Why “Flipteaching” complements Scratch programming


What is Scratch?

Scratch is a free, visual and kid-friendly programming language where anyone can create fun projects and computer programs. Students snap blocks together (think Lego) to move and/or modify objects, sprites and backgrounds. Pressing the flag runs the program and the fun (or de-bugging) begins!

Why are you using Scratch in your class?

My first experience with Scratch was at the 2008 ECOO conference in Richmond Hill where I heard MIT Professor and pioneer of Lego Mindstorms, Mitch Resnick demonstrate his new Scratch software in a keynote presentation. (His TED talk is below.) I had been teaching programming in my Grade Four and Five Technology classes with other tools but instantly liked the user-friendly Scratch interface. It seemed perfect for beginners but also included more advanced programming ideas like loops and broadcasting. What made Scratch even more interesting to me was the vibrant database of projects shared by authors, ready to be “re-mixed” and “re-imagined” around the globe. I felt that students of any ability could explore Scratch projects, acknowledge their source and remix them. I strategized that their experiences in class would be an excellent “jumping off” point for future programming and tinkering. (This has proved to be true but not surprising with this generation of 21st century learners and tinkers!)

How did a “flipped” approach benefit your students?

This unit was perfect for “flipping” because all the students had different levels of experience in programming. Students were asked to prepare for class by watching videos on my YouTube playlist or our LMS (Blackboard) and then be prepared to create in lessons. Some were content to copy a program from a “recipe” handout with little modifications. Others opted to “re-mix” the program of others while some were keen to create and innovate on the own. I personally felt that ALL these approaches had merit and therefore, decided quickly that I would keep “whole class teaching moments” to minimum (I’m sure the kids didn’t mind that much!) Beyond the usual class management and directing students to all the resources available them, (see below) most classes were dedicated to students working on a personal or collaborative projects.

What resources did you provide for students?
Video Tutorials from the Scratch website – quick projects to help students get started
My YouTube playlist – a collection of instructional videos from easy to more advanced (and fun! Pac-Man anyone?) Student’s contributed with ideas and suggestions for the playlist so I could “whitelist” for use at school. (We use YouTube Edu.) Students often partnered up with one student playing, rewinding and pausing the YouTube clip while the other copied the programming technique in Scratch.
A collection of Programming “recipes” were offered as printouts
Various displays and posters
scratchdisplay1 scratch2

How did you assess their learning?

Assessment FOR learning – Some excellent screencasts and short tasks were used after a few classes to inform future lessons and planning. (sample) Designed by Colin Meltzer
Assessment AS learning – Handout for students provided near the end of the unit to reflect and share their best project.
Assessment OF learning – Ten question quiz using Senteo clickers to test for basic fluency.

Next steps and questions for further study

How will an update to the web-based Scratch 2.0 affect lessons and projects?
Should students present and share their programs to audience beyond peers? younger students?
Are there any new resources, recipes and approaches I can use with this unit?
How can I expand Scratch and other programming opportunities in Grade 5 and 6?

Video resources for further research

What is Scratch?

Mitch Resnik’s TED talk – Let’s teach kids to code

Other resources and helpful articles
Scratch website
ScratchEd – sign up is worth it for learning resources, how-to guides and connecting with other educators and professionals
Wes Fryer’s Blog post – Introducing 4th and 5th Graders to Scratch Software Possibilities
Erin Klein’s Blog post – Computer Coding for Kids!
Michael’s Badger Blog post – Scratch Beginner’s Guide – used a few of the questions for assessment ideas

Overall, this programming unit is a popular one with the Grade 4 students in my ICT classes as it is fun, challenging, collaborative, creative, student-centered and perfect for a flip-teach approach as students have unique interests and levels of programming experiences. I look forward to learning new ideas and programs from others but most especially the students.

Level Up your Typing: a game-based approach to keyboarding for elementary students

Untitled picture
Why teach keyboarding?

Our students today have a variety of input devices (touch, stylus, voice?) but I still find that the QWERTY keyboard is the fastest and easiest input device. (I often feel pretty self-conscious talking to the computer (or tablet, sorry Siri!) when not alone, perhaps that is just me:) In my experience, writing recognition software is still clumsy and more miss than hit with emerging handwriting skills. Therefore, I find that the keyboarding remains the most reliable input device and  a significant part of a good ICT curriculum for elementary students in 2013.

When do I start introducing keyboarding to children?

