Develop Reading Fluency with Spaceteam App

Spaceteam app probably wasn’t created to help kids learn to decode rapidly, but it just might be the best method available. Spaceteam requires 2-4 players who all work on their Screen Shot 2014-12-25 at 9.40.45 PMown device to collaboratively solve meaningless problems. Each player is given a dashboard of gadgets with novel labels. Players see commands pop up on their screen. The only thing is each command is to be executed not by the player herself, but by one of the other Spaceteam members; therefore, the player who receives the command must quickly shout it out for another player to execute.

Screen Shot 2014-12-25 at 9.41.05 PM

The game requires speed, collaboration, multitasking, and most of all, quick reading skills. For students in grades 2 through 6, they play without even realizing they are working on reading skills, and that’s the beauty of it. The game is so engaging and fun, they will beg for more and more, and before you know it, will have fluency that is out of this world! Here are my own kids (mostly grown ups) playing:

Spaceteam is free with upgrades available for $4.99. It is currently available for both iOS and Android devices.

Book Recommendations for Teachers


The latest podcast upload from The Bedley Bros EdChat talk show features 2 impromptu guests that we pulled off of a Tweet call out at the last second. It was fun! The two educators who were willing to come on the show and play along with our silliness were Samantha Bates and Robert Hochberg. Here’s the booklist we compiled on the show:

Listen to the Podcast Here.

Developing Character in Our Kids

What makes a student successful? What makes adults successful? Is it how much they know? To me, it’s the character of a man or woman that makes the biggest difference. When I look back over my years of teaching, my biggest frustrations with students (and parents) revolve around issues like responsibility, dishonesty, short-sightedness, dependence, lack of perseverance, and lack of tenacity. As Angela Duckworth so eloquently details in her TED Talk, the biggest indicator of success is grit.

For years, educational “experts” have been telling us that students fail, students are mean, students are depressed because of their lack of self-esteem. I see students with the opposite problem: they are completely self-consumed and think of themselves as invincible. “I can drink and drive and will never get caught or get in an accident.” “I can be lazy and not do any hard work and turn out just fine. I’ll get by somehow.” Today’s young people suffer from a lack of character that revolves around an extreme self-centered attitude.

So if we want kids to focus more on others and develop strong character, what do we as educators do? Build up their SELF esteem? I believe that approach creates more self-centered, ego-inflated citizens. First, we can model other-centeredness, caring, giving, and kindness for our kids. We should be smothering them with positive messages, encouragement, and acts of kindness. In addition, teachers should be highlighting positive peer role models.

Friday, a 12-year old boy had a dream come true: he got a foul ball at a Red Sox game. But instead of standing up, celebrating his moment, and pocketing the ball, he turned to the little girl behind him and handed it to her. Ryan acted without even thinking! He did it because it’s nice to do! What an amazing role model. Let’s lift up Ryan and make him a hero for our kids to admire, rather than all the characterless actors, musicians, and athletes that our society loves to worship. And after you watch this, submit a comment with a link to other inspiring stories of selflessness that we teachers can use as positive role models for our kids.

The Bedley Bros Help Break Big Google News

Mike Lawrence, CEO of CUE, and Steve Hargadon, founder of Classroom 2.0, will be piloting a new Google for Education online training program for teachers. Listen in to learn more from these EdTech pioneers!


Welcome Parents!

Greetings to the parents of my wonderful new students! Please click here to take the parent questionnaire. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact me 109_9613immediately using the email or phone number I gave your child today in class.

Back-to-School night is THIS Thursday, August 14. Attendance is crucial!

Please watch these informational videos about our classroom.

Analog Clocks and Teaching Angles

Do you teach students how to measure angles? Here’s an awesome little trick to make it much easier for the kids. Analog clocks can serve as a simple measurement estimation tool. Each number on a clock represents exactly 30 degrees. Teach your kids to draw angles that approximate the hands on a clock.

For example, tell them to draw an angle that measures 120 degrees. Most students from the 4th grade and up can multiply 30’s since it’s just like multiplying by 3’s. So to dclock-147257_640raw an angle that measures 120 degrees, the student would count by 30’s (30, 60, 90, 120.) 30 times 4 is 120 so the students draw a hand pointing at an imaginary 12 and an imaginary 4 and VOILA!

