Easy and FUN Easter STEAM activities

One of the other hats I wear other than principal, wife and mother, is as a Girl Scout Co-Leader of my daughter’s 2nd grade Brownie Troop. I enjoy the monthly opportunity to reengage in direct teaching of 21 2nd grade girls as they develop their potential. This month, we focused our evening on STEAM activities with an Easter twist that could easily be incorporated into any classroom.

Easter Egg Engineering Challenge: Using just plastic eggs and play-doh, girls were given loose direction to build the tallest structure. Girls were given various sizes of Easter Eggs. The girls evaluated different aspects of the structure while developing their plan, re-organizing their approach. The girls varied in their initial plans, but ultimately made substantial conclusions regarding successes and areas for improvement in their structures. Added challenges could for this activity could include:

  1. Create an arch
  2. Create a structure that can house a peep or chick.
  3. Use only halves of the eggs
  4. Create a pattern while building the structure

Easter Egg Stacking Challenge: Using just plastic Easter Eggs of various sizes, girls were given the simple challenge of stacking eggs to the highest level possible. The girls quickly made connections between having a strong base, mixing the various components of the eggs for optimal success, and more.

Easter Egg Nest Challenge: Using KEVA Planks, the girls were asked to build the tallest “nest” to house a large plastic Easter Egg. What started out as individual girls building their own towers in an environment of competition turned into a collaborative effort with the whole group communicating, encouraging, and supporting each other to build one massive ‘nest’ to house their egg.

Easter Chick Art: It’s interesting to me how the girls of the group divided themselves to the various stations and the ones they gravitated to naturally. It reminded me of the importance of balancing our educational approach with students to include opportunity for the arts, crafts, and creativity. There were eager girls that went straight to building and problem-solving stations and equally as many girls that chose the stations that allowed for creativity.

Projects and activities shouldn’t all be prescribed. It is meaningful to engage students in tasks to extend their thinking, problem-solving, communication and collaboration.

Book Review: Table Talk Math

It seems that on any given week, you can find a newly published book by Dave Burgess Consulting. The books from this publishing team continue to shape my leadership and are my go-to recommendations for staff and families. When “Table Talk Math” was released, it immediately found its way to my Amazon Cart (which is constantly filled with books!)

As I worked on filling Easter baskets for my family, I decided that “Table Talk Math” was my Easter Basket filler and I’m glad I now have it in my professional library. Ironically, the author talks about Easter Egg hunts as an opportunity to embed math in your conversations with kids in the book! Just think of all the ways jelly beans, Easter Eggs and Jelly Beans can be applied to mathematical practices and reasoning!
What’s more important about this book, is that it fits the need that many books don’t. It provides teachers valuable tools, but even more, it provides relevant and meaningful ways for parents to support mathematics conversations with their students that aren’t focused on standards, but rather the essential mathematical practices that are vital in the development of mathematical thinkers and problem solvers.


Math can be a difficult content area for parents to support their children in. There are many strategies and intricacies about teaching math concepts in the school setting, but this book transcends past that. This book provides concrete strategies, questions, ideas and supports for teachers and parents to talk to kids about math and support the development of mathematical thinkers in the home and classrooms.


The author of the book focuses on a major claim: Math is for EVERYONE. All parents and teachers have something to offer children in their development of mathematical thinking and problem-solving. Educators and parents alike have the ability to foster confidence and perseverance in our children and students via the avenue of our communication and conversations with kids.

The author focuses on five pillars for starting mathematical conversations with kids:

  1. Make it Casual
  2. Make it Meaningful
  3. Make it Authentic
  4. Make it Applicable
  5. Make it Short

What stood out to me was the author’s claim that “the highest achievers in the world are those who focus on big ideas in mathematics and the connections between ideas.”

Some simple strategies for engaging kids in these conversations to support making connections include:

  1. Using daily events to ask math “Would You Rather Questions”
  2. Allow children to make estimations and predictions about possible outcomes in events, situations and with objects around their homes and classrooms
  3. Point out and/or ask kids to find patterns in daily routines and objects
  4. Ask children to identify and justify their answer to objects that do not belong to a group or set of standards.
  5. Use challenges to engage kids in the process and understand representation to develop curiosity and wonder.
  6. Distinguish between noticing a mathematical idea and wondering about a mathematical concepts. How can observation and questioning work together to develop critical thinking and spark conversations?