Starting in the middle of Grade 2 or early Grade 3 (aged 7 or 8) seemed to be the best time  to introduce formal keyboarding  as most students progress toward longer forms of writing. Some students might be ready earlier but in my experience, a significant majority, if not all, demonstrated the necessary dexterity and readiness for more formal typing lessons by the middle of Grade 2. I found this article from Lisa Nielson very useful and comprehensive on this topic.

“Can I level up, please!” Or How I “gamified” keyboarding lessons.

Introducing keyboarding to our students in Grade 2 is rarely a tough sell as they are keen to emulate older students or adults in their lives. However, typing, like most skills, requires dedication, encouragement and practice. For these reasons, I decided to experiment with a “games-based approach” to see if it would help our junior students remain motivated during the long road from novice to fluency.  I decided to start with students in Grade 4, 5 and 6 and created a scale of achievement where students “level up”  after achieving a specific WPM (words per minute) and accuracy (95%). As they “levelled up”, I also offered them the opportunity to “unlock” access to a greater variety of typing games and websites during class time. I also separated the idea of the “levelling up” from academic achievement by putting emphasis on effort and improvement for these relatively novice typists as the main source for marks. i.e. A student who still remained on Level 1, might still be able to receive a “A” if they were putting forth an excellent effort. (So far, this has not happened as all students who all showed dedication found increasing success and “levelled up” their typing.)

Here is a copy of my “levelling up” scale. This is version 3.0. Any feedback is welcome.
Leveling up your Typing 2013
Leveling up your Typing
Current resources:

Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing (Grade 2 and 3 students)

mavis screenshot


  • Lessons are clear, supportive and linear
  • Includes 3 levels (beginner, intermediate (timed lessons) and advanced)
  • Games are very student friendly and good for 7 and 8 year olds


  • Not web based
  • Account structure is not ideal
  • Cannot customize at the beginner(i.e. skip student ahead if needed)

Custom Typing  (Grade 4 and 5 students)



  • Two modes (self-guided and computer-guided)
  • Many differentiated resources for students
  • Excellent reporting system
  • Students can choose activities, lessons, and games and work in a non-linear fashion
  • Teacher can assign specific lessons to a students, class or specific group


  • Students repeat the same lesson twice in the “computer-guided mode”
  • The “self-guided mode” can be overwhelming for students
  • Only four typing games
  • The “self-guided mode” could be more kid-friendly

Here are the additional typing sites that can be “unlocked” by  “levelling up” during lessons. I posted this symbaloo on our Learning Management Software (Blackboard) so they can try them at home. (Each “symbaloo” links to website for students, normally one click takes you there, but click my screenshot below to reach the “clickable” symbaloo page.)

symbaloo keyboarding sample

Recording their progress

I use two resources:

1. a simple wall chart with the student’s name, class and level. They give themselves a checkmark when they level up. Not very private(!) I realise but it is SO useful to easily keep track and monitor their progress during the hustle and bustle of keyboarding lessons in the ICT lab.

2. During keyboarding lessons, I display a Class Dojo page on the SMARTboard for them to see and reward themselves with a  +1 typing point. When reviewing, assessing and analyzing student progress, I love that Class Dojo records the date of when the point was achieved. What a great tool for reflection and analysis. “Wow, look how you achieved 2 levels in 1 month! All that time practicing in our custom typing site really paid off!”

+1 typing
Overall, the best part is that I am spending more class time celebrating student progress and achievements. A quick thumbs up, nod, high five or encouraging word from me and students seem eager to independently record their progress on a wall chart and on the SMARTboard though Class Dojo.


When setting up my levels, I started with 4 and had to expand to 10 within a couple of months as some of my Grade 4’s progressed quickly! Initially, most students were keen to “level up” to gain more choice of games and activities. This increased motivation made them increasingly receptive to tips and tricks to improve their speed and accuracy. Although I remained open to feedback, l found that students appreciated the clarity of the system. If they came up a little short in their speed, they almost always responded well when encouraged to try again, complete a different activity,  or to return to the typing assessment when ready.

A funny thing happened at the later levels, I was afraid that some of the students might unlock their favourite game (e.g. the popular Type Racer!) play that game regularly and then have their skills stagnate. However, once the majority of the students began to level up they seemed determined to past the assessment benchmarks. It was a complete reversal as I was now the one offering them the opportunity to play a typing game while they were more keen to complete assessments. It seemed that the process of “levelling up” gave them a tangible achievement goal and they were motivated to keep going. (I guess that is why I had to expand my levels from 4 (version 1.0) to 6 (version 2.0) to 10 (latest version 3.0).

