ScratchJr is an introductory programming language application designed for children ages 5-7 to create interactive stories and games. Both ScratchJr and its big brother, Scratch, designed for users ages 8 and up, were created by MIT Media Lab to teach coding to children. ScratchJr is a free app for both iPad and Android tablets.

In ScratchJr, users put programming character blocks together that are interactive and move, jump, dance, and sing. Users can edit voices and sounds, including adding their own voices, and they can even insert their own pictures to make the blocks come to life. The goal of ScratchJr is to make coding fun and a part of students’ literacy education.

According to the creators of ScratchJr, “Coding (or computer programming) is a new type of literacy. Just as writing helps you organize your thinking and express your ideas, the same is true for coding. In the past, coding was seen as too difficult for most people. But we think coding should be for everyone, just like writing.”

ScratchJr has an innovative approach to literacy as the goal of ScratchJr is to encourage children to create and express themselves via coding. Writing via code allows students to “write” interactive stories, games, animations, and simulations. They begin with planning, rough drafts, editing, and finally publishing as they share content they have coded. Not only do students move through the creative process, they are also given opportunities for problem solving skills, sequencing skills, and math and language skills. Students are constructing meaning through coding, and as ScratchJr states, “children aren’t just learning to code, they are coding to learn.” This multimodal approach to literacy and learning gives students the opportunity to take learning to the next level and create such things as animation, virtual tours, simulations, PSAs, multimedia projects, interactive tutorials and stories.

ScratchJr offers four projects students can work on. However, in addition to providing projects, the app also offers manipulatives, such as printable coding blocks, an animated genres curriculum, which has three modules: Collage, Story, and Game, a playground games curriculum in which students can recreate popular playground games, and activities that reinforce the Common Core standards, including upper and lower case letters and counting.

ScratchJr provides children an interactive, multimodal approach to learning coding as well as offering practice of highly transferrable literacy and learning skills.


ScratchJr – Home. (n.d.). Retrieved September 9, 2015.

Shapiro, J. (2014, August 6). Your Five Year Old Can Learn To Code With An IPad App. Retrieved September 9, 2015.

Empathy with Students Goes a Long Way

Recently I read the story of Teddy who was struggling to find his footing in the classroom. According to the information posted he had been a great student with a number of friends, but the loss of a parent derailed his academic success to a degree. His teacher reviewed his previous teachers’ commentary on his classroom performance. Once she noticed the pattern she took a stronger interest in Teddy and the relationship continued to grow until after Teddy left her class, including Teddy returning to inform the teacher of all the important things going on in his life.

Most educators dream of these situations, where you have such an impact in a student’s life that their success is often your success, as they are so excited to inform you of the new chapters in their lives.

Your question might be “How do I show empathy for my students”?

Empathy can be shown in a number of ways with your students. The one aspect you need to understand is there can be a small line between students taking advantage of you and you showing empathy for their situations. For example, if you see provide an extension to a student once due to an incident they may expect you to do this every time. So be firm with your classroom policies.

Empathy can be a tool used to connect with your students as well. Some students, like Teddy, may require you to work harder than your normal interactions, but the pay off is well worth it. You are not friends with your students, but that doesn’t mean you can’t pull for them in the same manner that their friends do.

Some scenarios I have seen play out in the classroom include the following:

  • A student has a poor home life and does not like to go home:
  • A teacher can consider offering additional after school hours and if the student needs help with their work, use this time to help them navigate through their assignments.

  • A student may have a parent who is terminally ill:
  • A teacher may allow a student to periodically check their cell phone even if it goes against school policy or setup an alternative for reaching the student in case something happens.

  • A student has concerns that limit their concentration:
  • A teacher must not get frustrated with this type of student and instead work with the student individually to ensure they are comprehending all necessary materials. Usually if an IEP or 504 mentions such an issue there may be recommendations for the educator.

    Ultimately showing empathy for situations that come up may help you in connecting with your students and secure a stronger level of respect, as long as you establish that you aren’t a pushover, but aren’t unreasonable.

    Multimodalities in the Classroom

    Multi modalities are at the forefront of education in today’s 21st century classroom. Teaching and learning encompass many modalities: speech, gaze, gestures, body language, writing. When technology is added to the classroom, the multimodal aspects are heightened. Pre-classroom education preparation and experiences have changed for students. Most students have exposure to electronics such as computers, tablets, and video games prior to entering school. Students are now expected to come ready to learn computer literacy, or have some background knowledge of it, much like kindergarten students practice their alphabet before entering school. In the English Language Arts classroom, literacy is now multimodal and is redefined with the introduction of computers and tablets into the classroom. The introduction of technology has provided new opportunities for students to work in their preferred learning modality. This touches in both cognitive and effective domains and allows for greater individualized student growth, achievement, and more student-specific assessment. The move to a digitally influenced classroom changes the nature of education and because of this shift, multimodality in the classroom has become more necessary than ever before.