Various resources were also provided for teachers and parents to reference:




Which One Doesn’t Belong

Fraction Talks

Math Munch

Bedtime Math

And… as the author points out, remember… “Be patient. There is value in letting your child struggle through a few steps.” Through challenges and bumps in the road, children learn grit, perseverance and how to overcome adversity and challenges. “There will always be opportunities to bring math to the table regardless of the age or skill level of the child.”

15 Ways to Use Avatars in Communication and Instruction

There are many opportunities to use Avatars and personalized emojis in our communication. There are also many ways to use them to showcase and enhance student learning. Below are a variety of ways to use Avatars and three go-to sites to get started!

With Families

  1. Embed a Voki on your website with a welcome message to families
  2. Personalize your social media bio with an Avatar to match your persona.
  3. Have your Avatar spread your school brand by dressing it with school colors or include your school mascot.
  4. Post a special announcement on your school social media page using an Avatar to match the announcement
  5. Enhance posters and flyers with Avatars to match the message or event
  6. Embed a Voki into a SMORE Page to make an announcement or share your school news

With Students

  1. Engage students in historical biographies by having them create characters to match their learning content
  2. When students write autobiographies, have them include an Avatar of themselves as part of project. Can they correlate their writing to the elements they include on their Avatar.
  3. Play a “Guess Who” as a get to know you activity at the start of the school year. Have students create an Avatar and then pose a few questions for other students to make guesses as to who it is.
  4. Embed a BitMoji or Avatar into a google doc to personalize it and build relationships with students
  5. Celebrate an accomplishment of a student, by embeding an Avatar onto their Google assignments.
  6. Bring student narrative writing to life by having them create a set of characters to correspond with their writing piece
  7. Teach adjectives by having students create an Avatar and write adjectives to describe them
  8. Practice reading fluency by having students record their voice on a Voki reading a poem or short passage. Share it with their parents or embed in a digital portfolio
  9. Encourage students to include dialouge in their writing and use personalized Avatars to illustrate their writing

The Lego Movie Figure Creator

Personalize any Lego character and create posters, wallpaper, icons or scenes with backgrounds and props. Options for personalization include hair, eyes, eyebrows, clothes, ect.



Create a GIF using attributes of any person using Androidify. This app/website even allows users to personalize movements to correspond with the characteristics of the individual.




Voki allows the user to personalize an Avatar and it’s background. Users can then record a voice message to include with the Voki. I’ve used it on our school webpage as a welcome message to visitors. Students can also create Voki’s for a variety of classroom projects to bring story, writing projects, or speeches to life!

Amusement Park AWE

So often I work at teaching my two children all they need to know, that I forget how much they can teach me. It never ceases to amaze me the awe that my two daughters find in the simple things in life, but on our spring break trip to a small amusement park, I was reminded in a simple picture about the emotions that go into trying new things.

To me, the car ride designed for toddlers was anything but intimidating. It was brightly colored with a predictable track and slow speed perfect for my daredevil two year old daughter. She eyed it from far away and eagerly got in line to try it. As we approached the queue line, she held my hand with a mix of excitement, but also visible trepidation. She was surveying the ride, monitoring the looks on the faces of the kids already riding, and the speed of the cars.

When we got on the ride, she followed the safety protocol: “buckle up, mommy!” As the ride began her responses shifted at every turn from jubilation to nervousness. She threw her hands up in the air at the straight-aways and cowered at the turns when it went just a little faster than she anticipated. I don’t know how, but her face in the picture my husband took, showed both utter terror and complete excitement at the same time.

When the ride slowed to a stop, she looked up at me with her eyes and said “That was awesome!”

Her reaction reminded me so much of the power of taking risks and trying new things. Fear of the unknown is not without its emotional risks, but watching her exit the ride, it reminded me that trying new things, despite the initial fear, was outweighed with the potential for extreme joy, satisfaction, and reward.

