Exploring Micro Fiction and Visual Stories

Here we are, another NaNoWriMo and I still have not penned the next great American Novel. Every year I think, “This is my year! I will write that book that has been bouncing around in my brain! I’ve got this!” Then December comes around and I realized that I did not have it and the story has again gone untold. Sigh.

Yes, I know that I can write any month of the year. It does not have to be a November thing. But, there is a hashtag. So… #NaNoWriMo

This year however, I have discovered a type of fiction that seem much more my speed. Micro Fiction!

Several years ago I started writing little mini one or two sentence stories. But I didn’t think of them as stories. Just short little musings. I was inspired by one of my favorite artists, Brian Andreas of Story People. I discovered his quirky art twenty five years ago on a business trip to Decorah, IA. (If you have never been to Decorah, go. Go now. I’ll wait.) There was something about his whimsical, child-like drawings and the simple statements that really spoke to me. I loved his messages and was inspired to start writing some of my own. They were silly and sappy but I would post them to social media anyway. It was fun. I mentioned this fun hobby (Is it a hobby? I don’t know.) to a writer friend of mine and she said, “Oh, you write micro fiction!” Micro fiction. What is that? My interest was piqued.

Science tells us that most of our memories, even the ones we hold most dear, are false. They are nothing more than stories constructed by our brains using bits and pieces of fact mixed with ideas from our imagination. But when I remember you I smile so I have decided that I like the way my brain thinks.

K.A. Brynteson

I started doing some research. It is a thing and apparently very popular. From the two sentence horror stories to six word summaries to (let’s be honest here) the social media posts we write with a 144 character limit. We all write micro fiction from time to time.

As I’ve had fun writing more, I’ve been look for ways to connect this type of writing into the classroom. I know that there are many students out there who love to write but find longer works a bit overwhelming. Shorter stories, 100 – 500 words or less, can be an accessible alternative. Accessible, but not easy. The constraint of few words helps you be creative in your word choice. You have to flex your writing muscles. Each word is necessary. They kind of remind me of some of the activities I do in my visual literacy class with images such as my Tell a Story with 5 pictures or my Photo a Week photography prompt. They both focus on constructing a story with either your visual vocabulary or a few well selected images.

Because of this connection, I have started taking the mini stories and turning them into a visual posts, adding a layer of visual literacy into the activity. For the examples I’ve shared in the post, I used Adobe Spark. If you read my blog at all, you know that this is one of my most favorite tools. I use Adobe Spark tools all the time for digital storytelling. I found it was a fast way to take the text and create a visual representation. I experiment with fonts and colors and shapes until I have a composition that I feel compliments the message of the passage. This would be a very simple activity to do in the classroom. Have students write their own micro stories and then us their design skills to turn them into posts or even posters for the classroom.

Here are a few more examples.

Ok, I admit that I am starting to creep into Jack Handy’s deep thought territory, it is still a fun challenge to see if I can take an idea and turn it into a mini story. No, they are not all good. I know that. They are not up to the level of Story People by any means but it is fun. I have also found that I go back and edit them often. Especially when I turn them into a visual post. I play around with the word choice to see if I can say the same thing with fewer words or in different ways. It feels more like playing with words than actually writing a story.

I’m sure that there are students out there that might feel the same way. Micro fiction could be a way to turn even your most reluctant writer into an author, a couple words at a time. Give it a try and see what they create.

If you want to learn more about using Micro-Fiction in the classroom, here are some lessons and blogs to check out.

Happy mini-writing!

Temperature Blanket: A Cozy Approach to Data Visualization

Several years ago I stumbled across a fun project idea. Someone posted a picture of a scarf they knitted based on the temperature for the past year. I was fascinated by the concept because 1) I love the idea of a fun, creative, year-long project and 2) I am a sucker for interesting data visualizations. However, not knowing how to knit at the time, I filed it away in my brain (or saved it to Pinterest which is the same thing) as a project-I-might-think-about-but-probably-never-do.

Fast forward to 2021

Hat and octopus
Since 2020 was such a crap year, I used my holiday break to try something new. I taught myself how to crochet. I’ve tried before but to pretty dismal ends. But this time I was determined. It stared with a hat and moved on to several adorable octopi. (You can find the pattern for both here and here, respectively.) Aside from my hat being weirdly large and my octopi being a bit wonky, I felt that my crocheting adventure was a success. I was feeling very confident after my week being a crocheter. (Is that a word? It should be a word.) So, I decided that it was time to take on a year-long crochet project and crochet myself a temperature blanket!