Overall, the benchmarks seemed pretty clear and I was able to tweak my requirements to ensure that the difficulties of each level increased at a appropriate rate. Custom Typing,  Mavis Beacon and typingtest.com seemed to be pretty good resources for typing assessments although you should be aware of the ads at the typingtest.com site. (Although students seem to be too focused on their test to see them!) I hope to update and refine this approach each year. Thanks in advance for any feedback.

Questions for further study and analysis

What place does keyboarding have in the 21st Century ICT curriculum?
What age should student start to learn about keyboarding?
Should keyboarding be expanded to include tablets and mobile devices when appropriate?
How much time should we devote to keyboarding in the primary, junior and senior curriculum?
What tools or software do we need to run a successful typing programme?
Should I add/replace customtyping.com or Mavis Beacon with the web-based QWERTYtown software?

3  influencial articles and resources

Lisa Nielsen’s article-  http://theinnovativeeducator.blogspot.ca/2011/02/when-should-students-start-learning-to.html

Bryan Miller’s article tackles one of the questions for further study, introduced me to QWERTYtown and gave me another excellent perspective on this topic. http://edudemic.com/2012/11/keyboarding-or-computer-literacy-the-new-dilemma/

Keith Ferrell’s EdTech blog provided me with keyboarding resources and ideas that I shared with students. http://edtechideas.com/keyboarding-sites-for-kids/

My top 3 tools for quick collaborative writing in the classroom

Ok, so Microsoft Word is still an excellent and comprehensive tool for individual writing tasks. However, even with features like “track changes” in Word, creating and editing as team still involves some back and forth with email. Google Docs, wikis and blogs are excellent for collaborative writing but set up (i.e. student accounts) is needed. With that in mind, here are three web-based writing tools for creating a quick document in class with multiple authors. No sign up needed and our students authors can simply visit the shared web link to co-write and create.
1. Wallwisher
Create a webpage with one click. Recently updated to allow access from every possible device and includes new options like backgrounds and icons. Visually stunning but can be distracting as we know students love to customize while we’re saying “Get to the text please!”) However, the finished project does look amazing when shared as a link or image.

2. Lino It

Similar to Wallwisher but students can contribute text, picture, link or video as a sticky note. The “corkboard” background extends too. You need to create a teacher account here to share your “web canvas” to students but this one is my favourite because it is simple yet effective. In class, I can post on my Smartboard and then each student adds their a “sticky note” to our digital canvas either at the ‘board or at their computer. With my Grade Four students, I used Lino It to create a stickyboard to support our inquiry and research on Canada. As students progressed in our simulation game called “Cross Country Canada 2” where students, they were invited to add feedback, questions and discoveries to our collaborative document. This stickyboard served as a place to pose and answer questions and wonderings about our topic.
Here is a sample.

3. Primary Pad

A simple web-based word processing tool where students create a doc and invite co-authors (up to 50!). Works best when one student starts a page and then shares the address with a small group. Each group member is automatically assigned a different colour. One great feature is the time slider so you can see how the writing evolves over time. Awesome for assessing the process as well as the final product.

What I like most about these tools is that each individual, assuming they have a device in front of them, is actively writing and contributing. i.e. a group of 4 is not “crowding around” one computer. All the students have the space to share their thoughts and ideas individually but the software collects them all together. Kind of like our “chart paper” collaborations but each student gets the “marker” at the same time and has access to all the tools and resources of the computer. (i.e. spelling check, neater writing, the web etc…)

My top 3 Cloud Storage Apps

If you have ever asked…where IS that file!? Cloud storage sites are an excellent way to store and access your important files on multiple devices like tablets, smartphones  or multiple computers. All provide FREE space and are a perfect alternative to the increasingly unreliable and easily lost USB drives.

My favourites are:

  1. Dropbox: The most popular and user-friendly app; available in the widest variety of apps; storage; great for collaboration and sharing folders with friends and  starts at 2 GB with lots of ways to earn free space
  2. Microsoft SkyDrive: allows you to access your files from any computer; 7 GB of free storage (25GB for Hotmail/MSN users)
  3. Google Drive: Integrates well with Gmail and can display an excellent variety of file types; My favourite for sharing “one-off” files quickly; 5 GB of free storage

All these applications are excellent for sharing files like photos or videos and handy for collaborating on projects with multiple editors and writers. Files and projects can be stored in an online folder rather than having multiple versions emailed back and forth. In all of the above sites, each file becomes a link that is easy to share in messages or posts.