If we apply this simple concept to education, think about what we can accomplish. Think about the amazing results we can have in our schools and classrooms if we are able to overcome the initial worry, trepidation or fear of trying something new: a new tech tool, a new flexible seating arrangement, a new strategy for connecting kids to outside experiences, a new way to collaborate and look at data, a new way to grow professionally, a new way to assign homework or give grades a new way to do something NEW!

My two year old reminded me, that although things can be scary, they can also be fun, engaging, and most importantly, worth the risk!

Honoring the Voice of Students: Simple Strategies to try TOMORROW!

Have students record the voicemail greeting for the school. When you call DGS after hours the voicemail greeting activates. Instead of an adult greeting the caller, you will hear a student. “Thank you for calling Dunlap Grade, a school that LOVES their students. Sorry we missed your call! Please leave a message and we will call you as soon as we can! Go Be a Royal!” It is a simple strategy that tells your caller that you are a student centered and student focused school that literally wants their students’ voices heard! Encourage students to greet others at morning drop-off. This is one of my favorites. It’s an easy way to start the day on a positive note, encourage leadership, and develop relationships between students and with parents. You can choose to do this every day, certain days of the week, or for special events or occasions. Students can hold the doors, pass out positive notes, or assist younger students into the building.


Provide purpose and value to students with special jobs or incentives. One job could be to deliver the mail to staff. With a re-purposed library cart and baskets, we made the student job of mail carrier. Each day before dismissal, a student delivers mail to boxes outside classrooms. This ensures any last minute fliers, handouts or information is sent home in student backpacks.

Send a picture of your school mascot home and have students share pictures with it at the school hashtag. Our school mascot, Crownie, has been to Space Camp, on a Disney Cruise, skiing in Colorado, the Lego Store in California, professional football games, on an ATV, climbing trees, out to dinner, and so much more. It’s as simple as students taking the picture of the mascot with them on their travels and adventures and posting them (or having their parents post them) to school social media accounts. If they prefer, parents are also welcome to email them to the school or send hard copies that we display in the hallway. It’s a simple way to connect students to learning, the school, and each other!


Invite Students to Eat Lunch with You in Your Office. I’m always surprised at what I learn about students by spending twenty minutes with them over their lunch period in small groups. I’ve gained insights into their academic needs, social needs, and home life. It builds relationships, but also gives you a pulse onto how things are going and what you can do to change or do better.

Image may contain: 7 people, people smiling

Have students lead morning announcements. We complete morning announcements as a whole school in the gym, but this would work rather you do them over an intercom or record them to share via video. What better way to promote communication and public speaking skills than to build the capacity of student leaders through delivering the announcements. Students rotate through weekly assignments to deliver the lunch menu, celebrate birthdays, announce any classrooms or students that have met goals, and to lead the Pledge.

Image may contain: 3 people, people on stage and people standing

Call Home. The authors of “Kids Deserve It,” Adam Welcome and Todd Neosley, use this strategies to build relationships with kids and celebrate their accomplishments. One of my favorite strategies is to call home with the child next to me to celebrate their success or place the child on the phone to tell them about their celebration in the middle of the day. When a kid is in my office sharing their news with their parents with the biggest grin on their face, it brings joy to us all. This can be accomplished informally when a teacher sends a kid to the office for a positive office referral or when I am walking into classrooms and see positive things going on. A positive note or call from a principal or teacher goes a long way!

Remind them with visuals that they are important, valued, and cared for. With donated mirrors painted our school colors, we created a gallery wall to remind students that they are ROYALS! As students glimpse into the mirrors as they pass them in the hallway, they are reminded about the tenants of our school: To Respect Others, Yourself and Learning!

Other Ideas (for a longer blog post or follow up):

  • Student Led Conferences
  • Student Led IEPS
  • Student presenters at Board Meetings
  • Class Meetings
  • Data Binders
  • School Super Improver Wall

Lead Like a Pirate Book Review

A couple years ago I connected with Shelley Burgess and Beth Houf on Twitter. They quickly became key players in my PLN as they shared a vision that leadership should evoke passion and bring engagement to education.