I’ve been teaching kids to use protractors for years. It’s so challenging for them. When I tried the clock trick, my kids picked it up like *THAT!* Of course it takes a bit of practice. And your students will probably master it a bit quicker if they are able to see each other’s work. You may want to practice skip counting by 30’s before asking the students to draw angles.

Once the kids get good at drawing the angles, it will be much easier for them to flip it around and measure angles that are already drawn. They will first look at the angle and ask themselves how this would look on a clock.

Have fun!

The Bedley Bros Ep 46: Angela Maiers

Angela Maiers joins Scott and me to discuss her two best-selling education books. Angela is known world-wide as an excellent keynote speaker, creator of Quest to Matter, an amazing inspirational figure in education, and a true innovator. Mrs. Maiers is the author of Classroom Habitudes and The Passion Driven Classroom. Fasten your seatbelt: it’s time for a wild and inspiring ride with the incomparable Angela Maiers!

Show Notes

Angela’s Website

Angela on Twitter

Angela’s Books on Amazon

The Bedley Bros Ep 45: Alex Kajitani

Alex Kajitani, the Rappin’ Mathematician and California Teacher of the Year, shares about his new book Owning It. His book helps educators to deal effectively to the roles we play as educators. It’s a must-read book for those who wish to impact not only their students, but the community as well. Don’t forget to share this blog post on Twitter with your PLN.

Show Notes

Owning It book

Alex’s Website

Alex on Twitter

The Bedley Bros Ep 44: Dan Pink

According to his website, “Daniel H. Pink is the author of five provocative books — including the long-running New York Times bestsellers, A Whole New Mind and Drive. His latest book, To Sell is Human, is a #1 New York Times business bestseller, a #1 Wall Street Journal business bestseller, and a #1 Washington Post nonfiction bestseller. Dan’s books have been translated into 34 languages and have sold more than 2 million copies worldwide. In 2013, Thinkers 50 named him one of the top 15 business thinkers in the world. He lives in Washington, DC, with his wife and their three children.” Scott and I had the privilege of talking to him about his opinions on how to improve classroom practice in the 21st Century.

Show Notes

Dan Pink’s Website

Teaching as a Subversive Activity book

4 Amazing Ways to Infuse the Arts into Literature Instruction


By Genein Letford

I had the privilege of meeting Rafe Esquith at Barnes & Noble last month where he said, “Students should not be reading a book in order to take a test at the end. That should not be their primary goal. Students’ should be asking themselves, ‘What does this book say to me? As the characters go through their problems and make decisions, how will that affect the way I  look at my choices in life?’”

This got me thinking: Most teachers are familiar with the reading comprehension strategy of making connections (text-to-self, text-to-text, etc.) After a personal experience with a fantastic book called Stutter Boy and its organic connection with arts, I decided we need to acknowledge another comprehension strategy, text-to-arts connections.

So I  began my exploration of making text-to-arts connections using the school’s next read-aloud text, The One and Only Ivan. We connected the arts with the plot and character development. Here are some of the ideas birthed out of this exploration:



Visual Art + Metaphorical Thinking Using the picture shown here, the students identified what they saw (Ivan the gorilla holding a half-eaten banana.) Then I asked, “How is Ivan like the banana?” The responses blew me away. After they got through the surface observations and begun to dig deeper and think about the story and Ivan’s character, these fourth and fifth graders came up with some insightful connections:

  • There’s a part of the banana missing and there’s also a part of Ivan’s life that is missing; his family.

  • The banana’s inside, like Ivan’s family and the peel is Ivan. He’s suppose to protect his family.

  • They are both stuck. Bananas are stuck in trees and Ivan is stuck in his domain.

  • Bananas are found in the jungle in bunches, just like gorillas. But this banana is by itself, just like Ivan.

  • The banana can’t do anything about Ivan eating it, just like Ivan can’t do anything about being in his cage.

  • The peel is the cage and Ivan is the banana.

  • The banana is not DONE yet though. Ivan had a hard life but he’s not done. There’s something else for him to do.

WOW! We had this GREAT discussion spring out of one picture!

My first graders worked on story setting. They drew pictures of their favorite characters and made sure they included details from their book’s setting.

My third graders worked on artistic metaphors. They chose a character and an object (similar to the Ivan with the half-eaten banana) and drew the character with the object. They then had to discover the connections (concrete and abstract) and prepare a written statement connecting the two. Students infused vocabulary (chosen from a word bank) into their statements i.e. represented, symbolize, means, conveys, communicates, etc.


