Two Common Misconceptions Teachers Have About Coding

The ability to code is a critical core competency for the jobs of the future.We know that kids need to code.  We have heard it a million times. However, teachers have certain reservations about utilizing coding in their curriculum because of two common misconceptions I’ve noticed and hope to dispel.

Misconception #1: “I can’t ask my kids to code when I don’t know how to code myself.”

Believe it or not, you don’t really need to know how to code to give your kids opportunities to do the work. It certainly will help to try the challenges yourself before assigning them, but surprisingly, it is not necessary. Coding is an activity that can easily be added to your day-to-day lesson plans with little prior knowledge on your part. And, it works great as an  INDEPENDENT activity.

For example, this week, with the help and guidance of Adrienne, I have been using coding challenges for early finishers. When kids finish the part of the essay we are working on, they can continue where they left off on their coding challenge. This is an easy way for me to focus on the kids that need extra help on their writing. Likewise, coding is an excellent activity for center rotations, which gives another opportunity for you to meet with small groups and feel confident that the rest of the class is on-task. The coding challenges out there are designed to be relevant and high-interest. For instance, one of the challenges I gave them last week was to design a Snapchat filter.

A side benefit of including coding in the lessons is that it gives kids opportunities to practice following explicit directions. We all know how much kids love to rush and skip directions. But, with coding, they simply can’t skip the directions. They must follow the directions in order, which is a skill that needs regular practice and reinforcement, and one that I like to employ in the classroom. is a good resource for similar coding challenges organized by grade level. Another resource that has short coding challenges, Scratch, is great for all ages because it utilizes the drag and drop method of coding. This makes it easy for all ages but still gives opportunities for more advanced and intricate animation. Here are the short Scratch challenges. My 6th graders loved them!

Misconception #2: “Coding is meant for technology class, not my class!”

What’s the point of learning a skill in technology class if students don’t get to practice it in a real and relevant way? Coding can be an easy way to have kids show proof of knowledge in your curriculum.  Any of the coding challenges that already exist can be altered to meet the needs of your lesson plans. For instance, next week, my students will code a stop-motion animation video about traveling the Silk Road that will integrate the coding process with applying knowledge from the curriculum.

Here are some ideas for you that you can adjust to connect with a novel study, a concept, required vocabulary, or even a time and place in history:

Don’t worry! Adrienne would be happy to help you choose the best coding challenge for your curriculum and grade level. She is an amazing resource!

And then you can leave at the end of the day knowing you provided your students with exposure to critical skills and enhanced their growth mindset without very heavy lifting on your part!

**A geofilter alerts the people you share the picture with on Snapchat of your location by inserting an overlay that represents the location! This would be an amazing assignment for a history class: What would the geotag be for a particular place in a particular time period?

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The Case for Doodling In the Classroom

Have you ever been teaching something you find very important and you look down at one of your students and they are deep into a very detailed doodle? You think to yourself: “How could this student not be paying attention? How rude of them!” But, did you know that there is probably a higher chance that the doodlers in your class are actually retaining more information than the student who is obediently staring at you as you speak? Yep, that’s right. As much as we might hate to admit it, doodling can and should be allowed in our classrooms. I fought it for a long time, but I am a fervent believer in doodling today.

According to many studies, doodling effectively aids in executive functioning and multi-tasking. One study concluded that people doodling during a lecture could recall 29% of the the information given while the non-doodlers averaged 5.8%. In fact, they attribute this retention to the fact that doodling does not allow the brain to day dream, which takes a lot of the brain’s energy away from the task at hand. Doodling requires way less energy and keeps the brain focused on the speaker.

So, what if we started class one day by saying, “Students, I am going to share this information. I want you to listen and engage in class discussions at times. But, while you are listening, I encourage you to doodle.” We know that every student will be so excited for this. And, all of us with those fancy white board tables will rejoice at the fact that doodling is actually aiding in their learning!

Now, what if we then said, “Students, not only are you allowed to doodle, today I am going to teach you strategies for how to improve your doodles. Maybe you can even draw what you hear or see in the text.”   Taking notes with doodling even has a name: sketchnoting! It is the new spatial note-taking device that is hitting the education world by storm.

