Sep 25, 2016

Adobe Spark

Over the summer, I took an online course from Adobe called Train the Trainer. In this course, I learned how to foster creativity in the classroom, while at the same time I was exposed to some of the many awesome tech tools that Adobe has. When I began taking photography classes, I was required to use Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop. These programs are not free, but I was able to get an educator's discount. The account I have now is called the Creative Cloud, and I pay a monthly fee to use almost all of Adobe's numerous products. Additionally, I have access to the Adobe Education Exchange, and I can take free Adobe online courses.

One tool that I want to share with you that is totally FREE is called Adobe Spark.  I am really excited about Adobe Spark because you can create some really nice-looking projects, and it is very easy to use.  You will have to create an Adobe account to use Adobe Spark, so students under the age of 13 will not be able to create accounts. Adobe Spark is recommended for students 12+. This USER GUIDE FOR EDUCATORS gives a good overview of what Adobe Spark is as well as suggested ideas for use in the classroom.

Adobe Spark can be used by teachers in many ways. You can create lessons, videos, and webpages very easily. Spark provides a large bank of free-to-use photos and icons that you can use, and you can also use your own as well.  Adobe Spark can be used across devices too.  You can access Adobe Spark on your computer, laptop, iPad, or any mobile device.  You can create three types of content in Spark, a PAGE, a VIDEO, and a POST.  I will provide you an example of each one.

First, here is an example of a Spark Page.  I created a lesson overview on how to write a personal narrative. All of the photos I used in the Page came from within the Page creation tool. In this lesson, I also added a screencast of my own personal narrative, and at the end of the lesson, I added a button for students to click to take them to a Google Doc to begin creating their own personal narrative. You have the ability to make your Spark Page interactive.

Adobe Spark Page

As you can see, Spark projects can be embedded into your blogs or webpages.  You can also share your Spark projects by a link or on social media.

The next example is a Spark Video. To create a video, you select your theme and music. Then you create your slides. To record, you simply press and hold down the microphone button and talk. It is that simple. It only took me about 15 minutes to create this video. Once again, in this video, all of the icons you see came straight from the Spark bank of icons.

The last example is a Spark Post. Posts are most likely going to be used to share on social media, but they can also be used to create posters. I made this post using the Spark app on my iPhone. I had someone take my photo in a museum, and I added the words to the photo and posted it on social media.  To use the Post here in this blog post, I downloaded it as a JPG and added it.

I highly recommend Adobe Spark! You can easily create professionally looking Pages and Videos with this FREE tool.

Sep 18, 2016

Word Sorts with Google Drawings

Word sorts are great hands-on activities for students to work with words. There are many ways you can use word sorts with your students. The most common way is shown in the example above. This is called a closed word sort where the student is provided with the categories (noun, verb) and the words are sorted accordingly. There are also open word sorts that are more analytic in nature where the student is only given words, and they have to use critical thinking to sort the words into their own categories.

I like doing word sorts in my classroom, but I don't like the preparation. First, I have to copy a class set of word sort sheets. Then I have to have them passed out to the class along with scissors.  Then it takes an inordinate amount of time for the students to cut out the words and clean up the scraps.  Then while interacting with the word sorts in class, ultimately a few students lose words on the floor or end up with two of the same words having accidentally mixed up their words with another student's words. Then after we are finished with the paper word sorts, they may be crushed in the back of a student's desk or put in a plastic sandwich bag and never used again.

Well, creating word sorts in a Google Drawing may be a better alternative for you.  A Google Drawing word sort still has all of the same learning benefits as paper word sorts only better.  Once created and shared with students, they are ready to go!  You won't lose the words and they can be used over and over again.

For a tutorial on how to create a word sort in a Google Drawing, I have created this tutorial for you.

Carmet Valley 15K

This is only the third year that Seasick Events has put on this Carmel Valley Trail race. You can participate in a 5K, 10K, or for the first time, the 15K. I believe they also had a kids 1 mile fun run, so this event has something for runners of all levels. Also the price is right for this race at only $50 to $60.

I love to run and/or hike trails, but I don't like going alone, so trail races give me the opportunity to be out there with a group. I never knew there was a trail behind Torrey Pines High School, so I really wanted to check it out.

Trail races are small events, because park permits usually only allow a certain number of people on the trails at a time.  So this event was small with only a little over 300 runners. I really enjoyed this race. It wasn't flat. (Rarely are trail races flat.)  The trail consisted of rolling hills with a BIG descent at the beginning to get you down into the valley where the trail was.  The trail was mostly single track rolling hills.  It was very peaceful out there and not very crowded, so you had a lot of quiet time and some alone time. Then, of course, to get out of the valley and back to the finish line you had a BIG climb at the end.

I had a pretty good race, better than my training has been going. Since I have lost most of my fitness, it has been a real struggle trying to get some of it back, and I run out of gas after about an hour. The big descent at the beginning and the single track trail actually worked to my advantage.  Instead of taking off too fast in the beginning of the race and then running out of gas, (usually how I operate) on this race, I had to walk down the big hill, and then I was stuck in a traffic jam of runners until it thinned out.  So I ended up building speed throughout the race, which is a good strategy to use.  At the end of the race, though, I was still exhausted, and walking up that big hill wasn't a lot of fun!