  • I drew Ruby with a claw-stick because it represents….

  • I put Ivan on a rock because the rock represents Ivan because he is strong.

I even did a visual art activity with my kindergarten students. We looked at ‘Ivan’s Art.’ These are real paintings by the real gorilla Ivan. I first asked them to identify the colors in the art, and then we discussed why Ivan would choose these colors. I wanted the kids to connect the color to what it represent in Ivan’s life throughout the story.


  • He used a lot of red because his family died.

  • The blue means water because gorillas need water to live.

  • The yellow means bananas because he likes to eat and draw bananas.

  • The green is for the grass because he wants to live in a the zoo.

Of course it’s hard to get really young kids thinking abstractly, but I feel using the arts is a great way to get them started. They aren’t intimidated by a lot of thick text and can start by seeing visual art as a type of text. They are now reading this new visual text and connecting it to their literary work.

Any visual art standard can be interlaced with these projects. The students can do the metaphorical art while focusing on background or foreground, warm or cool colors, value or texture.


The students are also connecting text to musical arts. Here are some mini music projects the students are working on:

  • Find a song, and, with little or no adjustment to the lyrics, defend why this song would represent a certain character in the book. Line by line, connect what occurred in the story to what the singer is communicating.

  • Create ‘soundtrack music’ to a particular scene in the text using an iPad music creation app.

  • Take an established melody and write your own lyrics. My third grade students chose the melody of “Stand By Me.” They reached consensus on which character would be the singer in the song and to whom the song would be sung. They chose Ivan to sing to Stella and composed lyrics from his perspective. They concocted what he would say to her by referring to the text. Students must justify every lyric with evidence from the text.

Stand By Me

The Clouds are pink

And the moon is wide

And the zoo is the only thing we see

This cage, is rough

And it makes me cry

Oh Stella, won’t you stand by me

 Oh Stella, Stella

Stand By me

Oh Stand by me, Oh Stand now

Stand by me, Stand by me

The clawstick, it hurts

And the doctor’s late

Oh Stella, I need you, by me


I am not a dancer, but I know how powerful dance can be in communicating an idea, emotion, or story.

I took the music from the The One and Only Ivan book trailer and choreographed a dance to it.  The students listened to the music and divided it into 4 sections based on mood. Then they listed adjectives describing each section. Finally, the kids chose scenes in the story (or big ideas) and choreograph them.

I showed them the video “The Invisibles” from a dance group trying to increase awareness of modern day slavery (human trafficking.) I use this to show how one can tell a story through dance, and that dance is a type of ‘text’ as well. The students performed their dance and had the author and many people (adults and kids) in tears! Watch the performance on video here.


Students recreated a scene from the book including the setting and characters. They tried to make sure the personalities of the characters matched the book.

I sent out this email to the staff:

Teachers and Staff! Thank you for allowing me to really dive into this ‘Finding Ivan Through the Arts’ project with your students. I wish we could have shown more of the performing arts projects but due to time, we were only able to exhibit the dance. Nevertheless, below is how other classes interpreted the book through their chosen art form.

About the dance, I’m so glad it moved so many of you. I really must clarify that it was 80% of the students’ creation. I did my best to make it all about their interaction with the text and only chimed in to help with transitions and the few kinks that were bluntly evident. The lights slowly coming up in the beginning…that was all Eliel. The cage falling in the end…that was Itzel’s idea THE MORNING OF THE SHOW!!!! So many more examples in between but you get the idea!

I ventured into these projects to exemplify how the arts can and should be used to enhance critical thinking and should not be ignored as we head into Common Core. More importantly, the students need to understand that there are multiple ways to interpret and investigate written text and that ‘text’ actually comes in many different formats (visual text, musical text, written text, etc) and are all equally valuable tools for expression, interpretation, and communication. Let’s equip our students with as many tools as possible as they continue to make sense of the world around them and this future ahead of them. Play on!

Guest Blogger, Genein Letford, is the music director of an elementary school in Canoga Park, California. She is noted for her innovative teaching style that incorporates math, science, language arts, and social studies into a music curriculum. She is an avid proponent of the arts and preserving the quality of education in the arts. She won the 2010 Great American Teacher Award, as well as the National Sontag Prize in Urban Education.