Getting Started

My biggest piece of advice for anyone wanting to tackle this type of project is to do your research and make a plan. Before I started I did quite a bit of research. I watched videos and read some blogs from the brave souls who have come before me. Apparently, temperature blankets, quilts, and scarves are a big thing online. A simple search and you can find a lot of crazy…er..I mean creative folks who have taken on this type of project. Hearing others experiences was really helpful. Not only did I learn a lot about their process, it help me learn from their successes and mistakes. I’ve listed a couple of my favorite posts and videos below. The research was key. I learned how to do the math and create the color ranges as well as how to make sure it does not end up 10 feet long!

Making the Plan

After much research and thinking, I was ready to commit and make a plan. I first looked at historic temperature data so I could see how much the temp in my area varies during the year. You need this info to determine how high to set your highest range and how low to set your lowest. Based on the average temps in my area, I went with a high cut off of 94 degrees and a low cut off of 15 degrees. (I am being optimistic that we will not have any -30 degree weather this year. Fingers crossed.) I also decided that I was only going to use eight colors. This was mainly an artistic choice. I’ll get into my color choices later. With my high point and low point set, I used some mad math skills and determined that I’d change colors every 13 degrees in between. Now on to the yarn.

Color Inspiration I decided early that I did not want a rainbow temp blanket. It seemed like many of the ones I’ve seen use the basic rainbow color spectrum. However, I loved the ones that broke free of the rainbow and went with a unique color palette. I went on the hunt for some color inspiration. This took a while. I take color very seriously and I wanted to get this right! The blanket was going to live in our living room. The room is filled with shades of grey and blue but also has a space theme. Images from the Hubble Telescope adorn the walls next to an original movie poster from Star Trek IV. (Thank you, NASA for the amazing Hubble images.) As much as I loved all the nebula art and the movie poster, there was a bit too much orange for my liking. I was starting to get discouraged but then inspiration hit! The blanket was for my husband who was turning 50 in 2021. So I looked to one of his favorite things – World of Warcraft. He made me watch the trailer for Shadowlands and I’ll have to say, the colors were perfect. So armed with a plan, a screenshot, and a new sense of determination, it was time to shop for yarn! It was a little difficult to find colors to match the image all from the same brand. But I think I did OK. I’m pretty happy with my color palette.

The last piece of the plan was the stitch. Being new to the crochet thing, I needed a simple stitch. I decided on using a single stitch with a size 6mm hook. That gave me a simple stitch in a size that was easy to work with. I still had to play around to figure out how big this thing was going to be. You figure, it will be 365 rows long. Thanks to some math and several gage swatches (don’t skip the gage swatches), I determined that doing a single crochet into he back loop only condensed the size and gives the blanket a nice pattern. Also, thanks to Crochet Crowd for their handy size chart. It really helped me figure out the math behind the size of my future blanket.

Plan, hook, and yarn in hand. I started my blanket.

One Month Later

Then and nowFast forward to February 1st. I am proud to say that my blanket is coming along. I work on it every night as a way to decompress. (It is sooo much better than doom scrolling social media.) Even though I’ve only been doing this for a month, I have learned some things I’ll use “next time.”