For more information and a pretty comprehensive review of cloud storage options, please feel free to visit the below article.


2 min. Tech. Tip # 2 – Creating screencasts for your students

Purpose:  to record short clips of your computer screen for students to watch as a videos

Ideas for Use

The ‘Net generation responds really well to short, specific and relevant videos for  instructions, lessons or ideas.  Students love being able to pause, play and rewind so they can watch at their own pace and repeat if needed.  I find that video is really helpful for students when demonstrating a specific set of technology instructions (i.e. first press here then press here etc.)

The famous Salman Khan from the Khan Academy based his Math lessons, business and vision around this strategy…


2 min. tech tip # 1 – screen capturing

Purpose: The snipping tool allows you to capture the whole or part of your screen to copy or save as a picture file. (.jpg, .gif .png)

 Ideas for use

  • Snip part of a website for use in a handout, worksheet or other document
  • Take snapshots from a video
  • Export to other software (web to SMARTnotebook, web to Word, One Note, Power Point etc.)
  • Save a student`s work from a website without them having to create an account
  • Create screenshots for your students or parents in CMS or emails


How I “gamified” my ICT class

Whether it is on a field, court or computer screen, games have been a huge part of my life. My classroom is no different as games-based activities are a perfect compliment to my lessons and activities as a teacher. Not surprisingly, students love games and well-designed games help students easily measure their success (and failure!) and use that information to motivate them to a higher level of achievement.

I recently applied game theory to our typing practice and experienced an amazing boost in student achievement and motivation. For the last few years, students have used a web-based software called Custom Typing to complete tailored lessons, activities and games to improve their typing speed and accuracy. This year I integrated the idea of “leveling up”  when they reached a specific goal (i.e. 15 WPM and at least 95% accuracy). When students achieved specific goals, they “unlocked” access to more games and activities both on the Custom Typing site and beyond. Some of our favourite keyboarding sites and software included Mavis Beacon, typingtest.com, and Typing Racer. See my keyboarding page for more resources.

Students enjoy improving their typing because they immediately see its practical application and can easily measure their progress and achievement. This game-based approach “leveled up” my teaching too as students were even more motivated to practice and receptive to guidance and teaching. They were keen to “level up” and earn access to more activities and games. Recently, when I was away on the Grade Four school trip, students in Grade Five were so keen they emailed me screenshots of their progress too! After some feedback and tweeks, I am ready to build upon this year’s success by creating a “leveling-up” system that is clear, progressive and fun. After all, this is an area of the curriculum that demands practice and dedication.  Game theory took this learning to a new level and was  more fun, progressive and motivating!

List of other games and simulations from my class
1. Cross Country Canada 2 – A simulation game where students become a truck driver and deliver commodities across the country. This was an excellent way for my Grade 4 students to learn Canadian geography. Crossing my fingers for app version of this favourite game!

2. Ice Cream Trunk – A simulation game where students sell ice cream for profit. Our Grade 3 students learned about profit and addition (and subtraction when business was bad!) and our Grade 5 students learned about spreadsheets and graphing profit over time.

Other similar titles include Hot Dog Stand: The Works, Concert Tour Entrepreneur and The Canadian History Game (based on the popular Civilization)

Finally, here is a link to the BrainPop Game Up site with a variety of professional and student created educational games that address many topics and activities.

Game on!

My top 5 Interactive ebook resources for primary students

To some of us, it probably seems too little early for teacher software nostalgia but I have to say that one of my all time favourite ebook apps (we just called it software back then) was the Living Books Series on CD-ROM! After popping the disk in the good old cd tray, this series transformed books like Mercer Mayer’s Grandma and Me and Marc Brown’s Arthur’s Computer Trouble into multimedia treats. Kids loved these as the animations always surprised and often yielded extra depth to the stories (ok, characters falling over often helped too!) In the “Read to Me” mode, the text appeared on every page and highlighted relevant words with the narration. These interactive stories were an excellent stimulus for projects but were just as relevant when simply read and enjoyed.

The good news is that, today there are many sites or apps similar to Living Books, ready to interest and engage this current generation of students. With Apple’s new IBook2 creator app for the Mac, I see great potential to embed an interactive storybook inside a teacher-created textbook for students, parents and teachers to analyze, examine and enjoy.

