Thursday, February 25, 2016

Teaching Tools Series: Kahoot! in the STEM classroom--FREE

Wow.  That gif is...gify.

Now that I have your attention, if you haven't used Kahoot! in your classroom yet, you're in for a real treat. Kahoot! is full of user-created ready-made interactive quiz games that make Jeopardy buzzer systems completely and utterly irrelevant. Sorry, Alex Trebec.  Here's the Kahoot! game that I used in my class today--try it out for FREE on the Kahoot! community board:

If you like it, you can join Kahoot! (also free) and start playing right away.  For how much? You guessed it: it's free.  Student accounts--also free.

Students can use whichever device they have handy--but in my experience, the kids favor touchscreens because of the reaction-time advantage. You don't even need a projector, really, depending on your class size. I have used my HD laptop in a pinch. Today, this is what my 8th grade class looked like playing Kahoot!--we were waiting for a guest speaker to arrive and it was an engaging and fun activity as well as a good way to review material.

This is TWO class sections of eighth graders happy and busy
while they wait for our guest speaker to arrive!  Yes!  It really happens!
How it works: you choose a Kahoot! quiz to use and then Launch it to your device/projector.  The students login using the URL and the login code to access your quiz in real time.  They add their username (they do NOT need accounts--this is the best part). Once everyone joins the quiz, the quiz will launch!

Some fun music plays in the background while a question pops up on the big screen and on their devices. They have to wait a few moments until the multiple-choice answers pop up on the screen, and then they get access to punch in their response on their device.

One of the coolest parts of this is that it's really interactive in the whole-class sense.  They aren't staring at the board or their device.  They all have to constantly look up at the board and then down at their devices and then back at the board to see if they were right.  The leaderboard is posted after every question--extra points for speed!  It's not unusual for students to jump out of their seats with excitement as they see where they are in the lineup.

Kahoot! Markets itself as tool that can be flipped to let the kids create.

I teach a couple of PLTW courses and this Kahoot! is specifically for Automation and Robotics, Lesson 2.2.2 Mechanisms. Give it a try alone or with a few friends to see what Kahoot! is all about.

You can create your own Kahoot!, customizing it for your particular classroom and lesson. You can easily embed photos and youtube videos that enhance your quizzes.  What's fantastic, though, is there are thousands of user-created quizzes that are just waiting for your tweaks to make them perfect or you can use them as-is.

**FYI, I am not a paid spokesperson for Kahoot! nor do they sponsor me in any way.  I just really like this tool.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

STEM Studio: Coding a Story Assignment on Scratch--Free Lesson Plan and Worksheet!

In a peculiar plot twist, for the last few years I've been a full-time STEM teacher.  I teach engineering, robotics, computer programming and 3D modeling to middle schoolers.  Best. Job. Ever.

In my 6th grade class, the students are learning computer programming using Scratch. I have a student that is quite a gifted animator. One assignment focused on creating a story, complete with a plot, theme, characters, conflict and resolution.  She created a character for the story called Cake Troll.

I am obsessed with Cake Troll.  I want to hug Cake Troll.  I want to wipe his tears, he's so adorable. Here is the story:
This young lady is in 6th grade!  Yeah, I know.  She's a really gifted animator.  Anyway, I wanted to share my project plans with you in case you'd like to do the same lesson with your students.


  • Digital copy of Story Map
  • Video of Tick Tock Tale or other animated short story
  • printed copies of Story Map for each student
  • SCRATCH account for each student at
  • 3-5 class periods of 45 minutes each

1. Engage interest in the lesson by showing a good short story. I like to use Disney's Tick Tock Tale because there's no dialogue to distract from the little clocks that are bursting with personality. It also enables kids to think more critically about story elements, because they are open to interpretation without dialogue.  It's interesting how certain students will focus on the little clock feeling lonely, or left out and some won't pick up on that at all!  Here's a clip:

2. Project this Story Map. Discuss each story element to remind kids of what they are (this is a STEM class, so I really depend on the Language Arts department for doing some seriously good teaching on story structure).

3. Watch the video again, if you have time, and fill in the map as you go (or afterward).

4. Explain that they will be programming stories in Scratch, but they need to plan out their story before they begin.  One way to develop a good project is to plan it out.  In Scratch, create a Studio full of projects that you think are good examples of short stories. You could also use this studio if you like, which is filled with projects that my own students created or projects that I just thought were cool--for better or for worse! Many of these kids are 11 or 12 years old, don't be too critical.  Lots of them have never coded before.

5. Work in groups to brainstorm ideas and create a story map. Each student should make their own, or you can let them work in groups on the project. After they get you to check their work they can start coding on Scratch!

6. After they are done, gather all the projects in another Studio.  I do this step by posting an assignment on Google Classroom and having them submit the shared link to their project as an ADD>LINK .
Share the link to the studio with your students (I use Google Classroom for this also).

Good Digital Citizenship (GDC)
7. In another class period, we share our projects and practice commenting using specific, constructive and supportive feedback.