  • Document everything – I set up a spreadsheet where I keep track of the daily high and if I completed the row. As my blanket gets bigger, this will be helpful. And, if you miss a day, you have the temp there and ready to go.
  • You are not a data scientist, artistic license wins out over accuracy – There have been a couple days where the high temp was just barely hit and that sent me into a different colors range. I wanted variety so I went with the lower temp to better represent the day. And then I forgave myself for faulty data representation. There have also been times when I made my row and then the temp snuck up into the higher range. I could have taken out the row and redone it in the right color but I hate going backwards on projects. So I kept it. It was close enough.
  • Two sided – The stitch I chose created a two sided blanket. Which I’m fine with but you can’t see the entire month when you lay it out. If I would have thought of it earlier, I would have done two rows a day (one for low and one for high). Then the two sided blanket would have been a side for high and a side for low….and also very very large.
  • Smaller color ranges – The temps so far this year have been stable. Therefore my blanket does not have a lot of color variation. That is also partly because my color ranges are wide. If I would have chosen more yarn colors and used smaller ranges, I would have more variation. But, I also hate changing colors so I guess that is a positive.
  • Useful website – I get my temp data from both Weather Bug and weather.gov. I find the weather.gov site is fantastic. Especially if you are not doing temp but some other weather phenomenon instead like precipitation.
  • Find friends – I posted about doing this project on Facebook and several of my friends liked the idea and decided to do it too. They told their friends and now we have a small Facebook group of folks from across the country making blankets. Some are crocheting. Some are knitting. Some are doing blankets. Others are doing scarves. Some record temp and others record precipitation. It is a fun way to provide each other support and motivation. It is a great group and I have learned a lot form them. I can also say from this and several of my past year-long projects, find a group of supporters to help keep you going. (Shout out to all the Temperature Facebook group folks! You all rock and your blankets are beautiful! You can read about one group member’s project on her blog.)

That is just what I have learned in the past month. It has been quite the journey. I have also learned that I suck at making edges. But that is ok. I’m embracing the imperfect and calling this my growth mindset blanket.

Other Project Ideas

This project has reignited my love of data. As I planned for this project, I thought of so many other ways I could take simple data sets, like temp, and create fun works of art. A couple years ago there was an art exhibit on campus that featured data as art. It was amazing and inspiring! Most people think that data is only viewed in charts and graphs. While those can be informative, they are not necessarily beautiful. There are some many ways to turn information into art. In a classroom, this is a great way to help students see just how beautiful information and data can be.

Even something simple like my blanket could be done with students. Don’t have a year? Have them pick a month or week. Let your students collect some data and decide on a creative way to display that data. Don;t want to teach the kiddos how to crochet or knit? No worries! Use what you have. For example, use beads. Each color range is a different color bead. Have them make jewelry or a beaded garland. Use paper to make a temperature paper chain. Even a simple piece of graph paper could be transformed into a colorful data visualization. Color a square or row based on your color key. Don’t limit it to temp. What other data can you or your students collect? I also love all the questions you can ask when you finish your project. What do you notice and wonder? What patterns do you see? What story does your data tell?

So many ideas and so many ways to use this in the classroom. The possibilities are endless. There might be a future post on that….Hmmmm.

ISTE 2019 Recap

Summary of my favorite finds and ideas from ISTE 2019.

It is hard to believe that it has been almost a month since the amazing ed-tech-a-palooza celebration known as the International Society of Technology in Education Conference or ISTE. There was so much to see and do this year that it has taken me a while to try to boil it all down into a recap. I have so many notes, flyers, and resources that it will probably take me until ISTE 2020 to really process everything. Good news, I have lots to explore for my next 30 tech tools in 30 days series coming this November. But, for you, my loyal readers, I will try to narrow down all that information into my finds and ideas from ISTE 2019.

Old Favorites. New Tricks.

I typically spend a good chunk of my ISTE time in the expo hall checking out my favorite tools and looking for new ones to explore. It is great to reconnect with some of my favorite go-to tools and see what new things they have in the works. I love being able to talk to both the developers in making these tools possible and the educators who are leading the way in the classroom. These are some of my most valuable conversations. Here is what some of my old favorites are up to.

Michael Cohen at the Adobe Booth
Michael Cohen at the Adobe Booth

  • Adobe Spark – Adobe’s booth is my first stop every year. This year was no exception. Not only got to meet the amazing Michael Cohen (aka The Tech Rabbi) and hear how he uses Adobe Illustrator to teach creativity and Math, I also got to talk to one of the developers of my favorite, favorite, favorite, tools – Adobe Spark. Animations are now available as part of Spark Post apps. (Coming soon to the web). Students can also now collaborate on a Spark project.  If you are not yet using Adobe Spark, then these should give you a reason to give it a try. Also, check out Camp Adobe for some amazing learning opportunities. You can read more about my feelings on Adobe Spark on some of my past posts – Spark Post, Spark Video, Spark Pages.
  • 3D Bear – One of the darlings of ISTE 2018 was 3D Bear an augmented reality app. Well, they have had a great year and showcased a lot of ideas at their booth. If you have not played around with 3D Bear, go check out the free trial and start creating. They have lesson plans and challenges that will help get your students creating in AR. Tons of fun. And I’m not just saying that because they have a dancing unicorn that you can play with.

