Design Time with Google Drawings

We have some pretty terrific posters hanging around the school encouraging us to “Smile! It looks good on you!” I thought this kind of inspiration would make a great project idea for my fifth grade students who rotate through my classroom twice a week for exploratory.

I decided to keep it simple this time. Since we are now 1:1 with Chromebooks (yay!), I had the students use Google Drawings. It could not be an easier program to use. Day One consisted of a step by step tutorial with skills such as changing the page setup, adding Word Art, and inserting images from the web. We took it up a notch on Day Two by adding borders to our text boxes, searching for “transparent” images, and searching, inserting, and cropping patterned backgrounds from the Web. What fun! Those that met the following requirements added their names to my Design Time All Star wall.

  • Change the page size to 8.5×11
  • Change title correctly
  • Add a background and send it to back
  • Add image
  • Add Word Art and change the color/font
  • Add Text Box and change the color/font
  • Share via Google

Check out some of my favorites from today!

How Do You Have the Time?


People often ask me, “I love what you are doing, but how do you have the time to fit it in?”

My short answer is this:  Providing these experiences is a high priority of mine, so I make the time.

My long answer is this:

Learning is fun.

A friend wants to give back to the community, so she spends her free time packing Blessings in a Backpack.  This is her first experience spearheading such a large initiative, so she has had to learn.  She makes the time.

A coworker is renovating a home for her parents and is learning something new everyday.  She is no renovation expert, but she is learning.  She makes the time.

My maker team buddy loves makeup and hair tutorials and thinks she might be able to share a few helpful tips on a website.  She doesn’t know how, but she is learning.  She makes the time.

We make the time to pursue our interests and learn new things every day.  Are we inspiring our students to do the same?

These children are more than a score. My son is more than a score. I want him to have a place where he is encouraged to pursue his passions. I want our students to know that they have skills, right now, that can make a difference in this world. I want them to understand that all efforts, no matter how small they may seem, are important. I want them to understand that connections and communicating with the public are just as important, if not more important, than communicating with me. The Internet has made it possible for them to learn things that we never even dreamed of learning. I want to guide them to these resources and encourage them to learn on their own.  They are not too young to impact the world around them with new skills.

In addition, my value as a teacher is greater than a set of scores. I have too much to offer as a educator, as a person, to let a test dictate how I teach or how my students learn.

I believe the same about my coworkers.  I work with an amazing group of people with the best of intentions and amazing skill sets.

When you wonder how I have the time to deviate from the curriculum, I leave you with two questions:

Would you want to be a student in your own classroom? 

Are you making the time to provide meaningful, relevant, and inspiring learning opportunities for your students?

If the answer is no to either of these questions, you might want to rethink how you are doing things.

Make the time.

Our Digital Journey: Selecting the Tools

Screen Shot 2014-10-05 at 5.57.33 PMThis is the third post in a series documenting the digital literacy initiative at Cecil Intermediate School.  If you like this post, you may want to read “What Do You Value” and “Building a Team”.

Writing a lesson plan can be difficult.  I always know what I’d like the outcome to look like, but I struggle with the details.  Sometimes, I just have to get started before I can be super specific about how I will meet my objective.  The same is true with our new Digital Journey.  As I highlighted in my first post, the world is looking for problem solvers, team players, collaborators, and communicators.  But as many of you know, there are thousands of web tools and apps that encourage these skills.  How do you narrow it down?

I considered the following categories before making my final selection:

1.  Ease of Use:  Our students are sweet, hard-working, and bright fifth and sixth graders.  Many of them have their own devices at home, but they have not had a great deal of experience using complex programs.  I wanted them to feel comfortable and successful right away.

2.  Compatibility:  If we are going to encourage students to learn and create at home as well as school, I felt that the programs needed to be available on many different platforms.  I gave special consideration to tools that could be accessed from computers, Chromebooks, tablets, and even phones.

3.  Google Connected:  The technology department created Google Accounts for each of our students as we have three Chromebook carts available for use.  I wanted students to have the experience of registering through Google, so they could see how easy it is.  The fewer the steps they need to take to get into a program, the better off we will all be!

4.  Application:  The tools selected allow students the ability to express themselves through pictures, video, and audio.  The tools can be utilized in ANY of our courses, including the Arts and Humanities.

5.  Ability to Share:  After students have created their spectacular projects, we need to be able to share them with the world.  Tools that encourage sharing via email, Twitter, YouTube, and Schoology were given special preference.  But no worries, most educational web tools are built with this in mind!

