Coding for Kindergarteners? Absolutely!

By Maridee Stanley

Image of student working on a computerAmerica is short on computer programmers.  Currently, tech companies are recruiting programmers from India, not by choice but by necessity.  Don’t we want our own SUSD students to get these high paying tech jobs so we can finally break generational poverty?  This can happen if we start our students coding early. How early? High school? Middle school? Intermediate grades? Kindergarten is not too soon.  For the past 5 years, my kinders at Kennedy Elementary have successfully learned the basics of block programming and began to think of themselves as the programmers and tech entrepreneurs of the future.  Students have fun and the parents love it!

“But”, you ask, “ I’m not a programmer.  How can I teach coding?” Don’t worry. Coding isn’t as hard as you think.  If I can do it, anyone can do it. Trust me on this. All the instructional work is done for us by, Tynker, PLTW, or Google, and the beginning lessons are designed for pre-readers.  Why wouldn’t any teacher want to do this?

You have several options to get your students started on coding.  The best known is, developer of Hour of Code. If your school has Project Lead the Way you have the PLTW computer science module.  Tynker has some free content, or you can sign up for free teacher account for an easy K lesson. Google will send teachers a free kit to be used with their online material.

Even if you supplement with other programs, is indispensable as it has the most resources and has an easy-to-navigate website.  From there you can watch videos, go to the student courses , visit the educator section and create your account, peruse lesson plans, or print out offline material. If you and your colleagues want an enjoyable Saturday,  attend a Computer Science Fundamentals PD, learn some tricks and pick up some swag. Or, take the online PD.

If you don’t have time for all this, simply take your class straight to an Hour of Code classic, Angry Birds, and start coding!

I recommend starting offline.  I use’s “Move It” for PE and PLTW as a center activity.  Ozobots are a popular way to teach the concept of programming. But my students’ favorite offline activity is the BeeBot, a small robot that is programmed with directional arrows on its back

After the offline warm-ups, students should do’s Course A followed by Angry Birds and Minecraft on Hour of Code.  Some may progress on to Star Wars or Moana, although you may have to tell students the objective …get scrap metal in Star Wars and fish in Moana.  I don’t recommend Frozen for kinders as this requires knowledge of angles. Many kinders begin to have difficulty when they get to loops, but with patience, persistence and careful counting they can overcome difficulties. Remind students that “fail” means first attempt in learning something awesome.

If you have never coded, try some super simple kindergarten block coding on the following Google Doodle celebrating 50 years of children’s coding.

And please, get your students coding.  You might inspire the next Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg.

Going Digital with AVID

By David Fiore 

October 1, 2018

With the influx of technology entering the classrooms these days, and the adoption of AVID throughout Stockton Unified School District (SUSD),  it only makes sense for teachers to start using more digital tools when implementing good teaching practices.

The outlook of SUSD seems to be geared towards 21st-century learning and modernizing the way of instruction.  Getting away from a teacher-centered philosophy and transitioning more towards blended learning, seems to be the goal.

Our district is already off to a good start.  From digitizing The Units of Study, and advocating for more Chromebooks in the classroom, teachers are becoming more familiar with tech in general.

In addition to tech integration, AVID is a major component that is being utilized more than ever.  Odds are, if you teach in SUSD, you are either AVID trained or you will be soon enough. Either way, this blog is to help shed some light on a few of the digital tools that I use in my own classroom, and how beneficial they can be with the combination of AVID strategies.  

AVID & Technology

In my world, technology and AVID go together like peanut butter and jelly.  The beginning of the school year with my 7th and 8th graders includes digital citizenship and AVID boot camp.  Students learn how to use technology appropriately and find out that AVID is much more than a 4-lettered acronym.  

Marking or Annotating the Text

Image of marked up text

This is a screen shot showing how students are ably to digitally mark up text.