    Multimodal Literacy is evident in my English Language Arts classroom on a daily basis. As a Google school with Chromebooks, I have recreated my curriculum to pull in multimodal experiences with nearly every topic students encounter. This supports new models of student learning as students are often the expert in the classroom, integrating their technology skills and aptitudes for technology. Students share their knowledge with one another as they collaborate on classwork and projects using Google Applications for Education (GAFE). They use the Chromebooks to complete quizzes on Socrative and they play review games on Kahoot, both which allow for greater peer interactivity. Students participate in Socratic seminars via video chats with students from other school districts, which globalizes their experiential educational interactions. Multimodal literacy is changing how content is published in the ELA classroom as students create digital video PSA’s using their written persuasive essays, and they turn book talks about their required readings into movie trailers. They also take narratives, crafted from drafting to revision and create, edit, and publish multimodal narratives. These multimodal narratives use videos, graphics, music, written phrases, and take into consideration design, content, and auditory selection, in order to create a piece that reflects the mood and ideas students are trying to express.

    Multimodal experiences heighten student motivation as they insist that students invest in the learning process as they create and share their work. Lifelong learning is now more applicable than ever as the multimodal skills students hone are highly transferable to the workforce. It seems that education, with the coupling of multimodal experiences, has begun to answer the relevancy question, “When am I ever going to use this?” The answer in today’s technology based society, is every single day in the workplace, at home, with your children, in continuing education. In the new era of digitized education, schools now offer students preparation for the technological world that awaits them beyond school doors.

    Back to School Basics: Gooooooaaaaaaaallllllll!

    With the gusto of soccer announcer Andrés Cantor, you need to celebrate your goals. Well, maybe before we start dancing in the streets, let’s back up a second and think about your goals. Sure, you can come up with all sorts of lofty goals as to why you’re a teacher: I want to impact the future. I want to be the reason a child becomes great. I want to create lifelong learners. That fluff-stuff is for your Philosophy of Education that you have to submit with your resume to get the job. But, now you’re hired, here, and ready to start off a new school year that may include new faces or new places.

    In Teach, Reflect, Learn, Hall and Simeral (2015, ASCD) argue, “With so many professional responsibilities determined for us in education […], it is essential to our continued growth – not to mention our sanity – to have some semblance of ownership over our own development.” Do you even know what you want to do beyond pure survival? Setting goals outside of curriculum maps and mastery levels can keep you focused on your mission to, as Ghandi so eloquently put it, “Be the change you wish to see in the world” or whatever quote you pulled into your philosophy statement back in college.

    Set one attainable goal in each of these areas outside of academics: student social-emotional well-being, professional practice, and personal balance. Here are some reflection questions to get you through goal setting:

    Student Social-Emotional Well-Being

    • How will I make time to get to know my students?
    • How will I establish my room as a safe place for students both physically and emotionally?
    • What can I do to show students that I care?
    • What normative beliefs can I promote for respect, integrity, and kindness?
    • Research shows that one caring adult makes a big difference in the success of a child. How will I be that adult for a child who needs me?

    Professional Practice

    • What topics do I want to attend training on?
    • Do I want to further my education and seek another degree or certification?
    • What new skill do I want to try? How will I learn the skill, observe the skill, or try the skill?
    • What professional books do I want to read?
    • Can I access a peer coach, instructional partner, or mentoring teacher?
    • What Professional Learning Communities do I have access to within my school or district?
    • How can I connect with other education professionals on social media?

    Personal Balance

    • What projects around the house do I want to complete?
    • Do I have any fitness goals that I can work towards?
    • Is there a vacation that I am longing for?
    • How will I make time for my family and friends?
    • What limits will I set to not overwhelm myself with work while I am at home?

    Remember, set goals that you can reach. They can small goals, such as, “Paint the bathroom over Fall Break” or tall goals, “Enroll in a Master’s program at a local university.”  Either way, you have to have a plan for reaching them. You can download many goal templates (I’m a fan of the SMART plan: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-Bound) or simply write your goal on a sticky note. Choose what you are working for, and then go out there and get it. Pick a reward that you will celebrate with – even if it’s just jumping up and down in your classroom and screaming at the top of your lungs, “GOOOOOoooooooooooaaaaaaaaaaaaaaalllllllllllllllll!!!!!!!!!!”

