Monthly Archives: December 2016

The MARS Challenge – Week 1

Two elementary classes embarked on a new challenge this week – design and build a school for people who will colonize MARS.  What will it look like?  How will you keep students safe?  What subjects will they learn?  What will be the same as school on Earth and what will be completely different?

Here’s the overview of the challenge:

This project introduces students to design thinking through the student-friendly LAUNCH process.  What we love about this process is it highlights the fact that students will make “Glorious Mistakes.” From those mistakes, they will adjust and learn, until they reach success.

So far, students have gone through the first 3 stages of the design thinking LAUNCH Cycle – Look, Listen, and Learn, Ask Lots of Questions, and Understand the Problem (Research).  Next they will Navigate Ideas with a brainstorming map and sketches of their proposed school.  Then they will Create the prototype of the school using basic materials such as cardboard, duct tape, and straws.  During that process, they will Highlight what is working and fix any problems with the design.

Above, students work with their LAUNCH teams to brainstorm questions and list them on large chart paper.  Teams then rotated among the other posters to learn from the other groups and make note of any questions they missed.  What did they come up with?

  • How will we breathe?
  • What is the terrain like on Mars?
  • What will we need to be able to withstand?
  • Is Mars hot or cold?
  • What technology will we use on Mars?
  • What subjects should we learn?
  • How will we get food?
  • And many more…

Students then researched and put together a notes document with answers and reference pictures to help them build their schools.

What did we observe as students worked?

Students were engaged and excited about the process.  They sometimes needed guidance to be sure all ideas were being heard in a group and that they didn’t get stuck on just one idea, but they were working mostly independently with basic guidance from the teachers.  Great research-based ideas were emerging, such as:

  • Maybe we should build part of our school underground to protect from the cold and dust storms on MARS.
  • We will have an astronomy course since we will be learning from a completely different perspective.
  • We could use a greenhouse to grow food.
  • There should definitely be a slushie machine  🙂

We look forward to seeing what the students build and will share more with you next week!


New Google Sites

Example of google sites header

While Google has put out some great tools in other areas, Google Sites has always been a bit lacking.  It is difficult to create sites that are visually appealing and many end up looking like something straight out of the ’90s.  Not anymore!  The totally rebuilt version of Google sites is intuitive, simple to use, and makes clean, modern looking websites.

What’s new in the rebuild?

Real-time collaboration – The new sites will function just like any other google product – allowing multiple collaborators to work on the site at a time.  Currently, multiple people can edit a site, but only one at a time.  This opens up better possibilities for students using this tool as well.

Drag and drop design – In the new version, you will see a sidebar that provides all of your options for adding content to your page.  No more complicated menus.  Simply click to add a new text box or image, resize it, and move it wherever you’d like.

Responsive Design – As you design, you can view what the site would look like on a mobile tablet or phone.  The design will adjust based on the device being used, so content will still look nice and be accessible regardless of the device. If parents are accessing your classroom website on their phones, it will be much easier to use.

More to come – While the new sites is much simpler to use, it also means that are fewer features than in classic sites.  Google will be adding in additional features in the future, but we will have to wait and see what those include.

What about my current site?

Migration tools to transition classic sites to new sites will be coming out in 2017.  Gradually, classic sites will be eliminated in 2018/19, but Google will provide at least a year’s notice of this change.  If you would like to transition your site prior to this, you will have to do so manually by copying and pasting or recreating content from your classic site.

Quick Introduction Video

If you are looking for something a little more detailed try this New Google Sites Tutorial.

How do I access it?

Google sites is now built right into your Drive.  Once you are in your Drive, Click New > More> Google Sites.Create a new site from DriveYou can also go to the sites app in your grid or  When creating a new site, make sure you choose New Google Sites from the left.Choose new google sites when creating a siteHow can I use this?

This new version of sites is a simple way to create a classroom webpage for parents or to post information for students.   Maybe even more importantly, it can be a great tool for students to build a portfolio, demonstrate learning in a different way, and share their work with a wider audience.