We immediately begin with a lesson on Marking the Text.  Typically, students would receive a hard copy of an article and I would ask them to complete three steps:

  1. Number the paragraphs
  2. Circle key terms/information
  3. Underline the author’s claim(s)

The first time students attempt to mark the paragraphs, I would recommend that students use a pencil and paper. Once they understand how the process works you can then have them attempt the strategy online. In a perfect world, my preference is to use Google Docs.  There is an icon for underlining, which I have found very student-friendly.  Although circling isn’t something that can be performed easily in Docs, highlighting is.  In fact, I find that highlighting text has more benefits as you can use multiple colors while reading.  However, true AVID proponents would refer to this not as “Marking the Text” but rather annotating the text.  If you’re a stickler for staying within the confines, one way around this is to copy text from a document and paste it onto a Google Drawing.  Circling at this point can be done with ease.  

Working with PDFs

Portable Document Format files, or PDFs are very common.  One of the major issues used to be that they were not editable.  They were good to view and even print out, but what if you want to avoid the copy machine and have your students manipulate the document online.  Can it be done? Absolutely!

Image of writing in the text

This screen shot shows how students can use the Kami app to write in the margins of digital text.

There are several current applications out that allow users to annotate PDFs.  Most are free versions with the option to upgrade to a paid version, which usually allows for more tools to be accessed.  My favorite program to use with my students is Kami.  Adding a document is as easy as drag and drop and offers a set of basic tools to edit documents.  The best part is that it syncs with your Google Drive, and files can be uploaded and downloaded directly.  One students get the hang of things, marking and annotating the text will become second nature.

Writing in the Margins

Actively engaging with the text is a must.  In a nutshell, Writing in the Margins allows for deeper understanding and helps students to make more meaningful connections with what they are reading.  

My preferred method again would be to use Google Docs, as there is a comment thread that can be used for making notes off to the side, or in this case…the margins.  

Untitled drawing

After highlighting a particular part of the text, opening the comments thread will then align the comment to that area.  Students can ask a question, paraphrase a description, summarize and more.

Cornell Notes     

This strategy may receive some heat.  To be honest, I wouldn’t advise teachers to use this strategy with students who have trouble typing.  There is an option for “voice typing” in the tools section but try having 30 + students talking to their laptops the next time you’re lecturing.  

The Cornell Note Template that I use allows for students to mimic the same note taking process that can be done using a pen and paper but only more efficiently.  As I’ve always told my students, the day that you can write faster than I type, I will retire. They soon buy into the importance of being able to type, but also much more.  Google Docs allows for students to annotate and interact with their notes with the following:

  • Bolding
  • Italicizing
  • Using bulleted/numbered lists
  • Adding Tables
  • Underlining
  • Changing font style/size/color
  • Adding clip art

 Digital_CNotesThe Focused Note Taking Process can be really fun for students when completed digitally.  The common clip art that is available at the bottom of the page allows for students to make easy connections and help them recall and connect key details.  Not to mention that I have plenty of students who scour the internet searching for relevant images to help improve their notes.

AVID reinforces good teaching practices and technology is the way of the future. Combining the two should help keep students stay engaged and enhance their own way of learning.    

What is an asynchronous classroom?

By Allen Emmett

In this week’s blog, I consider what is an asynchronous classroom, and what is the value of an asynchronous classroom.  If you are like me the first time I heard asynchronous classroom I had no clue what the presenter was talking about. In this blog, I will share an explanation and then consider some positives and weakness.

Traditional classroom       

20180419_092333The first day of school the teacher welcomes all of the students to the class and set the rules and gives the first assignment, along with the due date and any chalkboard, whiteboard, or flipped lecture notes or assignments.  Students do their homework. Grades get entered into the grade book be it paper or computer program.  The next day the same routine is repeated, and so goes the year.

If a new student enters, the name goes on the roster and the student begins where the class is.  The class moves through the year. Students move with the calendar.

What about the assignments not completed or material not mastered?  A gap is created but the class must go on; the summative tests will show the non-mastery. Some remediation will be administered but the class must move on.

This is the traditional sequence and the way to keep everybody in step or in other words, synchronized, and on schedule to complete high school in four years.