    NASA Learning Labs
    NASA Learning Labs
  • NASA –  NASA was everywhere at ISTE this year. In their playground, they featured new lessons and activities from the STEM Innovation Lab. My favorite was the Eclipse Soundscape. An app that allows you to experience the solar eclipse through visuals, audio, and other sensory displays.  On the expo floor, they had more resources such as their materials that let students learn about all the amazing things going on on the International Space Station. You can find a ton of resources on the STEM on the Station website.
  • Bird Brain Technologies – Finch 2.0 is coming! I repeat Finch 2.0 is coming!! Learn more on their website and see what makes the Finch 2.0 a cool new addition to the Bird Brain family.
  • CommonSense.org – Everyone’s favorite ed tech review and digital literacy site brings you a curated list of their 50 favorite EdTech tools of all time. This one is well worth the browsing time.
  • Flipgrid – Flipgrid fever infecting the ISTE crowd. Shortly after the conference, Flipgrid announced a new Augmented Reality feature. The new FlipgridAR app update lets you add Flipgrid to everything!

New Finds

In addtion to exploring my old favorites, I collected a list of new finds that I want to explore further. They are everything from new STEM activities to new technology. My list is long but here are the first ones I’m going to dig into.

  • Stitching the Loop – Free curriculum for students to explore computer science through e-textiles.
  • Wildcards – A new programmable expandable circuit board and an inexpensive and easy to use tool to help students explore electronics, computer science, and engineering. Designed by a team of electrical engineering dads.
  • 826 Digital – Free mini-lessons, lessons and other resources to ignite a love of writing in your students.
  • Pinna.fm –  Streaming audio service for students. On-demand access to podcasts, audiobooks, and music for PK – 6th grade.
  • Creator Bot Mini Bot – I would love to get my hands on this little bot. It is an Arduino powered robot kit that has everything you need to create a robot.
  • Get Media L.I.T. –  A new graphic novel series by Weird Enough Productions that helps students explore media literacy, social-emotional learning, and 21st-century skills.
  • Synth – This one is a new-to-me tool. You can create 256-second podcasts and share them with the world.
  • Science Journal by Google – Turn your device into a scientific tool through this app. It takes advantage of the sensors built into our devices phone and allows your students to collect data.

New Ideas

So, what are the hot topic ideas on the horizon of ed tech? There were several topics and ideas that stood out this year. From the playgrounds to the Mainstage, people were talking about creativity, computational thinking, and innovation. I left the conference with some new learning goals of my own. My top three: artificial intelligence, Augmented Reality, and Virtual Reality. Google has experiments and activities for you to get started with AI. And I’m ready to start building with CoSpaces and Merge Cube. 64832451_10220359185996876_5431999139598565376_o

Whew! That is just the tip of the ed tech iceberg when it comes to new ideas from ISTE. Even with all of these new tools, my MOST favorite part of the conference was connecting with all of the amazing educators from around the globe. I get to see some of my education heroes and meet many new ones. I’m looking forward to all of the new collaborations and conversations that will fill the time until we all meet again in Anaheim at ISTE 2020.

Big thank you to all the folks who worked hard to make ISTE possible. And thank you Philadelphia! I had never been to Philly before. I got my first “real” Philly Cheesesteak and saw pieces of our history. It was a winning trip all around!


Were you at ISTE in Philly this year? What were your big takeaways? I’d love to hear from you!

30 Tech Tools in 30 Days: 3D Bear

AR with 3D Bear

If you have been paying attention in ed tech lately you have noticed that virtual reality, augmented reality, and mixed reality have arrived in the classroom. If you were at the ISTE conference in Chicago back in July, you probably noticed that expo hall, playgrounds, and breakout sessions were abuzz with the possibilities of VR and AR.

For me personally, I’ve been tinkering with VR and AR over the past few years – starting with Google Cardboard’s immersive VR experiences and dabbling a little with some of the AR apps available for the Merge Cube (more on Merge Cube in upcoming posts). It has been fun to play with but I have not yet really explored how VR or AR could be used in the classroom. Until now.

Hello, 3D Bear!

