How To Make Digital Student Portfolios For Free!


I have been making Student Portfolios for a long time and it’s always been one of my favorite parts of the school year. I love keeping track of the student’s progress and recording their growth, but the best part about student portfolios is watching the student’s faces light up when they share them with their parents for the first time. You can see some of my ideas here.

This year, Lyndsey has decided to try doing her portfolios digitally for a change. After looking around for options, she decided that the best way to do it would be through Google Slides. Google Slides supports images, works on both computer and tablet, can easily be shared with and printed by parents at the end of the year, and is free to use.


To start, make a folder in Google Drive called “Student Portfolios”, then go to and click on “Start a new presentation”.

At this point, click on “File” and then “Page Setup” and then chose “Custom”.


After choosing “Custom”, change the page size to 8.5 x 11.


Next, add a few blank slides to work with by choosing the + “New Slide” option.


Next, give your portfolios a cute cover. Open our “Portfolio Essentials” product in “Preview” (on Mac devices) and click “View” and then “Thumbnails”. This allows you to see all of the pages in the document in a side bar. Then chose the cover you want to use in the side bar and chose “Edit” and then “Copy”.


Then go back to your Google Slide and paste the image on the first Slide. To add student work, simply take a picture of the page or artwork you want to use and then paste it into the slide. It is super easy and fast! If you would like to know more about how to set up digital student portfolios, you can watch Lyndsey walk you through the steps in the following video:

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Biographical Book Buddies


One of my favorite ways to engage my students with print is to send home "Book Buddies". Each Book Buddy bag contains a book, a journal, and a matching buddy. The children keep this bag for a night and (with their parents help) they write down the adventures they had with the buddy and then share their adventures with the other students the next day.

This year I decided to send home buddies with a biographical bent. These book buddy bags contain a stuffed historical figure, a biographical picture book, and a journal. I'm so excited to introduce these new friends to our class as I help them get to know some amazing people from history.

Mae Jemmison

Our first book buddy is Mae Jemison, the first female African-American astronaut, created in doll form by Kathy at A Button and a Stitch and her beautiful picture book Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed. The pictures in this book are absolutely stunning and children can relate to Mae's childhood dreams and aspirations and the love of supporting parents who encouraged her to follow her own path.


Jane Austen


My next book buddy is Jane Austen, genius author, whose love of writing inspires of love of language in my little learners. I love the book series Little People, Big Dreams, and their Jane Austen book does not disappoint. It's beautiful illustrations and simple story is a perfect introduction to Jane Austen for my Kindergarteners.

Mary Anning


Mary Anning was an English fossil collector who help to discover the first species of Ichthysoaurus. I couldn't find a good stuffed animal to represent Mary, but both of her picture books Stone Girl Bone Girl  by Laurence Anholt and Sheila Moxley and The Dog That Dug For Dinosaurs by Shirley Ray Redmond and Simon Sullivan feature Mary's dog heavily, so I am sending home a stuffed dog with Mary's books. Now the children can take the dog "fossil hunting" just like Mary Anning used to do along the cliffs of Lyme Regis

Albert Einstein

My next biographical book buddy is Albert Einstein and the picture book On A Beam Of Light by Jennifer Berne and Vladimir Radunsky. The illustrations in this book are so beautiful and almost pointillistic, a fitting art style for a man whose scientific thought centered on atoms and energy. I especially enjoyed how the author drew attention to Albert's early years, where student's can instantly relate to the way he was dismissed by some because he has a different way of thinking.


I'm so excited to introduce these new book friends to my class and I'm already itching to find some more to add to the fun!

Why Traditional Homework Doesn't Work... and How to Fix it.

In 1995 Betty Hart and Todd Risley conducted a study which revealed a language gap that exists between families of different incomes, and shed light on a disparity of parent/child interactions that follow children through their lifetime. It seems the greatest gift that parents can give their children is free and readily available: quality and substantive interaction.

In four years, an average child in a professional family would accumulate experience with almost 45 million words, an average child in a working-class family 26 million words, and an average child in a welfare family 13 million words.
— The Early Catastrophe: Hart and Risley

Dana Suskind of the Thirty Million Words Initiative and author of Thirty Million Words: Building a Child's Brain explains: "Why is the effect of parent talk so profound? Because its results are not only predictive of academic success in general, but on reaching potentials in math, spatial reasoning, and literacy, the ability to self-regulate behavior, reaction to stress, and even perseverance."