  • Teacher controls when students study which  topics
  • Fits the assembly line pattern established decades ago
  • Easy to know what work has been done and who is missing work
  • All students are doing the same work
  • Makes it possible to pass high school in four years


  • Teacher controls what topics and when student study
  • Students with absences or are slow learners or already have gaps may not be prepared to learn new material will continue to fall behind and have more gaps
  • No established time to fill-in-the-gaps
  • Students with mastery must follow the class and do needless repetition
  • Students waste time if the students already know the material
  • Students have no early graduations

Asynchronous classrooms   

20180308_094648.jpgIn short, an asynchronous classroom refers to a classroom where students enroll in and move out of according to the amount of time needed to master the material of the course, even to test out of material already mastered by the student.

Asynchronous classrooms have fixed amount of work and time is flexible. Amount of time to complete the course depends on the amount of time used to acquire the skills, learn the knowledge and master and completed the required work.


  • A student can work independently at their own speed and skill level.
  • A student is in control of how long it takes to complete the course.
  • A student could complete courses in a shorter time frame than regular schools.
  • A student could take longer to complete a course than a regular schools.
  • Students graduate when they achieve all the needed credit.
  • More one on one teacher time.
  • The teacher is more like a mentor or “lead learning advisor.”


  • Students unable to work or study independently is not a good fit.
  • Students with time little or not time management skills have difficulties
  • Few opportunities for group discussions and collaborations
  • An asynchronous classroom may have several subjects and/or grade levels
  • The classroom is usually independent study and very little direct instruction
  • The teacher is present in the classroom and helps with clarification and feedback.


Traditional classrooms and asynchronous classrooms are not conflicting pedagogy environments competing for status of which is better or worse.  Asynchronous classrooms are alternative education environments. They allow flexibility in differentiation, reduced class sizes and adjustments to time in school. Emotional needs, anxiety, can be supported.  Teachers have more one on one time.  Asynchronous classrooms can be boon to students who don’t survive in large comprehensive high schools.

Schools with asynchronous classrooms:

Stockton High School, Stockton, California 
Middletown City School District, Middletown, New York




Death by PowerPoint

Let’s start with what Google Slides is generally known for – presentations. Similar to Microsoft PowerPoint, Slides is a visual aid that can be projected onto a large screen when a person presents to a large group. Many times, the presenters will create endless slides incorrectly. Those slides will be filled with information that audience members can read for themselves. Because, let’s be honest, do we really need someone to waste our precious time reading a paragraph from a slide that we can read for ourselves? However, one benefit of Slides is that multiple users can work in the same presentation at the same time, which is why many teachers encourage the use of slides for collaborative group projects.

A few months ago I was scrolling through my Twitter feed and came across  Matt Miller’s article, “10 Google Slides activities to add awesome to classes” from his Ditch That Textbook blog site. One of those activities included the third one on his list: animation. I am not referring to the animations that can be added to the slides by clicking on “Transitions” in the toolbar. I am talking about animations as in cartoons, stop-motion films, and Walt Disney! I watched the embedded link and was in total awe. A 450-page presentation that didn’t bore me, or as I like to call it: Death by Powerpoint. (I know you know what I’m talking about.) See it for yourself:

All it took to inspire me to encourage teachers to change the way they used Google Slides was watching that video. But first, I needed an innovative teacher who used technology frequently and would let me experiment with their class. That was easy since several teachers on my campus fit that criterion. One teacher, in particular, had already been using Slides to have students create posters (see examples below) so she was the obvious choice.

1.5: the number of “minutes” it took for me to captivate them. I showed them the 450-page presentation. It took another 15 minutes for me to show them step-by-step how to create their own animation. That’s it. Students started talking. Teachers started talking. A fifth-grade student taught a fourth-grade class how to create their slides. The same fifth-grade student trained teachers at an after-school tech workshop. (You can see her work below.) The result? Four grade levels, and hundreds of students who do not dread logging on to Google Slides. Many lives saved from “death by PowerPoint.”