Here is a list of my favourite interactive e-books for primary students.

1. Tumblebooks: This site is nicely categorized and the navigation allows easy access to many fiction and non-fiction books for students. (Some are even IPad friendly.) Features includes music,  narration (sometimes by the author), highlighted text and some even have related games and activities. It is subscription-based site but provides a good cross section of ebooks appropriate for a school setting. Local libraries here in Canada often have their Tumblebooks sites open to the public.

2. We Give Books.org – This Flash-based site is not interactive but the stories are displayed in its entirety in a “flipbook” style on the web. Perfect for viewing with a IWB or projector for group discussions and activities. Finally, the site is free(!) to use and the publishers donate to charity when you “click through” and complete reading the book. Free books and reading to donate makes this site a worthwhile to me.

3. Raz-kids.com – A colleague recently shared this subscription-based site where students have access to leveled reading books. This site allows teachers to track student progress and students can read the books themselves, listen to the story with highlighted text and record their own narration. In addition, the software has a built in incentive program. Completing activities earns them stars to customize the site and earns ranks and virtual items.

4. App Store or equivalent for your tablet device: Comb these stores for a number of free and paid interactive ebooks. For  my IPad and IPhone, I recently found a Rapunzel app for free is a current favourite. The original Toy Story app (free)  is great with some of the features of Living Books but with the added bonus that kids can record their own narration. Also the Dr. Seuss books like Green Eggs and Ham and The Cat in the Hat (currently $3.99) are great fun too. Also worth it to mention Pop Out Peter Rabbit and a Charlie Brown Christmas as others that spring to mind.  In short, there are so many to choose from and the best advice for teachers is to build a collection of books appropriate to your students and their needs. Thankfully, your iTunes account remembers all your purchases (I only have a 16G IPad so space is sometimes at a premium) so the story can rest in the cloud and be downloaded and enjoyed when needed.

5. YouTube.com –   Have to include this site as there are many excellent video clips. Obviously, video is not exactly interactive but the huge database of resources is impossible to ignore or use in the classroom.  Here is a playlist of a few fun stories for primary students. 

Here is a YouTube clip of a Living Books (yes, still alive!) version of Tortoise and the Hare. This video version demonstrated some of the animations that allowed you to explore a text in a non-linear fashion but the video is definitely not the same as the software.However, the story provided a good starting point for our Grade Two classes to learn about and create their own folk tales.

Feel free to send me your comments and ebooks suggestions too!

Sharing Student work digitally

As a teacher, there is nothing better than sharing projects from students on the web. They love showing off their hard work and feel validated that their sweat and tears (hopefully not that many!) have an audience beyond the teacher with the proverbial “red pen” at the ready! In addition, I avoid projects that give away any information about the student. Our school has a LMS (Blackboard) and we created a section in each student’s course to showcase their work and progress. This password protected area is an excellent place to showcase student success and achievement.  In our Junior division, we have taken it a step further by having each student create a “blogfolio” which combines elements of a digital portfolio and allows students to learn the basics of comments and online discussions with student work as a focus.

My latest tool for sharing is called Flipsnack and this free service creates a digital flipbook from any .PDF file. In training sessions, I have encouraged our teachers to either scan documents through our printer as a .PDF or create .PDF’s  (i.e. saving a Word etc.) Their “Flipsnack” creations can then be shared by a URL or embedded in a web site, blog, wiki or LMS. Also good to note that there is 15 page maximum for each “free” book. However, it ended up creating two books for each project per class.

A good tutorial from the HP Teacher Exchange.

Here is an example of some Pioneer buildings created by 8 years old using a software called Community Construction Kit.

Overall, the feedback has been great and Flipsnack has joined my collection of sharing apps including Google Docs, Picasa, Photo Story or Windows Live Movie Maker.  Happy sharing!

My top 3 graphic organizers for students

We have found Inspiration and Kidspiration useful at our school but recently there has been a substantial growth of web-based (and free!) mind-mapping and graphic organizer tools. Here are a few tools to aid writing, planning, organization and the development of 21st Century skills.

1. Popplet – a Prezi-like graphic organizer and mind-mapping tool that is an excellent platform for students to demonstrate their learning. The presentation mode is similar to Prezi and useful for students to present their ideas in larger maps. Students must create an account to save their maps. Files can be shared as images files (.jpg or .gif) or embedded into a website or wiki.

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