Other studies have also shown that time children spend with parents engaged in positive, quality experiences have great benefits upon their future success. Things like family meal times, emotional involvement, and one-on-one interactions are proven means for student success. Studies have also shown that children need time for both unstructured play, and family game time, during which children build academic skills at the same time that family relationships and communication skills are strengthened.

Although the research is clear in describing the elements that will build children who are strong both academically and emotionally, the actuality of modern life seem to run increasingly contrary to what is best. Parents are busy with demanding jobs and schedules and children are involved in activities that are mostly passive (such as television shows and video/tablet games). While these activities have benefits, they are input activities, which do not generally require the unpredictable demands of interpersonal interactions. In other words, a game or television show is much easier to predict than a person, and far less demanding.

Fortunately, a 2015 study shows that it is not the amount of time that parents spend with their children that makes the difference, but the quality of the activities that occur during that time. Apparently, if we use the time we have with our children wisely, we can achieve great things.

Is it any wonder then, that homework has become a source of debate for both parents and teachers? With our time so limited, and so important, every activity counts, and that's where traditional homework fails. A worksheet of practice activities sent home only for the purpose of fulfilling an obligation of daily homework just isn't going to cut it.

There is compelling argument for doing away with homework altogether, especially in the younger grades, but I would argue for something more moderate. After all, homework can serve as a bridge between teacher and parent, a method of communication that can inform families about classroom academics, children's abilities, and teacher goals. Additionally, when teachers build homework that fits the oral and cognitive needs of children, it can become a tool for parents to use to help them have quality interactions with their children.

I've stopped thinking of homework as extra practice that students take home. Instead, I treat homework as my way of sharing activities that provide families with tools they can use to have quality time together. Instead of sending home a vocabulary page, I send home an activity where students talk to their parents. Instead of sending home a page of math facts to practice, I send home a math game that children can play with their siblings and parents. I ask children to practice reading skills with their parents, and I send them home with a paper book to practice with. I try to make my homework about playing, cooking, painting, making, building, sharing, experimenting, and experiencing; the time that familys have together is valuable, and I want to respect that. I also respect time by sending home my activities as a monthly packet, instead of daily or weekly. That way, parents can use the activities in a way that fits their needs and individual schedules.

The response from parents to this homework has been incredible. They enjoy the time they spend with their children, and their children enjoy the time they spend at home learning and practicing skills. When we use homework in a way that respects parents and their important role as the primary teacher of their children, we are using it in a way that is powerful for student achievement and empowering for families.

So maybe it's time to rethink our goals for homework, and what we're really trying to accomplish by sending it home. My goal is to add to family life, not to take away from it, and to give parents access to materials that help make the most of their time. I hope that's your goal too.

If you would like to see exactly what I mean, here are three homework packets at different levels, designed to teach important skills for March. They are on SALE until the end of March.

Looking For Flexible Play-Based Homework?

Our homework comes in three levels: Preschool, Kindergarten, and First Grade. They can also be used as Below Benchmark, At Benchmark, or Above Benchmark for any of the above named grade levels.

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Flexible Seating In First Grade

In March we had a chance to interview Patti Clark, the Vice President of Product Development at Lakeshore Learning Materials, about Lakeshore’s new product line of flexible seating furniture options. This month, Lakeshore sent some of their Flex-Space Comfy Floor Seats and Flex-Space Wobble Cushions to our friend, first grade teacher Wendy, to try out in her classroom as she tries her first year of flexible seating. Here’s what Wendy has to say:

One the first day of school I had my 18 first graders gathered around me at the carpet.  I said, “You know how sometimes in a classroom each person has their own desk… and that’s the only place they get to work.”  All the kids were nodding and saying, “Yeah, yeah.”  I told them, “This year in our classroom, ALL the desks, seats, and places to work belong to ALL of us!”  They thought that sounded like the best thing ever.  Throughout the first 4 days, the students took turns sitting at each area in order to get them used to my expectations for each type of seating.