3D Bear  is a free augmented reality app that works on Apple or Android devices. (Chrome coming soon – maybe? Hopefully!) With 3D Bear, students can create virtual scenes and dioramas using 3D models and their real-wold space. For example, in this lesson, based on The Martian by Andy Weir, students can design their own Martian colony. (Full disclosure – NIU STEM Read worked with 3D Bear and featured this lesson a our PD Party in Space with Andy Weir back in July.)

Imagine having your classroom filled with a bunch of virtual space colonies! What’s really cool is that 3D Bear integrates with Thingaverse so that the models you use in virtual space can also be printed. The image below is from the Thingaverse lesson page and shows virtual astronauts and rovers in a real box of sand.

Mars Colony in a sandbox. Picture from Thingaverse Lesson Page. https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:3084537


Pros and Cons

I really like this application. It is free (there is a paid teacher portal and I’ll get to that in a second) and fairly easy to use. One drawback for me is that my phone and tablets are all kind of old. 3D Bear works on the older devices but there are some features that don’t work. For example, on my phone I need an anchor point to keep my virtual creations tethered to the real world. Newer devices do not have an anchor point so it is easier to build. Other than that the app is functional on older devices. That is really my only negative. So, I just need to get some updated tech. I’ll let my husband know that Christmas is coming. (haha.)

Here are some of the really cool features of this app.

Dino garden
My virtual dino garden. My cat is not amused.

  •  Integrates with Thingaverse – you can use Thingaverse models or upload your own to Thingaverse and use your own models.
  • Model skinning – you can customize your 3D models with your own custom textures. Including your face. Cool and creepy!
  • Animated models – Your 3D models do not have to be static. There are animated models in the library as well.
  • Lesson ideas – The website and the teacher dashboard have some nicely written, standard-aligned lessons for you. It is always helpful to have lesson ideas there and ready to go.
  • Great team – the 3D Bear team is awesome! You can tell they are passionate about what they do.

Teacher Features

The newest release includes some great teacher classroom features. These features are not free, classroom pricing for one teacher and up to 30 students is $199/year. That price includes classroom management tools such as student IDs, teacher dashboard, and lesson plans. If you are going to be using this tool a lot, those tools might be worth the price tag for you. Here is more information on pricing.  Teachers, you can sign-up for a free trial. Sign up here – Free Trial.

Classroom Ideas

Here are a few ideas for how to use 3D Bear in the classroom.

  • Storytelling – students create virtual illustrations of their own stories.
  • Book connections – recreate their favorite scenes or setting of classroom books.
  • Design – students redesign their classroom or create a new space. Then 3D print the models and make a real-life model.
  • Historical places – recreate historical places.

The ideas are endless!

In short – this is a fun tool. I think we are just seeing the tip of the learning iceberg when it comes to AR. And 3D Bear is a great place to start. The interface is easy to use even for the most novice beginner, yet the results are powerful. Download it today and give it a try.

Are you using 3D Bear in your classroom? Let me know how in the comments. I’d love to hear how you and your students are using this awesome app.

Happy creating!

Friday Five: Five Board Games for Your Classroom

Friday Five: Five games for your classroom.

Earlier this week I spent a fantastic day with teachers talking about Gamification, STEM Read, and Games in the classroom! It was a fun day. I mean come on, who wouldn’t want to spend the day playing games with a bunch of fun teachers. The only thing that would have made it better would have been some adult beverages. Am I right? New PD idea!!!

Anyway. I digress. Let’s talk games!

Board Games
Our game stack.

Before we started to play we talked a bit about gamification and how to incorporate game elements into the learning environment. You know, things like leaderboards, avatars (not the bending kind), point systems, rewards, themes, etc. All the things that make games fun. There are many ways to use game elements and strategies to engage students in learning. That is a whole blog post in itself. (Read more about Gamification from ISTE – 5 ways to gamify your classroom)

Today, we want to talk board games! There are sooo many to chose from. The list can be a bit overwhelming. Once you find a new game, then you have to learn how to play it. for me, that is my biggest problem. I call it Game Launch Anxiety – the fear of learning how to play a new game. So, the second half of our gaming session let us all get our hands on some games and conquer our fears together.  It was tons of fun.

We had a whole stack of fun games but here are five that are super fun and easy to connect to your classroom.