Want to see our first digital tool list?  Stay tuned!

Our Digital Journey: Building a Team


This is the second post in a series entitled “Our Digital Journey”.  Click here to read my first post describing why and how Cecil Intermediate School has embarked upon a digital literacy initiative…

So, my first meeting with our fabulously connected middle school librarian, Amy, occurred at the end of July. She might be horrified to know I was promoting her blog, but you can find her @MrsBarbarino on Twitter and She feels that she should blog more consistently, and she should, but the experiences that she has already created and the tools that she has been sharing are spot-on. Her approach to a “movement” will be different as she reaches students in a different mode, but her Tech group will be something special, no doubt! Bottom line, connections are essential, and I will need a sounding board, someone who will experience the same successes and frustrations as I.

My next logical step was to think about how I was going to create a team within my building. Many do know how to use many tools beyond the Office suite, but they WANT TO. They are interested but professional development has left them with no opportunies to explore. There are a few that I decided to approach first:

Jody is the other sixth grade reading teacher in our building. She is super creative, fabulously artsy, and has the most amazing personal style. Her experience with technology was top-notch a few years ago, but her teaching partner sadly left for a position with another district. I knew I needed to grab her immediately for planning purposes. I also know that she is willing to take risks. Our first meeting was at her house with my kiddos. I set her up with a Padlet board of things to think about while I was on vacation and a Twitter account to engage her further. Oh, and I also ordered a copy of the book, The Dot, to be shipped to her. If you have not read it, you must, especially if you are lacking the courage to start a movement within your own building.  You can follow Jody’s class, Room 313,  @mcilvaine313 on Twitter.

Chuck is the gifted support teacher in our building. You can keep up with his enrichment projects @tatumenrichment on Twitter.  He has his own, albeit small, classroom. He has access to extra resources and a flexible schedule. Most importantly, he has an interest. In the past few years, I have shared crash courses on several tools, and he has been intrigued. But again, he lacked opportunity and time to learn. Here’s his reply to my email:

Screen Shot 2014-10-05 at 4.48.54 PM

Lauren is a fifth grade Math and Science teacher. She and I were paired a few years ago, her very first year as a regular education classroom teacher, and it was one of the best years in my teaching career. Lauren is ready to try anything! She is an avid “pinner” and has a overall idea of what we should be doing but aren’t. Lauren is working on her Master’s degree, but beyond her life in academia and with her super tech-savvy husband, she has something that I definitely don’t have: time.  Follow Lauren’s adventures in Math, Science, and #edtech @204shelley.

The last thing I knew I needed to do was run this whole endeavor past my boss, Bob. He was somewhat up to date with parts of what I wanted to do, but I pitched him the idea wholly one afternoon, and he was very supportive. He gave me time on our first inservice day before school started to introduce the idea to our staff.  I wanted to keep this as simple for the teachers as possible as I do not want to overwhelm the staff as they prepare for a new set of students, so a quick 30 minutes is all I allowed myself.

As an added bonus, I helped Bob create a Twitter account. He was just like me in the beginning: what in the world am I going to do with a Twitter account? I showed him how to follow people and how to compose a tweet. He started to follow a few members of my PLN, which is now in a list! And people immediately started to follow him. He says that he won’t do much commenting and sharing, but I hope to nudge him in this direction!

Stay tuned for future posts about the process used to select digital tools and our final list…

Connections are Essential

If I could only choose one take-away from #BLC14, it would be this…

This is Cecil Intermediate School, my school home 20 miles outside of Pittsburgh PA.  We lead 400 students in grades 5 and 6. CecilIntermediateSchoolCecil

This is my Twitter page, @susie.lavallee. 115 followers. 449 Tweets. ipod teacher twitter.58.33 PM

This is Van Meter, Iowa.  Home of 650 total students in grades K-12. vanmeter_ia

This is the Van Meter Community School District librarian, Shannon Miller,  @shannonmmiller.

This is her Twitter page. 34,000 followers.  67,000 Tweets. Shannon Twitter

At the recent Building Learning Communities conference in Boston, I attended Shannon’s session on how a Makerspace can give kids a voice.

This is me tweeting her a message and sharing a picture of my cuties at the Make Shop at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh. pgh kids cuties

This is her favoriting my tweet and replying.

pgh reply

This is how I felt about that connection.