One More Thing

Do you ever feel like you have to give your students one more thing? Whether it be
a survey, an assessment, etc.? Do you ever feel like there is one more computer
program that the students just “have” to use for them to see their test scores
soar? Imagine Learning? Mobymax? ST Math? Khan Academy? No Red Ink? Quizlet? Kahoots? The list seems to be never-ending and continues to grow. I know with my students the last thing they need is #onemorething. They, just like us, will become overwhelmed (and just maybe frustrated) with #onemorething.

Image of a quote in the textI understand that we are trying to move away from paper and more towards being paperless, but I think Alice Keeler said it best when she said that “paperless is not a pedagogy.” Alice Keeler! Thee Alice Keeler said that ‘paperless is not a pedagogy.’ For me, I think what I need to focus on the most is finding what works for each of my students and make those accommodations and/or modifications necessary for them to be successful and not just #onemorething. Please don’t misunderstand me, I am not saying that we can’t explore other, or even more educational programs, but I think we need to know when to say enough is enough and when to follow the adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”


Image of a tweet from Alice Keeler

If you don’t follow @alicekeeler on Twitter, you should.

I am writing this just in case there are others out there, who like me, are feeling a
tiny bit overwhelmed and are feeling as though you’re being pulled in every direction when it comes to #onemorething. You’re not alone, and we can get through this together. We need to do whatever it takes for our students to be successful. If one student sees success on Imagine Learning but not in Mobymax, then we need to find out why that is and tweak it. Make it work for your students and you. Not every kid learns the same nor do we. If we keep that in mind then we might be able to get through the rest of this year and all the other years more than just by the skin of our teeth.

Now if this post isn’t relatable to you or you need someone to blame, you are more
then welcome to #blameitonprescott, I’m fine with that.

Tech Tesoros for Modern English Language Learners with Martin Cisneros

Image of Professional Development session.

Martin Cisneros leading a PD on using tech to engage English Language Learners.

I was able to attend an EdTech Cadre Saturday Session on March 3, 2018 at our P.D.C. During his presentation, Martin Cisneros asked us to consider the following questions:

  1. What role do you think technology should play in educating English learners?
  2. What types of technology do you currently use with ELs in your school and why?
  3. How does Bloom’s taxonomy for 21st century learners pertain to the ELD/ ESL classroom and the use of technology?
  4. How can technology help to create a more student-centered learning environment?
  5. How can the P21 or ISTE standards guide instruction for ELs?

In this blog, we will explore Questions 2 and 4.

Martin presented the video discussion platform FLIPGRID.  A Stockton Unified School District teacher I know uses FLIPGRID with her long-term English learners in an afterschool program.

Now that the CA English Language Development Test (CELDT) has gone “bye-bye” and has been replaced with the English Language Proficiency Assessment for CA (ELPAC), we find that some test items are similar to the CELDT and some are quite different.

One ELPAC task type that is similar to CELDT is “Support and Give Reasons.”  Students listen to a presentation about two activities, events, materials, or objects and are asked to give an opinion about why one is better than the other.

  •    At grades K-2, the questions are usually about a personal choice.
  •    At grades 3-5, the questions are usually about a school choice.
  •    At grades 6-12, the questions are usually about a community choice.

In a lesson in the afterschool program, students were asked to choose what they would rather get for their birthday:  clothes or toys? After making their choice, students recorded themselves using FLIPGRID, giving their choice and two supporting reasons.  They were able to record and re-record their responses until they felt ready to share.

Classmates then listened to each other’s responses and determined 1) the choice their classmates made:  clothes or toys, and 2) two supporting reasons for their choice. Students then gave feedback to their peers about their supporting reasons (e.g., more detailed, relevant, academic).  Students could also offer peer feedback on grammar, word choice, pronunciation/intonation.

Have you used FLIPGRID or another tech tool with your English learners?  I’d love to know more about it!

(Editors note: Martin was the second of a four-part Saturday Speaker Series held at the P.D.C. The final installment will be featuring Jon Corippo on Saturday, May 19, 2018. Go Sign Me Up #371301.)