STEM and Mad libs? Who Knew?

In our district we use flextime manager for students to choose what they want to go to during our personalized learning period. This provides a unique challenge because this means I get a new mix of kids every day. Sometimes I look at my roster and know that I can throw an extra challenge into the mix. It was a few days before break, and I wasn’t loving my challenges for the day.  So, I decided to take a risk and let the class pick the challenge.

I have a philosophy during maker club that if we succeed, we succeed together, if we fail, we fail together. We started the class by explaining Mad Libs, and we then did one that I wrote for our class. Overall, it was well received by the kids.

Our STEM Mad Lib

_______________(teacher name) woke from a nightmare to realize she was at _______________(place).  She looked around and saw that there was a __________________ (animal) who attacked Maker Club. The ________ (adjective) students were ____________ (adjective)! What were they to do? They gathered ____________ (item) and worked together to build __________________(item) to defeat the __________________ (same animal). They realized they also had ______________ (item) as well. But! They had a big obstacle! They had to have something ____________ on it! Where would they find that?

Remember that a good project is PLANNED well! Draw a blueprint and get it approved. If we have time, we can try and build our project.

Ground rules

*Yes, the animal is attacking but you have to save us without killing it (or doing anything that involves Ms Stolarski seeing animal blood)

*Work in a team of 2+

Will they succeed? Let’s find out!

How it went!

We had the situation that we had to save Maker Club from a giant penguin by creating a book. At the end of the period we shared our blueprints with our classmates and gave feedback to each other. I was AMAZED at the creativity that our kids brought forth (there were a lot of book shaped penguin traps, but it worked!). The conversations this challenge brought forth really made me smile. The kids put in a request for more Mad Lib Challenges. Now my challenge is to try and write some that are hard for the kids to predict!

Surrendering control is hard, but if done in an environment where the expectations are clear, it can be really rewarding. This is why I love running my maker club, my kids constantly amaze me with their independence and creativity!


Sharing the love of Reading with MackinVIA and Google Classroom

One reading promotion that I do over the winter break is by doing #bookaday promotions. MackinVIA makes it super easy to share books through their Google Classroom Integration.  I’ve attached the instructional video from Mackin below.


A few things make my life easier when doing this.

  1. Reach out to your teachers and get permission. Several of my teachers have me in as a co-teacher to make life easier during research projects.
  2. Most of our kids have push notifications set up for Google Classroom, which is awesome when you are giving feedback on a project, not so awesome you forget to post recommendations until after they’ve gone to bed. Try and be thoughtful of when you post.
  3. Plan your book selection list in advance and know your teacher’s goals. One of my teacher is all about stretching her kids and encouraging them to approach more advanced work of literature. Another teacher is all about graphic novels and audiobooks.

Recently, I figured out 2 ways to schedule posts (because sometimes life gets busy during break!)

Method 1: Is the way pictured in the video above. (I sometimes forget that the  schedule button is there.)

Method 2: (in case your orange button is not showing up in your Mackin Admin portal)

  1. Open the Resources tab of your MackinAdmin Portal
  2. Choose the book you want: echo.PNG
  3. Open the title information. Feel free to use the summary in your post. I always add my thoughts on the book to make it personal for the class, but it’s nice not to have to write the book talk.  Don’t forget to attach the URL (shown in the red arrow).summary.PNGurl
  4. Open Google Classroom and type and announcement and attach the link. Use the blue arrow to schedule the post. And now you have a book recommendation!


Sample lists

Here’s the list I used if you are a PA ebook consortium member and want to use it. Note that I am trying to feature a lot of PA Young Readers Choice titles. This list is geared toward my 8th grade students.

Dec 22 – All rise for the honorable Perry T Cook by Leslie Connor

Dec 23-Scar by Robert Mann
Dec 24 – Mayday by Karen Harrington
Dec 25-Ghost by Jason Reynolds
Dec 26 – Booked by Kwame Alexander
Dec 27 -Boys on the Boat by Daniel James Brown
Dec 28 – Call of the Klondike by David Meissner
Dec 29- Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead
Dec 30 -Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
Dec 31-Once was a Time by Leila Sales
Jan 1-The War that Saved my Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Jan 2-Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk


This is my second year doing this informal reading promotion and it’s been well received by teachers and students. In the future I’m hoping to push this out more (especially after I do my MackinVIA scavenger hunts).


Quotable Quotes: Amal Unbound

I just finished Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed and loved it! I know there are several reviews out there already, but I wanted to share some fantastic quotes from this book. 

