Author - Lisa Nowakowski

Take a Tour

Several years ago, Google launched Tour Builder as a part of their Geo Tools collection. It was originally created for veterans in order to help share their stories, show where they had been, and save memories. Since then, many others, including teachers and students, have used it as a powerful digital storytelling tool. Tour Builder combines the beauty of Google Maps, images/photos, and text to help tell your story.

Now, Google has taken Tour Builder to the next level with Tour Creator. Imagine being able to create your own VR Tour. Imagine no more, that’s exactly what Google has created with Tour Creator!

Google Tour Creator allows you to create a digital story in VR. Using 360° photos, you can create scenes. No worries if you don’t have your own 360° photos; Google Street View images are there for you. Want to narrate your scene or have specific music that will enhance the viewers experience? Google’s got you covered there, too. Simply upload your mp3 files. Within each scene, points of interest can be created. These can be informational text, image overlays, or audio clips. Each scene can support several points of interest.

Once you have created your tour with a few scenes, you are ready to share it with the world! When publishing, you have the option to keep it unlisted or share publicly. Unlisted allows you to share with specific individuals whereas public will share with everyone. The best part is that once it is published, others can view on any device, including Google Cardboard viewer.

The uses for this in the classroom are exciting. A school might create a virtual tour. Students might create a story about the battles of Lexington and Concord, a tour of their town, or ecosystems and habitats. It is important to note that this tool is not yet a part of the G Suite Tools and therefore students under 13 cannot use it with their own account.

Going Green (Screen)

If you think incorporating video making in your class is expensive or difficult, think again. There are a variety of tools and resources available to get you started. And no green screen? No problem!

If you’re like me, you have your hands full teaching the curriculum, revising lessons, differentiating, and meeting the needs of your students. Which then begs the question, how will I fit another item on my plate? One that requires a set of new, and scary, skills. No worries. Starting with small projects is the key.

Photo by Alexander Dummer on Unsplash

Let’s first look at the classroom with Chromebooks, not necessarily 1:1. One teacher had her 1st graders write Fractured Fairy Tales, then create simple scenes and paper characters to act out their stories. Using the Screencastify Chrome Extension and the computer’s own camera, with a little help from their 5th-grade buddies, they created videos and shared on Google Classroom. No editing required. Best of all, the teachers weren’t as proficient as the students

Want to add editing into the mix? WeVideo is a great online source for teachers and students. They have an educational option. Why not give the 30-day free trial a whirl?

Another teacher had her students write, edit, direct, and create their own movie. With the help of A Tale Unfolds, the students met several learning standards in a fun and engaging manner. A few more tools and apps were needed for this. A large green screen was used. Green screens can be green plastic tablecloths from the dollar store, green fabric from your local fabric store, or complete green screen setups. Students filmed on an iPad using the Do Ink Green Screen App ($2.99) and edited in iMovie.

Then there are the news shows. Many schools are creating news shows to make morning announcements more relatable. Try TouchCast Studio, available only on iOS. This free tool allows users to record within the app, import clips from the camera roll, and insert a newsroom studio background to use. You can also upload to YouTube for easy accessibility. In addition, the students can create tutorials and so much more.

So what are you waiting for? Start creating videos in your class. It can be as simple as an announcement about an upcoming school event or as involved as creating an original movie. Go for it! And remember: YOU don’t have to know how it works, have the students learn and teach you and have fun!

Sparking Art

Bringing art into a classroom can make lessons more engaging, while at the same time adding fun and a welcome change of pace for students. Thankfully, you don’t have to scour the Internet for relevant projects. There are several sites dedicated to art in classrooms. We have found a few created by art teachers that can make this task easy and inspiring.


Elementary teachers can go to Deep Space Sparkle and Art Projects for Kids to find ideas based on grade, season, subject matter, or medium.  This means that the lessons are developmentally appropriate and the easy step by step instructions make it a snap to replicate in any classroom. Several student examples can be found for each project.


The Incredible Art Department (IAD) is a collection of lessons for all ages. This site has many helpful resources for teachers: lessons, toolkits, guides, and rubrics. Both beginning teachers and veteran teachers will have no problem finding something relevant to bring into their classrooms. The lessons are clear, come with a sample, and are easy to replicate.


No matter what you teach, you will be sure to find lessons that enhance your classroom and your students’ learning.

Teachers of the Year

Congratulations to all of this year’s Teachers of the Year.

2018 Teachers of the Year

Not only is it an honor to be named Teacher of the Year for your state or territory, but it is also an opportunity to learn and grow from other inspirational teacher leaders. Recently, all the 2018 Teachers of the Year gathered at the White House to celebrate. However, this cohort will do much more than just celebrate. They will have five face to face opportunities to meet and learn together, as well as to help shape the future of education in this country. According to the Council of Chief State School Officers – the organizational sponsor – one goal is to create leaders of educational policies and ensure that they have a voice in the conversation from state to national level.

Google for Education is the other sponsor for this year’s cohort. They hosted the first of the five face to face meetups.

The best part? We can all learn from these educators. Google has put together a YouTube Playlist called “Lessons from Teachers of the Year” that contains short (less than two minutes each) videos showcasing each of the teachers. The subjects they discuss range from hopes, inspirations, technology, and trust to empathy, advice, and so much more. Hearing their stories is just the ‘zing’ a teacher needs at the end of the school year.