As I got deeper into the trenches of leadership, I often relied on their #LeadLAP challenges to motivate and inspire me to be a better lead learner and principal in my building. Their blog posts encouraged me to provide more meaningful and effective feedback to my staff, ensure I shared my appreciation with those around me, and honor the voices of the team. Their leadership challenges coupled with constant sources of inspiration for engaging staff and students in amazing experiences has been just what education needs. Shelley and Beth are courageous leaders and champions for all leaders to accept risk, influence others and be social change agents.

Shelley approached me with reading an advanced copy of “Lead Like a Pirate.” It was an easy “YES!” coupled with genuine excitement to read the book that I knew would be chalk full of amazing, but practical ideas to be a better leader.

I sat down and read “Lead Like a Pirate” in one night! ONE NIGHT! It was THAT good. The book is based on the leadership guiding principles developed in the first book from Dave Burgess Consulting, “Teach Like a Pirate.” Beth and Shelley focus on the importance of being a PIRATE in leadership.

P: Passion

I: Immersion

R: Rapport

A: Ask and Analyze

T: Transformation

E: Enthusiasm
Their book focused on creating magical and amazing experiences for our students. The book, focused on leadership, NEVER lost sight of the main purpose of our job- our kids!

In the midst of educational mandates, testing requirements, political tension and more, it resonated loudly when Shelley and Beth wrote, “The magic is in the people, not the programs.” The essential backbone of any strong school is the magic of its people. Amidst this central tenant was focused and effective ways to provide feedback and connect using ANCHOR Conversations.

A: Appreciation

N: Note the Impact

C: Collaborative Conversation

H: Honor the Voice

O: Offer Support

R: Reflection


The Anchor framework single-handily made me a better leader. Because of the anchor framework, I learned how to provide more meaningful feedback, hold more collaborative conversations, and support my teachers in more positive ways. All leaders should have an understanding of how the framework works to support their leadership!

There were so many more elements of the book that impacted me as a leader. It is a must read for those leaders that are looking to transform their leadership, create a positive working and learning environment, and build amazing learning experiences for kids and adults. This book needed to be written. It needed to validate the work of those PIRATE leaders already out there and support those that are testing the waters of PIRATE leadership. This book provides a compass to sail the choppy waters of educational leadership and the treasure map to guide leaders to find the gold in their schools and selves!

Illinois Computing Educator’s ICE 2017 Conference Review

It’s hard as a principal to be away from your building for multiple days in a row. There are needs that arise and ongoing supports that need to be provided, but when you are granted the opportunity to go to a conference to connect, learn and grow with industry leaders and experts, it is an amazing experience! I spent three days at the Illinois Computing Educator’s Conference this past week. My time away was well worth it. With my Is dotted and Ts crossed in my building, I was ready to learn and connect! To say the experience fell short of awesome is an understatement! There were so many moments that I seized to learn and build my capacity as a leader.
My first full day was spent in the Future Ready Administrator’s Academy learning from Tom Murray. I spent 6 hours collaborating with other administrators, teachers and technology directors learning about the principles of the future ready framework. We dreamed big and brainstormed elements of the future ready classroom and I was proud to reflect that many elements are already established in our building and district! Future Ready is more than technology. It is building a robust infrastructure, personalized professional development, collaborative learning spaces, and connected learners!
The next two days were filled with workshops and networking! Highlights included keynotes by Eric Shenniger and Joe Sanfelippo and breakouts by Adam Welcome, Todd Neosley, and Kim Darche! I enjoyed connecting with leaders across Central Illinois and also expanding my network by meeting educational leaders across the state.
I was even able to spend a period of time volunteering for ICE at the presenter’s check-in table where I met and welcomed many of our Thursday presenters to the conference!
The Storify below shares a glimpse into some of the learning and connecting that occurred during my time at #ICE17