    Back to School Basics: Create a Classroom Tour Video

    Lights, camera, action! Once you’re done preparing your room, it’s time get out a camera or your smartphone and create a guided video tour of your classroom. When you’re done, upload this video to YouTube, and share the link on a classroom homepage or social media site. If you have availability to student or parent email addresses before the school year begins, send the link out. You could also send this during the first week of school, but sending it before the school year begins helps students feel a little more comfortable and relieve the first day jitters because they know exactly what to expect when they walk in the door. This also introduces you to parents so they can put a face to your name – it is especially helpful with parents at the middle / high school level who may never come into contact with their child’s teacher.

    Here are a few things you may want to cover:

    • The basic layout of your classroom. Show the student desks, your desk. Where are student accessible materials? Where do they turn in homework? Do students store coats, lunch boxes, etc in the classroom or in lockers in the hallway? Is there a restroom in your classroom? Cover all of these areas and any other relevant information you can think of.
    • Is there a place within your classroom, or in the hallway where you post information such as field trips, conference sign ups, or other important information? Be sure to highlight this area so that parents can find it easily!
    • Have someone record you sitting in a comfortable place within your classroom (or, be really hip and use a selfie-stick). Behind your desk may come off as a little too sterile or intimidating. Introduce yourself and convey your excitement for the school year. Share your goals for the year. Remind parents where they can locate your contact information (don’t share your contact info in the video unless you are keeping the link private.)

    Creating this virtual tour should set the tone for your classroom. Let students and parents alike see your passion for teaching, and how you take pride in this space. Be confident and speak clearly.

    Other information videos you can create for your own classroom vlog (video blog) series can include:

    • An overview of your homework / classwork / grading policies.
    • If you have a self-contained classroom, or your entire homeroom follows the same schedule, overview this schedule. If you’re tech savvy, you can overlay pictures over the different areas within the school that the children will visit or even walk the school as you explain where you are going.
    • A walking video of how to get to your classroom from the front door of the school. For students coming into a large, new school this can really alleviate some anxiety.
    • Explain personal electronics policy / computer usage within the school.
    • Video screen navigation of how to access student grades online, locate information on the class website, or social media links for the class.

    Post in the comments what other ideas you have for “How to” or informational videos teachers can create!

    Developing your child’s self-esteem… Important things to think about.

    A healthy self-esteem is the safeguard for your child against the challenges of the world. Children who have a positive self-esteem have a much easier time dealing with daily conflicts and the negative pressures that come from school, play, other children and adults.

    Self-esteem starts at infancy and continues to develop in a positive or negative way throughout your child’s life. Helping your child grow up surrounded by encouragement and realistic goals is crucial to them feeling good about themselves. Impressions on self-esteem start very early in life.

    Parents that are actively involved with their children help them to form an accurate and healthy perception of themselves. This is one of the reasons why preschool is so important. A good preschool teacher can be invaluable in helping children establish a positive image of themselves during play and during other activities in the classroom and on the playground. Parents should continually ask for input from the preschool teacher regarding how well the child is doing in the area of self-esteem development. Don’t be afraid to regularly ask the preschool teacher for an assessments and advice.

    Self-esteem will fluctuate as kids grow older and are involved in different activities at school and in after school and sports activities. Sports activities, including soccer, T-ball, basketball and other entry level sports can have a tremendous impact on a child’s self-esteem. Make sure that your child has a positive and encouraging coach. Remember it’s your child and what happens out on the field can be a life-changing experience for a child. Don’t be afraid to get involved. Children with healthy self-esteem tend to enjoy interacting with other children and adults. They are more comfortable in social settings and enjoy group activities. It is important for parents to encourage this.

    Three important things that you may want to focus on:

    1) Give positive yet accurate feedback to your child. don’t tell them they are the best on the team, if they’re not, but share with them that they’re getting better and improving all the time.

    2) Create a safe, loving home environment where your children can express themselves and get positive constructive feedback.

    3) Encourage cooperation rather than competition as children learn to play with others and develop a positive self-esteem.

    There’s nothing more important than a child growing up feeling good about themselves and able to deal with all the challenges the world presents. Devoting time and attention to a child’s development early on is essential.


    Talking with young children: How Parents can Encourage Learning

    During the first five years of a child’s life 90% of brain development takes place. There’s no way to go back after a child enters school and recapture what they have missed during the first five years. So what does this mean for parents and learning? Parents have a perfect opportunity to be the first and best teacher in a child’s life. They can have a profound impact that will make a difference for a lifetime. Here are a few facts!

    1) Thought–provoking questions or using new words can extend children’s thinking and curiosity.

    2) When adults purposefully talk more with children, children develop larger vocabularies (Hart & Risley,1999, Hoff & Naigles, 2002).

    3) Children with larger vocabularies are better readers and better readers are more successful throughout school and life (Snow,Burns & Griffin 1998).