Five Games for the Classroom

  1. Bring Your Own Book – This is a “game of borrowed phrases.” Each player brings a book of their choosing. A card is drawn and the prompt asks for a phrase, such as “Something you would find in a teenager’s diary.” All the players search their books for a phrase that fits and hilarity ensues. This game is easy to learn and fun to play. I’ve even used this one to spice up teacher PD. Instead of books, we bring lesson plans. Gameplay takes about 15 minutes give or take. I think it would even be fun to play in a foreign language class. First, they find their phrase and then they have to say it in a different language.
  2. Snake Oil – Get your powers of persuasion ready for this fast-paced pitch-o-rama card game! In Snake Oil, you do your best to sell a crazy product to a specific customer.  To start the game, one player selects a customer card. All the other players select two word cards from their hand to create a crazy product. Then they sell, sell, sell! How would you sell a Lava Boat to a Rockstar or some Hug Butter to Newlyweds? The best part, each “salesperson” can pitch over each other. Let the pitch battle begin! The one who drew the customer cards chooses their favorite product and the player with the most product cards wins! This is a great game for building speaking and listening skills, creative storytelling, and persuasive or argumentative reasoning skills. Snake Oil is technically out of print so it might be harder to find but worth the hunt. 
  3. Codenames – Two teams compete to see who can contact all of their agents first using their secrete codenames. But, beware the Assasin! We played the picture version, which I loved! The cards with the codenames (or codename pictures) are placed in a grid on the table. One person from each team provides one-word clues to help their team figure out which codenames belong to their agents. This game seems easy enough but it really makes you think. This game is a good way to stretch those vocabulary skills and think about synonyms. Also, it helps students look for connections or ways to group words or ideas. It is very easy to learn and there are tons of combinations for infinite play.
  4. Doctor Panic – I did not personally play this one but we heard the commotion it caused from across the room. You and your team are doctors and you have a patient to save and communication and collaboration are key. The game lasts only 12 minutes and those 12 minutes are intense. Watch out, if your patient goes into cardiac arrest, one person has to revive them with the whoopie cushion. Yes. The whoopie cushion. This is a hilarious way to build collaboration and communication skills. Great way to start talking about medical careers too. If the sounds of laughter that were coming from our play team are any indication, this one is a riot!
  5. First Martians – This game is beautiful. However, I will confess, this is one of those that gave me Game Launch Anxiety. In First Martians, you have to survive life on the harsh red planet. It is described as an immersive experience where players play through different challenging campaigns to survive on Mars. It looks like there are several different options for how to play. I’ll admit, it looks very interesting but it has a steep learning curve. It has high reviews on Board Game Geek so it might be worth the time investment to learn how to play. If you are doing a Mars unit or reading The Martian by Andy Weir, this might be the perfect game for you. I’m going to add this one to my list of games I need to learn.

More Resources

This was such a short list. How does one only pick five when there are so many great games out there. I could go on and on. Do you have games to share? Or, do you have gamification resources and tools that you use? Share them on my Games Padlet! Leave a rating or comment too.

Made with Padlet

Share the gaming love!! I’d love to hear about how you use games in the classroom. Post in the comments.

I don’t think I said “fun” enough in this post. Fun. Fun! Fun!!

If you want to learn more about our Gamification and Games in the Classroom session, follow the link to our slide deck – https://www.slideshare.net/secret/IgaqUEXSGRUTzC 


Doodlers and Daydreamers: STEM Read Podcast Ep 6

The STEM Read Podcast Episode 6: Doodlers and Daydreamers. Talking creativity with Dr. Rhonda Robinson and Tom Lichtenheld.

We’ve all seen those kids. Off in the corner of the room. Staring out the window. Drawing in their notebooks instead of taking notes. We know those kids. Heck, maybe you were one of those kids. The Doodlers and the Daydreamers. The creative spirits who, with the right encouragement and support, might someday change the world.

A peek at some of my doodle masterpieces.

In this episode of STEM Read Podcast, Gillian (@gkingcargile) and I talk to two of our favorite doodlers and daydreamers, Dr. Rhonda Robinson and author/illustrator Tom Lichtenheld.

This was a fun episode. Not only did we get to talk to two amazing people about fun topics like visual literacy, creativity, perseverance, and collaboration, we recorded in Tom’s studio surrounded by art, books, and inspiration. And there were cookies there to boot. It was amazing!