To get ready for my first year of flexible seating, I lowered 4 desks by taking the legs off so that students would be able to sit or kneel to use these.  I raised 4 desks so that students would be able to stand at them. As a side note, I have always had kids who preferred standing, and I never thought to get rid of their chair! I would just keep tripping over it! I decided to keep 4 “normal” desks with regular chairs. Not every kid is going to want to sit in a different way and that is okay too! I already had 6 scoop rockers that I had used previous years for kids to read to themselves in and now I am allowing students to do any assignments in the scoop rockers (if they need a hard surface, they can grab a clipboard). I also have 3 crate seats that I made last year for kids to use when working on an iPad, and now the kids are allowed to use these as an option as well.

Flex-Space Comfy Floor Seats

In addition to my other flexible seating options, we now have Flex-Space Comfy Floor Seats. They are AMAZING!  We got a blue one and a green one for our first grade classroom.  The colors just pop and brighten up the space. The seats are so comfortable and thick.  You can pull the back up to different levels depending on how far back you want to lean while you work.  The seat can be easily laid flat to put out of the way if you need to. My students have loved every opportunity to work using the Flex-Space Comfy Floor Seats. They are great for working using a clipboard, reading a book, or using an iPad.  They are light-weight so the students can move them anywhere in the room that they would like to work. I love this option for flexible seating!


Flex-Space Wobble Cushions

We are also trying out Flex-Space Wobble Cushions. They are a fantastic option for students who just need to move a little bit while they work, or who want to work on the floor but be comfortable.  They are easy to clean and ready to go right out of the box.  My students mostly use them on the floor, but they can also put them on a chair.  Getting their wiggles out while they work really helps them to focus!  I would buy enough for every student to use one!

 So far my students absolutely love the flexible seating! It is interesting to see who gravitates to which seats. 1 or 2 prefer the regular desks, but the other 16 love the options and depending on the task, they choose different spaces.  There have been no arguments about who gets to sit in which seat.  I’m so pleased with how it’s working!



Want to learn more about flexible seating options from Lakeshore Learning? Listen to our podcast interview with Patti Clark!

Play in Kindergarten? YES!


Another kindergarten teacher came into my classroom lately, saw my dramatic play center, sensory table, and building center and said, “I used to have all of that a long time ago, but I had to give it all up.” I’ve been thinking about that exchange over and over since then and there is a single word I keep coming back to:


Dramatic play is an important tool in building a student’s social and emotional development, as well as their oral language. According to researcher Doris Bergen, ”Several researchers have argued that play and language promote children’s development of expressive tones as well as their perception of the rules underlying the use of voice or conversation patterns of language." (2002)  Vygostky also shows that young children need to be able to learn through play because play serves as the scaffold that helps them reach higher levels of cognition:

”Play creates a zone of proximal development in the child. In play, the child always behaves beyond his average age, above his daily behavior; in play it is as though he were a head taller than himself. As in the focus of a magnifying glass, play contains all developmental tendencies in a condensed form and is itself a major source of development. (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 102)

Sensory play develops cognitive function, as students work with multiple senses simultaneously. Sensory play also develops fine motor skills as children practice grasping, picking up, and squeezing fine objects. It calms children’s anxiety, helps them develop creativity and balance, and broadens their knowledge base through interactions with real objects.

Block play helps children develop the basic principles of engineering and spatial awareness. They learn cause and effect, social skills, and problem solving.

All of this playful interaction helps wire a child’s prefrontal cortex and grounds their learning in deep and meaningful real world experiences.

Why would you ever get rid of that?

We can keep "learning through play" in kindergarten if we, as early childhood educators, stick to what we know is best for the young children in our charge. Our kindergarten classrooms must be filled with play, song, discovery, movement, games, experiments, choice, dramatization, and excitement. Academic concepts should be delivered in the ways that are most developmentally appropriate for growing children and their growing brains.

In 2012 I made the sign below, and posted it on Facebook. The sign has reached over 300,000 shares, and the number keeps growing. Every time I look at how many teachers have seen this sign, liked it, and spread it, I am given renewed hope in the future of developmental appropriateness of kindergarten! In 2012 I didn't think I would ever see the pendulum move back towards play-based kindergarten, but six years later I think we are getting back on track!