50 things principals can do to build relationships with kids

  1. Greet them at drop-off wearing an unexpected or seasonal accessory. Think hats, glasses, boas, unique outfit, or silly shoes.
  2. Send them off at the end of the day honking a bike horn
  3. Play popular music upon arrival. Dance and give high fives as students come through the door!
  4. Celebrate small and large successes.
  5. Have teachers and staff submit positive office referrals
  6. Recognize individual and whole classes of students for progress toward or attainment of goals
  7. Sit down with a student and read a book to them. Ask them to read a book to you!
  8. Don’t be afraid to sing to a student. You don’t have to have a melodic voice to greet a student with a great rendition of “You are my Sunshine” to bring joy to their faces.
  9. Eat lunch with students in the office.
  10. Eat lunch with students in the cafeteria.
  11. Host a tic-tac-toe tournament during lunch on a large whiteboard. You’d be surprised at how good kids get at strategy when they want to beat the principal!
  12. Ride a bike, scooter or trike down the hall. Wave at students as you drive by.
  13. Have a stack of ribbons or special recognition awards on your desk to give to students when they come to the office to celebrate an accomplishment.
  14. Give every student a book for their birthday. Tap into your PTO for support on making this happen.
  15. Move your office to the hallway. Use a mobile cart or take your laptop to a common area and set up shop for the day.
  16. Don’t hesitate to jump in and take a student’s temperature, offer an ice pack or pull the garbage can over for a sick one. Knowing they’re cared for when they’re sick is important.
  17. Have a stash of fidgets, sensory toys, or other materials available in your office. You never know when you’ll have a student that needs a break, to be comforted, or needs a quiet place to play.
  18. Use your passions and your quirks to build connections. Put trolls dolls around the office!
  19. Hide a picture of your school mascot at various places around your building. Cheer when students find it.
  20. Surprise parents with a donut treat when they drop their child off in the morning.
  21. Tell students they’re your favorite. I have 250 favorite students in my building. My favorite first grade Caleb… my favorite fourth grade Caleb… anything to make them feel important and valued.
  22. Make the first day of school spectacular. Props, welcome committee, costumes, pep rally… whatever it takes!
  23. Call parents to tell them how cool their kid is.
  24. Have kids sit with you while you call their parents to tell them how cool they are.
  25. Tell them that the test scores matter, but you value them as an individual more than the test. Celebrate their creativity, kindness, and unique talents.
  26. Walk into a classroom and let kids know how lucky they are to have an awesome teacher. The teachers and the students will both appreciate it.
  27. Leave post-it notes with feedback on their work in the hallways.
  28. Leave post-it notes with encouragement on their desks or in their lockers.
  29. Leave post-it notes in the bathroom with inspirational messages or memorable quotes
  30. Play knock-out with students at recess.
  31. DON’T play tether ball at recess. Trust me on that one.
  32. Put stickers on the bottom of random lunch trays. Give a special prize or book for the students that have one.
  33. Take a #selfieaday with a student. Post on your school facebook or twitter account with the reason they were able to take a selfie with you.
  34. Run with kids under the parachute in PE class. You’ll be surprised how much fun you have!
  35. Ask the cafeteria staff to color applesauce green
  36. Squeeze yourself into a display case. Enjoy the giggles and alien looks that happen as students walk by.
  37. Put an old mailbox outside of the office. Answer any mail that comes in from students.
  38. Display pictures of students and teachers throughout the building.
  39. Put books everywhere. Ask yourself, “does the school learning environment mirror what you say you value?”
  40. Dress as a monkey and pass out bananas on National Banana Day. Encourage kids to balance work and play!
  41. When there are school-wide themed dress days… participate!
  42. Get on the roof and spray water guns at students during recess.
  43. Call kids out of class for a minute just to tell them you’re proud of them
  44. Put a disco ball in the cafeteria. Play music during lunch.
  45. Put mirrors in the hallway. Tell students they are smart. beautiful. worthy. valued.
  46. Support teachers in instructional risk-taking. If a teacher wants to make a crazy idea become a reality, work to get it done. 10/10 it makes a memory, kids are engaged and learning occurs.
  47. Have students take a picture of the school mascot home. Encourage them to tweet or post pictures of them in the community to a specific hashtag.
  48. Have a school-wide writing project. We send Royal Rococo home with each student. This stuffed bird goes on adventures all around our school and community and students write about it.
  49. Be the first to volunteer for any crazy idea: Get pied in the face, duct taped to the wall, or volunteered for any other crazy idea.
  50. Be cognizant that your job is to be there for kids. Do whatever it takes to bring them joy and love!