Head over to the STEM Read Podcast page to give the episode a listen and check out the show notes. We have links to all of the books we discussed, information on visual literacy, and pics from the studio.

You can find the STEM Read Podcast on iTunes or on our home page on Northern Public Radio. Check out past episodes and subscribe to make sure you don’t miss new episodes. Also, check out all our resources over on stemread.com.

Want to learn more about teaching visual literacy and creativity in the classroom? Check out these past posts,  Friday Five: Build Visual Literacy Skills and Five Tips for Unleashing Your Creative Self in 2018.



Tech Talk: Discover, Create, & Share with Smithsonian Learning Lab

Do you dream of spending endless hours explore a museum? Now you can with Smithsonian Learning Lab. Explore content and create and share your own collections.

I don’t know about you but I image paradise as a never-ending museum that I can wander and explore for days, having adventures amongst the archives. Maybe I read the From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler a few too many times as a kid.

As an adult, I know that my chances of getting lost in backroom stacks of a museum are pretty slim. However, the Smithsonian Learning Lab gets me pretty close.

The Smithsonian Learning Lab lets you explore the digital artifacts and content across 19 museums, 9 research centers, and 1 national zoo. Not only do you get to explore the content, you can take on the role of a museum curator and create your own personal collections and share them with the world. Dream. Come. True.

Explore Content

Exploration of the Smithsonian Learning Lab starts with a simple keyword. You can search through the Smithsonian’s digital content as well as collections created by other Smithsonian Learning Lab members.

A search gives you a list of images, weblinks, videos, and other digital content that matches your search. Select an individual artifact to get detailed information about each item.

More info
Detailed information about museum items.

You can also search for collections. These are created by other members of the community. Below is an example of a collection created by  STEM in 30 at National Air and Space Museum. You can add this to your favorites, share it through social media and Google Classroom, or copy it into your own set of collections.

Mars collection
Learn about Mars with this collection created by STEM in 30 at National Air and Space Museum.

I will warn you, be prepared to lose hours here. I intended to spend a few minutes casually perusing the content, just to check in out. I emerged about an hour later. There is a lot of amazing stuff to see.

Creating Collections

I would have been perfectly happy just knowing that I could explore Smithsonian content in the comfort of my own home. Image my delight when I started creating my own personalized collections! This is the powerhouse feature of the Smithsonian Learning Lab. Any registered member can assemble and share their own collections.

Learning Lab Collection
My Futurist Collection (work in progress)

Every collection created can be tagged with useful information including, description of the collection, subject areas, age level, educational features, and standards. Yes, you can tag your collection by standard!

Classroom Connections

It’s clear that Smithsonian designed the Learning lab with educators in mind. There are so many different ways an educator could use this in their classroom. All ages, all subjects.

  • The teacher could create a collection containing artifacts related to the historic period they are studying.
  • Students could create collections as part of a research project. They would write about their collection and how each piece is connected to their collection theme.
  • Teachers and students could create collection related to the fiction books they are reading. For example, if students are reading a piece of historical fiction, they could curate a collection of artifacts, images, or information that connects the story to the actual events or time period.
  • Have students create a collection of artwork based on a color or a different art principle. Or, what about a collection of art based on a mathematical concept.

The possibilities are endless. I love the idea of letting students create content. This gets them thinking critically about content. As curators, they have to explain the theme of their collection and how their chosen pieces relate to that theme. Thus building critical thinking and information literacy skills!

Learn more about how to use Smithsonian Learning Lab in your classroom with their Getting Started Guide for Teachers.  The guide answers your questions about classroom use including how to create students rosters and assigning collections to students. If student privacy is a concern (and it always should be), check out the Smithsonian Kids Online Privacy Statement

Smithsonian Learning Lab is a fantastic site for all ages. Whether you are an educator, student, or curious mind who just loves to explore new information, you need to set aside some time to explore.

Are you using Smithsonian Learning Lab? Tell us how in the comments!


Oh, what the first week of 2018 had to offer!

We are only seven days into 2018 and I’m already overwhelmed by ideas, resources, lists of lists, and new people to follow. So exciting!

Here is a quick rundown of my favorite finds from the first week of 2018. 

2018 – Off to a Great Start!

We are only seven days into 2018 and I’m already overwhelmed by ideas, resources, lists of lists, and new people to follow. So exciting!

Here is a quick rundown of my favorite finds from the first week of 2018.