I am in Kindergarten


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Perhaps what we have needed all along is the language to explain to our share holders what we are doing in our spaces and why what we do is so important.

I love my center signs that justify play in a kindergarten, t-kindergarten, or preschool classroom. They inform the viewer the importance of play-based activities in regards to the learning that is taking place at each defined area around the classroom and help give teachers the language they need to share the importance of real world, engaging, playful interactions in the classroom. These signs (available in two styles) are quickly approaching the status as our top selling product.

In the end, you are the architect of your own early childhood/early elementary classroom, and you know what your children need to being doing in that room. Don’t ever let someone tell you that a “playhouse” is just fun and not rigorous. One moment of eavesdropping on the work going on in that space and it is clear that statement is false. Don’t ever let someone tell you that your art center is just “cute”. Behind that cuteness is deep thinking about lines, space, geometry, color, individuality, and fine motor development. The work that young children do is important. It matters. YOU matter. Don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise. DAP is rigorous!

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Vocabulary Development: And the Achievement Gap

Today I took a city tour of a major US city. While all of the tourists were taking in the city sites, I couldn't help looking at the city with teacher eyes: those eyes teachers use every day as they lovingly work for the equality of instruction. I reflected on several books that I have been reading and of what I know as a teacher about the affects of systemic poverty on education. I know that I can't single handedly fix the 30 million word gap that faces our nation, but I will do everything in my power to help the students I teach have a fair and equal shot at public education.


One way that I continue to strive for an equitable education is through the explicit teaching of oral language. These activities are important in all grades, but to help lessen the gap for young children, it is an absolute must for teachers of preschool and kindergarten to strategically teach oral language.

One game I love to play with my students is called "What's in your bag?" To play this game, divide students in pairs (matching high vocabulary with lower vocabulary students). Give each student a baggie of "stuff." Find things that are common to home or classroom settings. The dollar stores, garage sales, amazon, etc. have great small objects that are perfect for the baggie. Ask each student, one at a time, to describe the contents of their baggie to their partner. Instruct students that if they are unsure about an object they can ask their partner, another student nearby, or the teacher to explain what the object is.

Model this "describing." Pull an object out of a baggie. "This object is a jack. (Or what small object you choose to describe). A jack is a small toy that belongs in the game Jacks! To play the game, you have 10 small jacks and a little ball. To play, you throw a ball in the air, grab and jack, and then a ball all before the ball drops!

After pairs have about 5 minutes to share and describe objects in the baggies, switch pairings if you have time.

Keep these baggies in a container within easy reach because once you try this activity you will want to do it again and again. Each time your students play, you will see greater development in vocabulary. At times, I have students with advanced vocabulary pull out a bag of their choice and demonstrate describing objects. Actually, these little bags are filled with possibilities. So, my suggestion, hit some garage sales this summer and fill about 30 baggies with 10 objects!

You will also find some more great vocabulary building games below.

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Tips to Enjoy Teaching at the End of The School Year.

So you've come to the end of the school year and you're feeling a bit frazzled? Want some tips to help you finish the year strong with energy and enthusiasm? Well, here are two methods I like to use:


I would now say, "in all seriousness" if I wasn't completely serious about the fact that red velvet cupcakes and cherry coke are a big part of my end-of-the-year routine, but here's a healthier alternative to help you through the final days of the school year.


Plan something you'll look forward to.


The end of the school year is filled with a lot of things that are not much fun. Final evaluations, testing, cleaning... So one way I keep my energy up at the end of it all is by planning something that the kids and I can get excited about. One year the teachers and I planned a grade level kickball tournament, which meant that, leading up to the tournament, we had an excuse to take the kids outside every once in a while, and get some vitamin D while we practiced kicking.

Many times I have participated in end of the year singing events. One favorite was a tribute to Disney where all of the teachers dressed up like Disney characters. In others we sang songs around the world,  twelve songs around the year, or a celebration of reader's theater. All of these programs were filled with fun and excitement. My daughter's team celebrates the year with a dance festival in May; each class learns a fun dance to perform for each other, as well as parents. And let's not forget fieldtrips!