“Write about what you see! Write about your dreams!” -pg 3 

“Only now that I was trapped did I understand the heaviness of forever.” -pg 132

“It was worth the risk to have books in my life again.” pg 140

“Strong? What did it mean to be strong? Did I have any other choice?” pg 158

“…to call me a guest in the only place I ever belonged–the word cut like a jagged stone against my heart.” pg 161

“They weren’t bad people. They were just lucky enough to have no idea of the reality I faced.” pg 169

“Just because something seems impossible, does that mean we just don’t try?” -pg 205

“You always have a choice. Making choices even when they scare you because you know it’s the right thing to do–that’s bravery.” -pg 210

“…it turned out chance, no matter how good and necessary, came with a price.” -pg 218

“I thought not knowing would scare me, but I didn’t feel afraid. Today I was free, and even if I didn’t know what the future held, I knew I was going home. 

And right now, in this moment, this is enough.” -pg 226

Tech Review: Tour Creator

Tour Creator is a tool from Google that allows you to create your own VR expeditions. It is SUPER easy to create, a little glitchy when I presented it, but overall a good tool.

I was super hesitant to try this because I thought that this was linked in with Google Expeditions which is a tool that I tried for 3 months to get up and going and failed because of issues with the Peer to Peer Network. I really didn’t want to invest energy in a tool that I couldn’t get working. It turns out that this is a separate program that you use on your computer and it gives you a link to share with kids.

I had to create my tour with my personal account to start out because my Google Admin didn’t have it turned on. When I shared my success with her, she was happy to turn it on.

To Create

  1. Go to
  2. Put in the basic details of your tour (name and a cover image)
  3. It takes you to a page where you can pick your Google Street View 360 view you want added. If you can find an address on Google Maps, you can pick a 360 view!
  4. Add descriptions and points of interest
  5. Once you are done, it gives you a link to share with students. Here’s my example Tour that I used with ELA students to go along with a reading on Sept 11th:


To Use with Students

  1. Figure out how you want students to access the link and if they are using their own devices. I decided to use to give them a shortened link
  2. I used ipods that my library owns. We had the students open safari and insert the shortened link
  3. It then gives you the tour to be inserted in VR headsets. There is an option for 360 view

Issues we ran into

  1. Sometimes the navigation bar at the bottom disappeared in presentation mode and it was hard to navigate between screens. We had the kids close Safari and reopen it and navigate to the scene the class was on.

Student feedback

The students loved it! I loved the flexibilty of the views since I could pick anywhere from Google Street View. We’re looking into using it as a student project and have them design their own VR tours and plan the navigation for a geography project.



App Review: Mr Body

I was a little hesitant to get Merge cubes, because I honestly had other things to focus my energy on, and I didn’t have time to hunt for more apps. Earlier this year, we used the Merge Cube and Mr. Body App with my health teacher. Everyone loved this activity!


App information:

When I was planning this lesson, I saw a lot of reviews that discussed HOW the app worked and the WOW! factor, but I haven’t seen a lot that show how teachers are actually using this, so I thought I’d share our experience with it.

I have a Nearpod lesson that I use that uses the 360 views of a “Body Works” museum exhibit where we can see bodies without skin. These views are mixed in with interactive questions and models that review big ideas that they covered in a body system webquest. I had a feeling that the Mr Body wasn’t going to fill a whole class, so I fit that activity into this lesson.

We have 6 merge cubes and a class set of ipods, so we worked in small groups to explore the app. I gave them 2 minutes to explore different body parts. We then started into a game. I had gone through the app and found all of the body parts that had descriptions. I would list the body part, and they would have to find it. We then went a step farther, I had a few questions that I knew were listed in the description. They then had to find the correct body part.

If you are thinking of other ways to use this app, I could see a lot of potential for a test review game with this tool.


This tweet accurately sums up my emotions on this. I LOVED hearing the conversations that were going on. Students are super awesome at finding something interesting and sharing it with their table mates.

This did take a bit of time to get set up. You do have to put in the Merge code into each ipod and verify your email. I had some volunteers do it for me ahead of time, but it only needed done once, which was awesome!

Prancing through Poland: Just because it’s scary, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try it (or why Skype gives me anxiety)

Making things work comes with the territory of being a teacher. Sometimes things don’t work out and we have to quickly shift. This program has been making sure I practice that skill well and reminds me that I am good at that skill. I’ve been more empowered to plan things that I am almost positive will fail, only to be excited when it goes well!

One thing that had been rescheduled several times was my tour of the public library. When staying in a small town, not everyone speaks English and I had to make sure I came at a time when there was someone who spoke English working. We had some miscommunications in terms of time, but when we finally connected, I was so happy to see that they have a vibrant library program. To me, it felt like a mix of a public and an academic library. The library is very new and modern, because it’s only 8 years old. When the library opened, they reached out to embassies around the world for rocks from all over the world. Because of this, they have several rocks from around the world, including a rock from the Alexandria, Egypt. They do a lot of programming for kids and teens, have a variety of special collections, and do a lot of traditional library programming. I was surprised that it had a section of closed stacks. I’m used to public libraries not having the space or staffing for that.