Classroom Ideas

Classroom Resources

List of Lists

New (to me) Folks to Follow

Whew! If that’s what the first week of 2018 had to offer, I can’t wait to see what the rest of the year brings!

Create Interactive Stories with Sutori

Sutori is an online tool for creating interactive visual stories.

Sutori: Visual Storytelling

Are you looking for a new tool for creating interactive stories or visual presentations? Give Sutori a try.

Sutori is a web-based tool for creative timelines or storylines using your own content and online content or media. You can add quizzes and discussion forums to make your stories interactive.


There are multiple tiers of pricing. The free version allows you to create simple stories using text and images. For $99 a year, you add a lot of functionality such as embedded content, interactive quizzes, and data collection.

Sample Story

Below is a sample I created in about 15 minutes. I’m using the free 30-day trial of the Unlimited version. Once you use the Unlimted version, it might be hard to lose the functionality once the trial is over.

My sample story should be embedded below. However, it might show up as just a link. (This could be an embed issue on my end.)


Classroom Ideas

Sutori has many classroom uses for both you and your students. If you or your students are creating timelines, Sutori is definitely a tool to check out. However, this is more than a timeline tool and has other classroom applications.

Paid Version

  • Create guided units or lessons. Curate all your content onto one storyline. Students can move through at their own pace.
  • Have students create Sutori stories instead of a typical presentation or report. Have them incorporate found or self-created media such as videos or infographics.
  • Create a collaborative storyline as part of a teacher book study. Curate additional resources that relate to the book content.

Free Version

If you are not ready for the paid version, you can still use this unique storytelling tool.

  • Use instead of traditional presentation tools.
  • Create a Year-at-a-Glance timeline for Open House or Curriculum Night.
  • Create a Year-in-Review Story to share with your parents. Include images and student quotes.
  • Have students create story summaries.
  • Have students create their own stories using their own images. Either individually or collaboratively.
  • Explore the user-created content by subject. Search for content on this page.

Find more info on their Teacher Page.


As with all web-based tools you use with students, be sure to read through the privacy statements. You can keep your stories private or you can share them using multiple methods.

Pros and Cons


  • Easy to use.
  • Embed content from your other favorite tools such as EdPuzzle, Thinglink, Quizlet, Google Maps, Flipgrid and more.
  • Add interactive elements including quiz questions and discussion questions.
  • Integrate with Google Classroom or you create your own classes with student rosters.
  • Monitor student data and engagement.
  • Gallery of user-created content.
  • Extensive support resources on the Help Page.


  • Limited features on the free version (but $99/year is not bad for the amount of functionality it adds).

Sutori is a powerful storytelling tool that has a lot of classroom potential. Give the free 30-day trial a try and see what you think.

Are you already using Sutori?  How are you using it? Share in the comments.

STEM Read Podcast – E4: Learning by Doing

Listen to episode 4 of the STEM Read podcast – Learning by Doing for strategies for engaging girls in STEM.

STEM Read Podcast Episode 4 is Live!!

In case you missed it last Friday, the fourth installment of the STEM Read podcast is now live. Follow the link to listen and view the show notes – Learning by Doing! 

You can hear all the episode on the STEM Read podcast page on WNIJ.

In this episode, we discuss different ways to engage girls in STEM (or any student who might not see themselves as a “STEM” person) and help all see the possibilities of a STEM career. I reflect a little about my own experiences as a female engineer, from college to career. We discuss what helped to boost my confidence as young female engineer in the world of cold forming. Gillian also has some fun with my former job title.

Our first two guests are NIU engineering students and STEM educators with STEM Outreach and NIU STEAM, Jasmine Carey and Mackenzie Thompson. They talk about their experiences as female engineering students, the work they do to encourage girls in STEM and STEM Divas!

The second segment is a panel discussion with Gillian (@gkingcargile), author Nancy Cavanaugh (@NancyJCavanaugh) and NIU Literacy faculty member, Melanie Koss (@melaniekoss) recorded at NIU STEMfest in October 2017. They talk about the power of children’s literature in supporting students’ interest in STEM. Come for the discussion, stay for the fun fish facts.

If you are looking for tips and ideas for helping all kids gain confidence in STEM and learn by doing as well as some giggles, give it a listen. We’d love to hear what you think. Leave us a review or comment.