In fact, here is a sketchnote sharing different ways you can use doodling in your classroom!


Source for this picture

EdWeek: The Power of Visual Note-taking

If sketchnoting interests you, I encourage you to do a simple search for it on Google and you will be so surprised at how much is out there!  Give students who learn spatially a chance to learn their way. Outlining is not for everybody!

Tips for beginners and doodling and the link to my cover picture


Google Hack: Use Docs to Design Templates for Individualized Assignments

Did you know that you can type a document on Google Drive and save it in template mode? Students can then use it as a worksheet, only modifying their individual assignment. This is a great strategy for small groups to collaborate on ideas and organize research, or simply work independently on an assignment. Students love this because they can type their work and edit it later. Teachers love it because they can access their work at any point to make sure they are on task and creating beautiful work.  Students also rarely loose their work this way! 

Templates allows for easy differentiation or individualized instruction, as you can share different documents with different students. You can write personal notes, give hints, create scaffolds based on the needs of each student.

Here is a video for how to do this:

To learn more cool Google hacks, come to the Google Help workshop with Larry and Travis at lunch on Tuesday January 17th from 12:15-12:55 in my room.  

Sign up here for this workshop or any other for January

Some more cool links to Google hacks:

22 Cool Things You Didn’t Know You Could Do With Google Drive

A couple hacks from Teacher Priorities:



How Can We Make Grades Meaningful Again?


Let’s not mince words here.  Grading on a letter scale, the way we’ve always done it, has become a farce. The pressure to earn good grades often supersedes students’ intrinsic motivation to actually learn.   For students an A is another box ticked and another hoop jumped and not a cause for reflection on ability or progress. It isn’t the students’ fault. What does an A mean anyways except a gateway to a high school of choice. Teachers share this pressure. Because of this, grades have become heavily based on effort rather than merit, causing grade inflation.  So, in all of this pressure, the original intention of the grade, to assess and communicate students’ abilities and progress, is lost.

This is not unique to our school; grade inflation exists throughout educational institutions all the way up to the Ivy Leagues. And, here’s the thing, grading on a letter scale isn’t going anywhere. Students will continue to tick the box of completion after each report card. But,what if we could adapt our grading system within our own individual classrooms so that students could actually see their areas of strengths and vulnerabilities?

Changing my categories for grades is one way I have answered this question. Homework, classwork, tests, and participation are the most common categories and the ones I used for many years. But, what information do these categories really tell a parent or student about progress and ability? It certainly does send the message that some students are ‘good at school’ and others are not.

Here’s what I mean by being ‘good at school’:   A+ students do their homework, raise their hands to speak, and are good at taking tests.  With this view, students can quick identify themselves as ‘bad at science’ or ‘good at history.’ We have all said and heard comments like this. And, really, this is the precursor to that fixed mindset we have heard so much about.

Now, here are my new categories this year and the skills I assessed for from semester 1.


Most homework assignments fall into the research skill category, as homework in a history class tends to require students to do research either in the textbook or online to gather relevant information. Tests and writing can get tricky because I usually assess for more than one category. However, I find that I am now making tests that actually assess different skills because I have to categorize my questions. I also have found that the amount of extra work is minimal and I can assess my students areas of growth easily so that I can reteach when necessary.

It is important to note that I use total points and not percentages. I find that grades often become inflated or deflated when there are not enough grades in a particular category. It will still tally a percentage for each category so students can quickly determine strengths and weaknesses. I also can make certain assignments a greater factor if I want it to have a greater impact on the grade.

Below is a sample student. From this, the student is easily able to see the areas of growth and strength.


There are obviously some draw backs. Some assignments may be difficult to fit into the defined categories. Some categories do not have that many assignments. And, of course, there is still measurable amounts of subjective and effort-based grading. The grade doesn’t change, but how I explain the grade does. Comments come with ease when using this system.

I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas on this. Are there other strategies you use to make grades more meaningful? Please respond on Schoology! I would also love to chat with anybody one-on-one to restructure your categories.

Stay tuned for the next half of this blog post: “Using Rubrics for Everything!”