Tuesday had a variety of challenges. I had my students write and “I poem” or a “Bio-poem” about themselves using a template. Some of my groups could barely handle the template, whereas other groups moved onto the final copy and made beautiful poems. Every group has a very specific set of needs, so I feel like we were adjusting ourselves constantly.

For my oldest group, I knew that their attention spans wouldn’t handle to final copy, so we ended up going to a room that had a computer and played Geoguessr. I loved hearing their thought process about which state they thought we were in. Then we went to 360 cities and I let them look at 360 views from the cities and states of their choice.

We also Skyped with students from my American school district. It was a little tricky because it was the end of the day (so my kids were tired), and we were having 90 kids on my end speak to 20 kids on the American end, but since we organized it well, it went really smoothly. We made sure to pre-select the questions so we had participation from each group and had a variety of questions. Each kid asking a question had a post-it note with their name, question, and number. This was the only thing about my Poland trip that I was stressed about (and I was going by myself to a country where I don’t speak the language!). Doing Skype events terrify me because you have to

  • put your faith in the other person that they aren’t going to have tech issues
  • put your faith in the tech people/tech that they aren’t going to do something to sabotage you
  • recognize that not everything is in your control and there are kids watching you.
  • Something ALWAYS goes wrong.

Even though Skype/Google Hangout scares the living daylights out of me, I do it because I see that value. I go through this anxiety with Skype/Google Hangouts even when I do these in my home district. I think every teacher has some program or technology or something that scares them and they don’t trust, but they do it because it’s good for kids.

Today we practiced clothing words by having some fun! We had a fashion show and when the model finished going down the runway, we described what they wore. The kids LOVED it! They had so much fun dancing along the runway and posing. They got so excited that we had to do some line dancing just to get them all doing the same thing and start paying attention. One group was SO excited, that we finally went back to the room and color pictures of outfits and described the types of clothing. This was another day when every class, we did something different, and I appreciate my TA for rolling with me as I switched plans really quickly depending on our needs.


Prancing through Poland: Sometimes lesson plans fail…

Well…I’ve missed a few days of reflection, so this one may be a long one. Friday started out relatively normal. It was Polish day, so my group was dressed up in red and white. In the morning we did classes as normal. I was doing a “pre-Skype” activity to make sure that they Skype event I have planned on Tuesday goes smoothly. I sent my TA into the hall and had her facetime me. This way, we could discuss taking turns when talking, asking questions. We then brainstormed questions to ask the American students, and looked on a map to see where these students are located and looked at some pictures from the school. The Skype event happening on Tuesday will have all 90+ kids at camp participating at once, so I want everything to be clear.

After the Skype prep, I had my homeroom do a game to stretch their creative muscles. I had them draw a scribble on a piece of paper and pass it to the right. That person added another scribble, it got passed to the right a third time and then that person had to create an animal from the scribble. We then went around the room and shared our animal.

For my other classes, I had the students choose a postcard from a pile I had collected over the past few months, and they had to write a letter in English home about what they’ve learned at camp.

In the afternoon, the students put on a pageant for Polish Day. We were treated to traditional folk music and dancing and each class put on a skit or song. I was so proud of their creativity and hard work. I was also so impressed with the TAs for putting on such a great show.

On Monday, I was a little hesitant to embrace this day. This was a day when I was working with the younger kids, and my lessons were writing heavy. Even though the goals of this camp are academic, I’m trying to keep things as fun and interactive as possible. We started with doing postcards with my homeroom. I ran into some issues, because I tried to be brave on Friday afternoon and start the activity without 2 of my TAs in to translate. That was a bad idea. We had several hiccups and confusion, but the kids did really well.

I was told when I started this program to be prepared for lessons to blow up in your face, and to be prepared to throw away plans because of the specific needs of the student. Last week I was very lucky with activities that I was 50% sure that they would go badly, and instead they were really well received. It’s sometimes nice to be reminded that some lessons flop. Some lessons don’t go well, but we pick ourselves back up and move forward.

Especially since my group was having trouble with postcards, we decided to create our own version of “Simon Says” with Uno cards to play after the pre-Skype activity. Each student was given a Uno card, and we had them stand if they had the color we were calling out, and then we went around and shared what numbers they had. We then went into the hallway and used those colors and numbers to tell the students what to do. (ex. If you have a 5 come give me a high five, if you have a yellow card, touch your head). That then transitioned into a game of “duck, duck, goose.”