I think the key is to plan something that you, personally, really love. Something that excites you; something you can set aside and look forward to every year. Because music energizes me, most years I plan a class musical for the end of the year. It doesn't have to be a large affair, but it's something that lends excitement to those final months for me. One of my favorite plays The Wizard of Oz is based on the book by L. Frank Baum. Did you know that there was a stage musical of the play in 1903 with songs written by Baum himself? Lyndsey found these old songs and put them together as sort of a musical "reader's theater/musical" that her class loves!

If you're interested in doing a play yourself. Here are some tips:

  • Try to find the time to read the original story first. Many children will not be as familiar with well loved stories as you might imagine.
  • Teach the songs during Shared Reading. Songs can be a great tool for teaching vocabulary, rhyming words, phonetic skills, and many other language arts opportunities!
  • Play the songs in the background of your class whenever it will not be distracting. The kids will catch on quickly!
  • Let each child choose 3 parts that they would like. They will usually pick what fits his/her comfort level, and, this way, everyone should be able to be at least their 3rd choice. You can even double cast parts, and have the students switch off for each performance.
  • Remember that for each child to benefit from the experience, they need to be involved. Try to give everyone a chance to shine.
  • Your shy children may surprise you by volunteering for a solo, give them a chance, this can be a great opportunity to build their confidence!
  • Have the kids stand in way that reflects when it is their turn to sing or speak. This will help them remember what to do.
  • Let the children know that no one watching them knows the words or the narration, so if they don’t get the words perfect no one will know as long as the meaning stays the same. This will help them relax.
  • Before doing the reader’s theater/play for parents, perform for other classes to help the kids get over any stage fright.

If you would like to try The Wizard of Oz Musical Script is your classroom, and you should, because it's awesome, you can find it at our Teacher's Pay Teacher's Store, or right here!

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You can also find some other great reader's theater scripts here →

Celebrate the memories

Another way to make the end of the year fun is to focus on all of the fun memories that your class has made during the year. If you've been collecting work samples in a portfolio now is the time to give them some final entries and share them with parents. If you've taken photos or video over the year, you can compile them into a class video presentation or scrapbook and then plan a day for the children to see/watch their memories together. Class graduations are another great way to celebrate the progress that the children (and you) have made!

For those of you gearing up for the end of the year, here is a collection of portfolio essentials! Use the code endyear at checkout and you will receive this product for free!

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And here is a must-do activity for me! 

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The End of the Year is all About Growth.

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The end of the school year is filled with documentation, testing, and data. My days are like yours, filled with assessment, celebrations, and sadly anxiety and disappointment of missing that green score. I know the data is important, but I love to cast that aside for a few days and celebrate each and every child's individual growth.

To begin this mini-unit I love to begin with one of my favorite children's songs by Hap Palmer. This sweet song is also a great way to tie celebrating growth of self to other things that might be happening in your classroom such as plants,  butterflies, farm, jungle, etc. 

I ask my students to bring in pictures of themselves as babies. The kids LOVE this. Each day we look at the pictures brought in and talk about the changes. When I first hold up the picture, we sing from the Hap Palmer song... "_______ started out as a tiny little babe.  _____ grew a little more ..." The kids are so excited to sing about each other in this way.

As the pictures come in I put the baby picture and a current picture on a some sort of bulletin display. If by chance a student can't find a baby picture (and you know that will happen), I simply have them draw one. They seem to be just as happy!

Another song I love to use is "All I'm Meant To Be." 

This beautiful song celebrates growth at one's own rate. The poster can be found in our graduation packet below.

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Kindergarten or Preschool Graduation


I love ending the year with a celebration! A great way to celebrate in preschool or kindergarten is a formal graduation, classroom program, or celebration. I have participated in all three ending events and I have found no matter the format, songs are the essential component of the festivities. The links below contain some of my favorite end of the year must-do's and of course posters and links to our songs suggestions.

Spring Fling 2018 with ESGI & Friends​


I love spring! It is the perfect time to try something new! If you have been thinking about trying ESGI, and just haven't made the plunge, the time is now! Here's the deal --- hold on to your hat! Now is the perfect time to organize that data in your classroom, inform (and impress) your administration and parents, and save time-time-time!