Simple Tips to Manage Technology in your Classroom

As great as technology is for students, it can definitely be a headache for the teacher. We have all seen this scenario: twenty students all focused diligently on their screen not listening to any of your tips and not reading any of your directions. Their one problem solving method is to blurt “I can’t do it” and then repeat your name numerous times until you come and rescue them. By the time 45 minutes is up, you never want to hear your name again. Not to mention that half the students were off-task while you were helping individual students.

I know a lot of us can relate as we tackle bringing 21st century devices into our classrooms. This week I did a lesson using Google’s “My Maps” which is a collaborative tool for annotating maps. I knew I would have to prepare for a lot of hands raised with “Mrs. Wirth, I need help.” But after carefully reflecting on past experiences teaching with technology, I decided to take a different approach to technology. Below are the criteria I used for designing my lesson with the help of Adrienne:

1. Make sure you have students close the computers before giving directions (close lids, push 6 inches in front of you, hands on lap, etc). This way, you know they are at least attempting to listen. 

2. Hand out, display, or put on Schoology detailed the directions that are easily accessible to the students. This way, students can refer to the directions as questions arise and for students who are ready to go ahead. Provide an extra step or challenge for early finishers. This will give you time to really help the kids that need it. 

3. Set the expectations before they begin. For instance, discuss what good choices are and bad choices are regarding the tool. Consequences for going off task? What is considered off task? What does a good researcher look like? Etc. 

4. Provide tools that enable students to solve their own problems. For questions, a teacher’s role in bringing technology into his or her classroom is not to teach how to do everything, but to provide tools for students to discover solutions on their own. For instance, you can remind them that Google and YouTube how-to videos can be used to help them. Encourage them to problem solve by using the Help feature in an application or google their question.  IT and Tech experts do it all the time!

5. Use the students. Enlist helpful or “techy” students to help out their peers. You can even have a lanyard attached to an “Ask Me” sign they can wear, which turns into quite a badge of honor. 

6. WALK AROUND! Technology should never be left unmonitored. The more you walk around the less funny business will happen and the more you can correct misunderstandings about the assignment. You can also give hints for how to do things, even if you refuse to tell them! 🙂


Here is my lesson for My Maps. This application can be used to annotate a story that takes place in different settings, create a travel journal, map out empires on a modern map, map a pilgrimage or historical journey, calculate distance and area, etc. Students can work together on the same map from different places and computers. They can add drawings, videos, writing, and pictures.



May Goal 6th be with you on November 11th!


This class begins at 8:30am on November 11th at the Soul Cycle studio on Lake Ave. It will be a 45 minute class with your fellow co-workers! All you need is work out clothes and water.  Please note, to attend, you need to register on the website prior. (There is no cost) Sign up here!  


Sewing Affirmations with Cathy

Cathy will teach the process of creating our very own ‘affirmation banners’ that we can hang in our classroom or home to inspire us throughout our days. This class will take place in Cathy’s room from 8:00am-10:00am on November 11th. Sign up here!

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In this workshop, Evan and Jeff will let us explore and try to play the many instruments that MJS owns. They will give quick tutorials and by the end, you will learn a song on a new instrument! This class will take place from 8am-1oam on November 11th in Evan’s room. Sign up here! 

img_5460Weaving with Sara

In this workshop, Sara will inspire us with her creativity as she teaches us the step-by-step process of making tapestries. This workshop will be take place in Sara’s science lab from 10-12pm on November 11th.  Sign up here!


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Pallet Gardening with Katie

Meet Katie in the Primary Courtyard to create a simple faculty succulent garden! Plan on getting a little dirty from 10am-12pm on November 11th!  Sign up here!



Become an active member of our community’s services and masses by joining the MJS Singers. From 10am-12pm in Jeff’s room, you will practice the songs for the Thanksgiving Prayer Service. Sign up here!


St. Francis Service

St. Francis Center has served the homeless and low income population of Los Angeles since 1972. Each week, the 8th grade helps continue these services by making and delivering lunches to the people of St. Francis Center. On November 11th, we will be helping as well. Stop in to Pam’s room anytime between 8am and 12pm to make a lunch for the people of St. Francis. (No need to sign up!)

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Tinker Time

Come play in the D-Lab! At each table create or practice using some of the cool materials at the D-Lab. Come any time between 8am and 12pm. (No need to sign up!)