Twitter is digital. Twitter is limited to 140 characters. Twitter appears impersonal. But Twitter is fundamentally human.

What you don’t see is my administrator and I talking with Shannon later that evening where she told me that she thought she and my husband would be good friends as they both like to create things, even if it gets messy.  What you don’t see is her hugging me and taking a picture of my wrist while wearing a bracelet that was made by one of her students. What you don’t see is, perhaps, the smile on her student’s face when she tells him/her that I live far away and am still wearing it.

Connections make us feel good. Connections move us to do more. Connections inspire us to keep trying.

This is Brian Mull, @brianjmull.

Brian Twitter

His New Orleans school building was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. On the 1st day of evacuation, he created a blog to help his displaced school community. This was 2005. He hadn’t been taught how to create a blog. Administrators had never been taught how to comment. On the very first day of turmoil, he had 150 comments. For four months, his school administrators planned their triumphant return to their hometown via Skype. Unfortunately, Brian’s position was considered non essential in the rebuilding process. They had to let him go. He went on to work as a speaker and consultant with November Learning for seven years. Now, he has come full circle. He returned to his school this spring as the Innovation and Learning Design Coordinator.

This is me, using Twitter to confirm plans to run with the BLC14 Runners Club via Twitter, prior to attending.

run shot twitter

What you don’t see is me, running through Boston Garden with the Runners Club on a route created by Brian Mull.  What you don’t see is my administrator and I sitting down with Brian to discuss our districts needs and future.  What you don’t see is how his expertise and experience will affect the students of Canon McMillan School District.

Some critics will argue that digital connections are less human than traditional connections.  

They don’t have to be.

There are no assessments that can measure the value of being connected.

But you cannot dispute that connections are vital in the teaching and learning process.

This post is also dedicated to

@jcoughlin24, @math8lpcsd, @KleinErin, @kathycassidy, @AlyciaZimmerman, @GraceLani1

 and many others that I met at #BLC14,

all of whom use technology to enhance human relationships.

Professional Development and Twitter



Twitter always seemed like such a waste of time to me.  I would see the hashtags as I watched Dancing with the Stars and think, “Why would I ever need to do that?”  My husband could spend an easy 30 minutes browsing his feed sharing tidbits about his favorite golfers and their pre-Masters routines.  What was the point??

And then I started to blog, and I realized that Twitter has become THE BEST free professional development tool out there.  Somewhere along the way, I read an article called, “The Teacher’s Guide to Twitter”.  If you are thinking about using Twitter, you can start with this.  It is bit overwhelming, so let me put out some simple steps.

1.  Create a handle.  Mine is @susielavallee.  I wanted to use the @theipodteacher, but it was already taken, and he’s been using it for some time.  Names are good because, eventually, you may want people to know who you are, and your handle will reinforce this!

2.  Select a profile picture.  Nothing screams “New User” like a preset icon.

3.  Think about who you would like to follow.  Start with those you know.  I currently follow a few coworkers including @mrsbarbarino and @DrTaranto.  Our district now has a feed: @canonmacschools.  However, my best advice is to follow some leaders in our field and some organizations that share terrific content.  Here are a few of my favorites:

Leaders in the Field:

@KleinErin – elementary teacher and #edtech guru; blogger; and Scholastic contributor

@rmbyrne – another #edtech guru; excellent content

@coolcatteacher – blogger, author

@TechNinjaTodd – teacher, administrator, #edtech enthusiast







4.  Now that you are following a few, click on who THEY are following and find a few more to follow!  Specifically, go to @KleinErin.  Click on “Following” and click on “Lists”.  She has a great list of people you can follow to build your Personal Learning Network (PLN).  This is how I started, and I highly recommend this method!

5.  Read, tweet, retweet.  Read what interests you.  Tweet to comment.  Retweet to share and give credit where credit is due.  It’s that simple!

6.  Hashtags can be stressful.  Don’t let them get to you.  You will see patterns pop up as you read and consume.  Basically, hashtags are a way to narrow your stream to particular topics.  #edtech is a popular one.  I also look at a stream of posts with the #edapps tag.  I am attending a conference in Boston next week, so I’m looking at #BLC14 for the latest updates on what to expect.  I found out that there will be a runners group each morning!

I currently do not use Twitter to communicate with students or parents, but listening to @TechNinjaTodd speak at #flipcon14, I may have to revisit this idea.  Stay tuned!