I ended up second in my age group, 50-59. (In trail races, the age groups go in 10 year increments.) There were only 6 women in my age group, and I was the oldest one!  I was actually the second oldest woman out there. There were only 66 runners who did the 15K, and I came in 36th overall.

Seasick events is a relatively new company. Their next race is at Lake Hodges in December.  They have a 10K and a Half Marathon. I'm planning on being out there for one of those!

Sep 11, 2016

Using Keywords to Search


The beginning of the school year is a great time to teach your students how to search for information on the Internet. A good starting place is teaching students how to use keywords to find pertinent information in a timely and efficient manner. 

Common Sense Media has good lessons on this topic.  The first lesson, Using Keywords, is geared toward K-2. In this lesson, students are given the scenario that they want to get a new pet, and in order for their parents to be more inclined to let them have a pet, they will do all the research on how to take care of a pet. 

In this lesson, students are guided to come up with research questions and decide what the keywords are in these questions. Then they are given a safe search engine, such as, and guided on how to search with the keywords and analyze the results. The students are also taught that one source of information is not sufficient, that information you find on the Internet is not always accurate, and they have to find at least two sources of information for their topic and cite the sources.

The other lesson, The Key to Keywords,  is geared towards students in grades 3-5. This higher-level lesson has students practice searching questions about dogs using keywords. Additionally, this lesson teaches students how to use quotation marks in searches to search for exact phrases.

There are quite a few good student-friendly search engines for students to use.  My favorite is  Other student-friendly search engines are,,, and

It might be a good idea to give students daily or weekly search practice by providing a question or two where they have to choose keywords, search for answers, and cite the sources. For more information about teaching students search strategies, contact your Ed Tech Specialist.


This semester I am taking a black-and-white film photography class, and I am really really enjoying it so far.  To learn how to use the darkroom, our teacher had us create photograms.  Photograms are pictures made without a camera.  Photograms date back to the beginnings of photography.  Some of the first pictures ever made were photograms.

To make our photograms, we brought in any items we thought would make a good picture. I did a little research on photograms and found many examples of cool-looking photograms. One of the examples gave me the idea to use light bulbs as shown in the top photogram. We basically placed whatever items we wanted on the photographic paper in the darkroom, set the lens to the appropriate F-stop, chose an exposure time, and then developed the picture.

At first, I just had the different light bulbs arranged on the paper, but after I made my first test print, I saw that I could arrange the lightbulbs to make it look like an insect flying, and my teacher gave me the idea to add broken glass surrounding the insect to make it look as though the insect may be glowing.  I think the end result is so cool looking!

The second photogram was made out of straws and different paperclips that I bought a long time ago at Staples, and the bottom photogram is a design made out of one of my favorite foods...pretzels!

I had a bag full of items that I wanted to use, but unfortunately we ran out of time. It was so much fun to create these photograms, and I am definitely going to create some more!

Stairway to Heaven 15K

On Saturday, August 13th, I participated in the Stairway to Heaven 15K race put on by Dirt Devil Racing. It was quite the challenge as you can imagine from the photo. This is the second time I have done this race.  The first time I did this race was before I had my knee surgeries, and even though I thought it was very difficult, I think I had a pretty good time. This time, though, was extremely difficult since I have lost most of the fitness I once had. The extreme hills on this course also had me worried about the strain on my meniscus or lack thereof.

This race takes place at Mission Trails Regional Park located in Santee. There are two main climbs in this race, and the climb that names this race the Stairway to Heaven is Mt. Fortuna with steep stairs made of railroad ties and rocks. Another factor that always makes this race difficult is the August heat.  Overall, I think this race was a little too extreme for me after my knee surgeries, but I definitely think I could just take my time and hike these great trails.

Mission Trails Regional Park has many, many trails for every level of hiker and runner.  I recommend this park for a day outdoors. Here is the LINK for more information about this park.

The Book That Matters Most

I started a book club a little over a year ago, and we call ourselves The Page Turners, and it has been so much fun!  This book club has helped me to read a variety of different books that I wouldn't normally have ever chosen to read.  This month our book club chose The Book That Matters Most by Ann Hood. I love books that are so engaging that you can't put down, and this book did not disappoint.

Ava, the main character, joins a book club in the hopes of finding something to do and fulfill the emptiness of her life after her husband left her for another woman. Her two grown children are living and studying abroad, so she feels very lonely and worries about her daughter who has had a troubled past.

I must say the book club that Ava joins is much more structured and higher-level than The Page Turners.  They choose a theme for the entire year and each member of the club chooses a book, and the list is given to the members so they can read ahead if they choose.  Our book club scrambles at every meeting to choose a book to read for the next meeting, but that's okay!  We started out having each member take turns choosing a book and an activity, but that went by the wayside, and now we decide together, and it actually turns out great! I think it's probably a good thing to have a more relaxed atmosphere in our book club after such structured days at school since most of us are educators.

When Ava joins the book club, the theme is the book that mattered most to you in your life, and Ava chooses a book that becomes the basis for the novel.  The novel jumps to different scenes and time periods and keeps you hooked throughout.  The novel keeps you thinking as you turn the pages and read the chapters, and you can't wait to get to the conclusion to see how the puzzle fits together. I highly recommend this book!