    All families talk to children, but the way you talk to them or with them is what makes the difference. If you’re just talking at children to get things done, such as, eating, getting dressed, cleaning up etc. then you are missing an opportunity to get the vocabulary growth, cognitive development and emotional maturity that is necessary for future success.

    Here are a few things parents can do that make a significant difference:

    1) When driving in a car with children, turn off your radio and put down the cell phone….. Engage your children in conversation regarding the world around them, i.e. How many red cars can we find in the next few minutes? Can you find the number six on the license plate? Who can find the letter “S” on a license plate?
    This is fun and can make a world of difference.

    2) Use “Big Words” and extend a child’s vocabulary: Instead of saying: “going to the park can be fun” say… “Going to the part can be enjoyable, entertaining or pleasant. Instead of saying: “that is a scary mask your brother is wearing”…. That is a creepy, horrifying, shocking or intimidating mask your brother is wearing.
    These are easy to do and make a significant difference. Remember you are the first and most important teacher in a child’s life…. Make a difference for them!

    Why Use AR Challenge …. Part 2…

    Why Use AR Challenge … Part 2…

    Using augmented triggers that are already made not only saves you time but adds enhancement to your lesson without changing the learning objective. For part two of the Why use AR series we will use two pre-made augmented triggers.

    Describe the Photo

    Look at the pictures below and answer the following questions:

    • As you are describing what is happening in the photo use where it is happen. For example – on the left, in the middle, behind and etc….
    • Use present conditions – What are they doing? and etc…
    • What is the weather like?
    • Is the location inside or outside?
    • Use adjectives to explain the mood of the setting?
    • How does this image make you feel?
    • Would you like to be there? Why or Why not?
    Now take a look at the second photo and answer the same questions.

    Looking at the two photographs what do you see that is similar and what is different. Use the following vocabulary to to describe the similarities and the differences.

    Similar: all, most, both, also, as well, & too
    Different: but, however, whereas, on the other hand, & although

    Speculate the situation and use words to describe such as: use may, might, must, can’t be, seems to, & appears to be.

    Your Reaction:
    Give your reaction to the photographs and use words such as: I’d love, hate to do that, It looks great, it appears to be dangerous, It makes me want to try, & It wouldn’t suit me.

    Adding AR:

    You are going to ask the same questions but this time instead of just looking at the two images you are going to explore them. The app you will need is (STAR by Aug That) Supreme Tutoring Augmented Reality.

    Steps to Explore:

    • Launch the app
    • Click Start Lesson
    • Click 360° – Panorama
    • Scan the 1st image with you device
    • Once the AR experience is loaded walk around the room.
    • Using your device to look up, look down, and look all around.
    • Describe the Experience
    Explore the 360° environment and answer the following questions:

    • As you are describing what is happening in the around you? For example – on the left, in the middle, behind and etc….
    • Use present conditions – What are they doing? and etc…
    • What is the weather like?
    • Is the location inside or outside?
    • Use adjectives to explain the mood of the setting?
    • How does this image make you feel?
    • Would you like to be there? Why or Why not?

    Now experience the 2nd image and answer the same questions.

    Now that you experienced the two environments what do you see that is similar and what is different. Use the following vocabulary to to describe the similarities and the differences.

    Similar: all, most, both, also, as well, & too
    Different: but, however, whereas, on the other hand, & although

    Speculate the situation and use words to describe such as: use may, might, must, can’t be, seems to, & appears to be.

    Your Reaction:
    Give your reaction to the photographs and use words such as: I’d love, hate to do that, It looks great, it appears to be dangerous, It makes me want to try, & It wouldn’t suit me.

    Share your your experience via social media. Use the hashtags #TechieEdu and #AR4Learning.


    Connecting with Your Students By Being Up to Date

    One of the most common issues teachers have with students is their inability to connect with them on a human level. A lot of educators feel their job is to simply enter the classroom, teach the content, prepare the students for the tests and send them on their way. That isn’t how you connect with students. Teachers can connect with students better by intersecting their lives with the course content.

    A perfect example is the video below. A math teacher incorporated the recent song “Teach Me How to Dougie” into a song associated with the content he was teaching.

    This process is one of the best ways to connect with students. I’m sure we all remember the “Elements Song”

    A famous cartoon when I was younger known as Animaniacs actually helped me remember the state capitals with this little diddy:

    You may not be great at rapping or singing, but it is necessary to find a recent event or idea to tie to your current content to help you better connect with your students. Being a little bit goofy will make you more approachable in the eyes of your students.

    Think creatively and something will come to you. It is probably not the best idea to have a rap or song associated with every lecture topic, but inserting some fun into the classroom will help you connect with your students. YouTube is a great place for ideas on potential things you can do to incorporate recent events into your teachings to help you connect with students. You don’t have to be over the top, but make it fun.