was sent by a dear childhood friend. I vaguely remembered her asking for my address a while back, but I hadn’t given it another thought at the time.

I carefully opened the package and pulled out a handwritten note with a tiny silver box, taped shut. It’s not very often that I receive gifts like this, so I was equally perplexed and intrigued.

My heart started beating faster as I opened the handwritten note, tears filling my eyes even before I got to the bottom of the page.

My sweet friend,

I’m so proud of you! Your constant love for others shines and inspires me. It’s time for me to pay-it-forward with a RALLY – a Random Act of Lasting Love for You! My newest project if you will, has been taking older antique/vintage watches and turning them into something new. So far, I have only done things for family. Who am I kidding – we’re Secret Sisters, we’re family, too! You’re the first that’s not “blood.” 

As you embark on this new journey, I wanted you to have something special. Though time marches on (the watch case) – look to the stars in the heavens (the white stones inside the case) – and your sweet mother is smiling down on you (the garnet to represent her birthstone.) It’s delicate – not an everyday piece. Clean with a silver polishing cloth. It’s 14kt gold filled – most of the vintage cases were then – so don’t get it wet if you can help it. 🙂


With love,

Jennifer McMillen

Friends, there are times in our lives when the kindness of others is so overwhelmingly beautiful, so pure and real, that you honestly feel like you are being wrapped in the loving arms of God himself.

I share this story with you today to inspire you to listen to the whisper on your heart.



Don’t wait for the perfect time, the perfect place, or the perfect way. Just follow that prompting and make it happen. You just never know how important your act of kindness will be for someone else!

What my sweet friend, Jennifer, couldn’t possibly know (nor anyone else for that matter) is signing my first book contract with Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc. this past week was more than a dream come true. It was my mom’s dream as well.

The entire time she was battling cancer, she would check in periodically and ask, “How’s that book coming along? Have you written any more lately? What chapter are you on?” Each time, I answered with another excuse, a side-step to avoid the mother-daughter lecture of being brave and having confidence in my writing. It wasn’t until she was lying in a hospital bed days before her death that I promised to write the book that was planted in my soul.

A book about kindness.

A book for me. 

A book for you.

 A book for her.

And now, I have this little reminder from my kind and thoughtful friend to celebrate a promise fulfilled.


Celebrate kindness! Embrace the joy of doing nice things for others! This is a week to be the good and share the joy! And, if you happen to be on Twitter Monday night around 9pm EST, you can join me in the #tlap chat as we talk about the heart of kindness! Can’t wait!


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Three Little Things

Last night I was tagged in two separate posts asking me to share three random facts about myself with the world. Now, I’ve seen these types of viral share posts flying around on Facebook, but never on Twitter with my trusted PLN.

I scrolled up and read through some of the responses and was immediately drawn in by the zany, the crazy, the simple, and the sincere. People were sharing about their families. Their travels. Their most prized possessions and the oddities that make them unique.
I learned who has been a Go-go dancer (Barbara) and who’s adopting a child (Jessica). I discovered that some of my PLN have very diverse heritages (Did you know that Angela is Cape Verdean, Black, Portuguese & Native American with a Chinese last name?)
I scrolled and I scrolled and I scrolled and with each three facts I read, I learned a little bit more about the people who share my passions, who lift me up, who inspire me with their words and kindness each day. I felt connected and the laughter that was shared throughout the night filled my heart with joy!
It made for a great virtual ice-breaker as each person was asked to tag three more people and the thread continued to expand left and right, connecting classroom teachers with administrators and first year teachers with seasoned educators holding multiple degrees and designations. Published authors were chatting with new bloggers and the walls of entitlement were flattened. Some were even brainstorming ways to have a Three Random Facts dinner at their next Edcamp!
We were just a group of people, getting to know each other a little better, with a LOT of fun in the mix.
It was a simple post, but WOW – what an impact! It made me realize once again the power of our words and how we can use our words to connect with others in a positive way.
I was so inspired by the collegiality that I created this padlet to capture any responses people may want to share and keep in one place. I thought it might be a fun way we can all learn about each other to share at conferences and #coffeeEDUs, showcasing the power of a PLN!