5 Tips for Hosting your 1st EdCamp

It was not long ago when a fellow administrator and I sat together in a session at a tech conference and looked at each other and decided to plan and facilitate an EdCamp in our region. EdCamps have gained in popularity among educators as authentic, differentiated and participant driven forms of professional learning. Our passion for individualized learning coupled with a need to give more access to PD based on best practices in technology integration led to the birth of “Technology Blizzard 2017.” That weekend, we put a date on the calendar and the rest was history.

  1. Communicate: We planned a 2 hour planning meeting in my office that resulted in a google site, canva graphic, facebook invite, and email flier that we immediately sent out to our internal staff, principals in our region, and our regional office staff. You can view that google site HERE. The site included a google form that we used to collect RSVPs so we could plan for seating, food, and swag! In the time leading up to the event, we included email blasts, blog posts, and tweets to gain participants and spread the message.
  2. Authenticate: EdCamps can be authenticated and supported by the EdCamp Foundation simply. Visit their website at http://www.edcamp.org/organize and register your EdCamp. This relatively easy process can result in the organization supporting the event with $250.00 to cover food, prizes, or other costs, as well as “swag” to hand out to participants. We received pens, buttons, stickers, magnets, post-its, markers, and more for our EdCamp by authenticating our event. In addition to officially registering our event, we made professional development hours available for participants. Whereas many of our registrants may have participated without these CPDU hours, this added incentive for attending. We also created an environment that showed attention to detail. Table cloths, signage, food, and centerpieces and additional details demonstrated that this was a valid learning opportunity for teachers and staff to learn and grow with each other and validated their professional aspirations and roles. 
  3. Collaborate: The key aspect of an EdCamp is that it is participant driven. Topics are not pre-created and rely on the attendees to develop. We gave participants time to generate a list of topics and than organized them in groups to determine conversation groups. While in discussion groups, facilitators amongst the group worked through the questions and topics to share and discuss strategies and ideas that were of interest to them.

    Posted by Dunlap Grade School on Saturday, February 11, 2017

  4. Accelerate: One traditional element of an EdCamp is the “Sucks Vs. Rocks” activity in which a likert scale is assummed and particants are given a topic that requires them to move across the room based on their opinions. At our EdCamp, we reserved this activity for the last hour to allow for movement and whole group conversation. Participants discussed ideas that included: textbooks, flexible seating, and social media. One other area we accelerated our EdCamp experience was through the use of an established hashtag. We encouraged participants and colleagues to tweet and follow #techblizzard17. These tweets were displayed using Tweet Monster during the event as well.

    Posted by Dunlap Grade School on Saturday, February 11, 2017

  5. Celebrate: Celebrating takes many forms. We celebrated the success of the day with individualized participant certificates and raffle prizes. When we advertised our EdCamp, we were surprised with authors and organizations that reached out that were willing to donate books, swag, or prizes for the day. The details of the day do matter and supported our mission of celebrating teachers and learning.

There’s no right or wrong way to EdCamp. The power comes in bringing professionals together in meaningful ways to grow and learn together!

Positive Phone Call Challenge

I challenged my staff to one simple act: Make two positive contacts with parents this week. They were given 10 minutes of their PLC time to reach out and complete this simple, but meaningful act. The response has been amazing and the positivity is spreading! Some of the responses include:


Staff willingly and excitedly shared their tweets and emails following their phone calls. Some staff even chose to make the phone calls in the presence of their students. Many of them indicated the power of the phone calls was so great that they are planning on making them part of their weekly routine. There were so many benefits to the phone calls:

  • Parents felt pride listening to the successes of their students.
  • Students were validated and celebrated!
  • The teachers that completed them got feedback from parents that promoted their own sense of pride.
  • Positive phone calls build the bridge between the home and school to promote a culture focused on students!


So think about the impact of a simple phone call or contact home. What can that do to build relationships, trust, and mutual respect?

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