Make a Splash with Unsplash

Screenshot of the Unsplash home page

Images are an important part of any multimedia work, and it is key that students understand that not every image is free for the taking. Teaching kids to be ethical digital citizens means we need to help them find and cite legally usable media.

Unsplash is a terrific resource for public domain photos to use in presentations, websites, or any project you or your students may be working on. Choose from over 480,000 high-quality images and use them in any way you like with or without crediting the photographer (although they do appreciate it if you provide credit when possible). New photos are added every day.

The company also recently launched a new iOS app (for iPad or iPhone) that lets you search through their entire collection and save your selections to the camera roll or drag them directly into other apps such as iMovie.

Check out the screenshot above of some of the latest photos uploaded to the site. Stunning. (We added the CUE logo.)

Oh, and did we mention that all the photos are FREE? You’re welcome.


Own It!

We’ve all been there: the time when a district needs to adopt a new curriculum. We look at all the curriculums, we narrow them down, and finally choose one. The boxes start to roll in and we become overwhelmed by the amount of materials that come with the new adoption. We sort through the boxes, organize the material, and then begin the arduous task of wrapping our heads around how we are going to fit it all in.

Then, the trainings begin. That feeling of eagerness and optimism hit us like a Mack truck. We delve into our new curriculum with much enthusiasm. First we follow the curriculum as best as we can. At some point, we remember all the fun things that we used to do, all the creative activities that we used to incorporate into our lessons. Then we think, “Oh yeah! I liked doing that and it really worked for that standard. How can I incorporate that into the new curriculum?”

We slowly begin to make the new curriculum ours. This is that magic spot, that spot where we start getting creative and owning it, putting our own spin on it. For some, the magic occurs within weeks of unpacking the new curriculum and for others, it takes months or even years. No matter when the time comes, when you embrace the ownership of your new curriculum you do so with gusto.

That ownership process can begin slowly. Start with something small, yet meaningful. Do you have a favorite activity that fits with a current standard? Go for it and incorporate it. Were you inspired by something that you saw, read, or heard about? Try it. Finding your voice within a box curriculum can be empowering.

A great example is my district’s math curriculum. It’s fairly straightforward, few bells and whistles. Personally, I think this is perfect. Less background noise means that I can get my creativity on! I looked at the needs of my students and the structures of the curriculum and got to work. The curriculum suggests taking a few minutes each day to memorize the basic math facts. Makes sense, but not terribly exciting. After listening to Jon Corippo at a CUE National Conference, I was inspired to change up that basic math facts warm-up. Jon’s 8 p*ARTS of Speech is ELA based, but was easily modified to fit my math needs. For the beginning of the school year, my students were exposed to a Place Value Basic paper (seen in detail below) each day. It was slow going in the beginning, but the students quickly caught on. The first time we did it, together it took 45 minutes. By the end of the week we were finding our rhythm and got it down to 20 minutes. After three months, the students could do it independently in roughly eight minutes. While I still follow the curriculum to a certain extent, I have, more importantly, put my own spin on it and made it my own. By looking for small tweaks, you can easily make the curriculum more exciting, applicable, and appropriate for your students. Check out this student sample from the second week of school.

More recently, we read Love That Dog by Sharon Creech. In it the students were introduced to various poetry styles and language. One activity had the students explaining what makes a poem a poem. I was looking for poetry structures. I liked the activity, but wanted to make it more collaborative and interactive. I kept the original objective, but put my own spin on it by having the students record their responses on a Padlet. I also invited them to comment on one another’s responses. The outcome? The students were more engaged and had a collaborative reference document. By simply changing the tool, I was better able to meet the needs of my students and personalize the lesson. However, it is important to remember that pedagogy must come before a cool tool. Keeping this in mind, I can’t go wrong.

So how does one find their mojo with a new curriculum? Some find it in Twitter Chats (list of educational twitter chats), others find it at conferences like CUE National in Palm Springs, and yet others find inspiration through online course like CUE’s Innovative Educator’s Certificate (#cueiec). And still others find it in the classroom next door. Or some combination of all these, plus more. In our journey to ‘own it’ we each take our own path. And no matter that path, it’s always with our students in mind.

Lisa is a Google Certified Innovator, Google Education Trainer, PBS LearningMedia Digital Innovator, Leading Edge Certified (Online & Blended Learning, Digital Educator), 2016 Apple Teacher, ClassDojo Mentor, and presenter. Lisa is also CUE’s Innovative Educator Certificate Social Media Director. She has helped others through her blog: NowaTechie.com. In 2010 Lisa was awarded the Crystal Apple Award sponsored by the local NBC affiliate. In 2015, she was Teacher of the Year at King City Arts Magnet. She has been an Ed Tech innovator in her district for over 15 years. Lisa currently teaches 5th grade. As a district technology leader, she pioneered 1:1 Chromebooks in her district. Most recently, she has launched a podcast with Nancy Minicozzi (@coffeenancy) called – T.L.C. – Tech. Learn. Coffee that can be heard the first and third Monday of every month.