I would love for you to share your three random facts on this Padlet, too. Let’s show the world how social media can be used to strengthen relationships and shine a light on all the things that make us unique. (It could also be a great intro activity for a lesson with your students, too!) If you’ve never used a Padlet before, give it a go – you just double-click on the main page to start a text box!

A special thanks to Bethany Hill and Annick Rauch who tagged me in their threads – this has been SUCH fun! Another round of thanks to Jarrett for the tweet that started it all… you never know when YOUR question will go viral!
Jump on in and share your three little things… I can’t wait to learn more about you!


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education, ITRT

Olympic Makerspace – Part 1

One of my favorite things about being a technology integrator is collaborating with teachers as they stretch themselves out of their comfort zones to try something new. A few weeks ago I was chatting with our school librarian, Ms. Banton, who was swirling with some ideas about an Olympic-themed research project.

“How about we have the students do something with the research they learn? Could they use their research to make something better?” I asked.

That’s all it took.

Two sentences and lots of brainstorming later, we settled on a three week project to help fifth grade students students dive into the Olympics and take their research to the next level.

Setting the Stage

We introduced our unit by focusing on the power of “I Wonder” questions. The lesson began with the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics trailer to build anticipation and awareness of the various sports that compete at the Olympics. We also showed another video that highlighted the moment where the flag was passed from the prior country to the new, with more footage of the events.

What I love most about these videos is the way you are pulled in by the music. One student heard the opening strains and looked at me perplexed, asking “Is this supposed to be a sad video? Does something happen to him?” Then, as the music rises and the other instruments join in, the tone changes and students discover what the video truly represents: anticipation, preparation, exhilaration. It’s The Mozart Hook at it’s finest, capturing your attention and pulling you along for the ride. (For those of you wondering, “What’s the Mozart Hook?” check out p. 97 in Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess!)

I Wonder

Once we’ve set the stage for engagement, it’s time to empower the students to own the lesson. We displayed images for each sport and read the words aloud so they would know which sport went with the videos they had just seen. That’s when the magic of the moment began.

“What do you wonder about these sports? Think about the way they use their bodies. Their equipment. What does the setting look like? How does that contribute to making them safer? Faster? Better? What do you wonder?”

I would like to say that all students immediately put lead to paper and frantically scrawled out their ways to change the world, but they needed time to think.

See, we all need a bit of time to ponder.

Time to think.

Time to grapple.

Time to grow.

The magic is in the pondering.

We gave them an “I Wonder” sheet to jot down their questions and encouraged them to chat with others at their table. We know the power of collaboration and how one idea sparks another, so we wanted to provide students an opportunity to enhance their questions. After several minutes, we opened the discussion to the entire class, choosing a few ideas to add to our class recording sheet, which sparked even more pondering by others.


Their questions made us ponder, too!

  • I wonder how can we design the luge track to be safer?
  • I wonder why girl ice skaters wear skirts and how we can design a costume for girls who don’t like dresses?
  • I wonder why one sport wears goggles and another sport doesn’t?
  • I wonder how people stay in a bobsled?
Refine and Research

On the back of the page, students were asked to choose one of their “I Wonder” questions and create a research focus that would drive the creation of a product that could improve something already made or doesn’t exist yet.

Ms. Banton and I walked around the room, helping students refine their research question which we noted on their papers. Then students were given an opportunity to peruse and check out books for the remainder of class.

After repeating this lesson for each of the fifth grade classes in our school, it’s exciting to see all the different student interests related to the Winter Olympics. Next week we dive deep into research using print and electronic resources, then in Week 3, students will use materials from our Innovation Lab’s makerspace to design and create their innovations to share with the world!

How do YOU use passion projects and makerspace lessons in your curriculum? Do you have any projects you are working on for the Olympics? Share your ideas below so we can learn from one another!


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