Sign up for your free trial using promo code B7227 and ESGI will be yours to use absolutely free through August 31st! That's right 5 free months of time-saving assessments for your students.

If you decide to continue with ESGI after your free trial (and of course you will), you will then receive $40.00 off your 1st year purchase price.


Additionally, yep there's more, you will receive an ESGI all-star Tshirt with your purchase. (Hey, I want one!)

What! There's more? Yes! Any new trial between April 1 and May 15 that signs up with the Promo Code B7227 is automatically entered to win.........wait for it..... An ALL-EXPENSE PAID TRIP from ESGI to any one of the Summer 2018 Conferences listed below!

SDE National "I Teach" Conference Las Vegas, NV July 9-13

Get Your Teach On! National Conference San Deigo, CA June 24-26

Elevate! with Mr. Greg Boston, MA July 21

Teach it! Fun & New, Tried & True with Kim & Crew San Antonio, TX June 28-29

Differentiating From the Start New Orleans, LA June 13-15

And, new trial subscribers can DOUBLE your Odds to win by sharing the campaign with #ESGISPRINGFLING on your social media sites! So get to it!!

Find out more about how to use ESGI.

How To Make A Simple Easter Bunny Hat

How To Make A Simple Easter Bunny Hat

It is always great to have that teacher friend next door who will share great ideas. This idea comes from Lyndsey's friend Lynnell Fox. An adorable, super-simple bunny hat!

Step 1:

Starting at the corners, cut out two bunny ear shapes, stopping at about the middle of the construction paper leaving about 2 inches between the cuts. Don't cut the ears off completely, leave them attached at the end and make a slight fold line.

Painting Spring

Painting Spring

Allow students the opportunity to be budding artists by painting flowers.

Learning to draw means learning to see! Painting flowers is a fantastic way to all students opportunity to create by looking at, thinking about, and discovering that nature is made of a vast amount of shapes, colors, and textures.

I begin by showing my students examples of great artists like Georgia O'Keeffe, Pablo Picasso and Vincent Van Gough. It is very powerful to show their work of art side-by-side to the real object; in this case a flower.

Growth Mindset and Young Children

Growth Mindset and Young Children

You know what I see when I look at this photo of a classroom from the 1960s? I see a growth mindset classroom! All the tools are there: painting, sensory, blocks, puzzles, dramatic play, art, and smiling faces. As a teacher for nearly 3 decades I know that children learn best through natural curiosity, discovery, a rich environment, through trial and error, through playing and cooperating with others, through failing and succeeding, and through play.

March Thematic Fun

March Thematic Fun

Okay! I admit it, March is one of my favorite months. It is the month when the world begins to come back to life after a deep winter slumber; buds begin to appear one-by-one, and the sun begins to spread its warmth. The month is filled with so many great opportunities for thematic fun.

Here are a few of our products that will bring Spring fun and learning into your classroom.

You might want to check out our original song and free poster March Into March here. 

Fairy Tale Integrated Curriculum

Fairy Tale Integrated Curriculum

I have been working on teaching my Kindergarteners the following Standards:

With prompting and support, retell familiar stories, including key details.

With prompting and support, identify characters, settings, and major events in a story.

I always try to teach Curriculum Standards in ways that promote, not only the content, but important skills such as creativity, collaboration, and communication. I also want to teach my students in meaningful, integrated ways that encourage investigation. So in order to teach these standards I have set up a few stations that can teach story elements through play.

Teach, Aspire, and Empower

Teach, Aspire, and Empower

I was raised on a dairy farm where my dad was employed as the hired hand. My family didn't have a lot of extra money, and I certainly didn't have but one or two store-bought toys. There was one thing, however,  I had a lot of and that was opportunities for discovery, play and access to plenty of books through the community Bookmobile.

Make Valentine's Day Awesome with a STEM Activity

Make Valentine's Day Awesome with a STEM Activity

As someone who thrives on integrated instruction, I've never really been able to find a satisfactory way to integrate my instruction on Valentine's Day. Then I was contacted by GIANTmicrobes asking me if I would like to use some of their heart themed plushies in my instruction. Wow! What a light bulb moment! What if instead of focusing on love and candy on Valentines Day, I focused on the human heart and it's amazing functions using this cute guy?