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Using Wixie in primary classroom computer centers


Whenever I visit a primary classroom, I commonly see students rotating from table to table to complete activities in literacy, math, or science centers. But at the same time, I often see computers in the corner simply screaming for attention during this time.

Wixie iconIndividual and unsupervised work with computers for primary students you say? It’s not hard, when you use Wixie! Wixie provides endless possibilities for classroom computers during structured center or station time, even in primary classrooms.

Wixie includes hundreds of curriculum-focused templates you can assign to an entire class or customize and differentiate for individuals or small groups. Then, when students log in at the center, the assignment appears in their Project folder and they can start working immediately.

Many activities are click-and-drag templates you can use to assess knowledge on topics like seasons, word families, and patterns. This is a great place to begin if you need to get students accustomed to how to use the computer and work independently. While you do need to teach students how to log in, their work is also saved automatically so no more tears for lost work!

base ten activity in Wixie


But even when you ask students to complete something more than click and drag, little program experience is needed in order to produce impressive products. They just need a few basic instructions like: “Design a geometric snowperson that includes at least three squares, circles, and triangles.”

Add instructions to a blank page and use a printed checklist to outline your expectations. Then, provide a set amount of time for students to complete the design. Make them complete their checklist before doing any "decoration" and keep the time limited – 10 minutes at max.

If you have iPads or tablets, use a template like Large Lined Paper to have students trace letters and practice handwriting!

What could the process look like?

When I gaze into my implementation crystal ball, I picture a teacher leading an activity overview that shares content expectations, followed by a review of the Wixie tools students will be using to demonstrate that knowledge, such as opening an assigned activity, recording, and using specific paint tools or Stickers.

For example, if students were asked to create a page for a class version of It Looks Like Split Milk, by Charles G. Shaw, a teacher would start be reading the book and talking about shapes and images we see in the clouds. They would then open Wixie and demonstrate how to:

1. Open the assigned activity.
2. Use the Eraser tool to create the image.
3. Type text in the existing text boxes.
4. Record narration to the page.

Then, over the course of the next week or two, students rotate through this computer center to create their page.  I see another teacher breaking the process down into two phases, where students learn to open the file and paint, and then return for a second visit to type and record.

Then, the teacher combines these pages into a single class project, adds music, shares on their classroom web site and presto! My crystal balls shows them becoming a very popular teacher.


Find more videos like this on Tech4Learning

Build center activities as a grade level team

My implementation crystal ball also shows first grade teachers working in collaboration to generate starting sound templates. After a brief team discussion, each teacher generates a single sort and sequence activity that progresses in skill understanding like single letter starting sounds, hard ‘g’ or soft, blends, etc.

The team shares their templates and ding, each first grade teacher has center activities for the next four weeks. If your Wixie account is set to publisher, can even share templates within Wixie with your school or district. Wouldn’t it be awesome if the curriculum office provided appropriate center templates for each grade?

Paint tools vs. clip art

While using the paint tools can result in work that is more original, some students will spend more time drawing than makes sense for the activity. This is where you can take advantage of activities that utilize the Stickers.

Wixie includes over 4000 clip art images targeted for pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade instruction. If you are asking students to demonstrate their knowledge of the frog’s life cycle, using existing images enables them to address that objective much more quickly and efficiently.

If students are able to finish early with that objective, give them the green light to go back and "enhance" their project with original, yet appropriate, illustrations. Use Wixie’s painting tools as a reward students can use to personalize their work after they have demonstrated what they know and understand.

Recording is crucial

Primary students are so excited to be working on the computer and often know so much more about the topic than they are able to type. So unless you have an adult or older student helping at the center, put the focus on recording their thinking orally.

For example, have students can draw a prediction for a story or illustrate the water cycle and record their knowledge. Set up the station with a headset microphone so they can practice narrating fluently without disruptions and in a safe environment.

There is nothing quite like having an artifact that includes the student’s voice, especially when you are dealing with demanding parents who can be placated by hearing their child’s adorable voice. But seriously, audio recording provides a fantastic window into progress in reading fluency and speech, especially if you have students use center time to create a similar activities month after month.

Don’t forget you can print

While the beauty of Wixie is online, students can also print their work. Imagine students creating All About Me pages and then printing as a trading card. Students can then trade their cards to get to know their fellow students.


print trading cards in Wixie

Use the same process to target new vocabulary words or create a set of Sink/Float challenge cards. Each student creates a page and when the cards are printed, they can be used as a separate station activity. Students using educational products they create.... How cool is that!

Wixie makes learning fun for students and teachers

And, of course, my favorite thing about Wixie with primary students is that they can use it at home for no additional cost and just for FUN! They can use Wixie to create birthday cards for grandpa and grandma complete with audio recording, they can create a digital scrapbook about the time they learned to ride a bike, or just play using wacky tools like symmetry or smudge.

Even assessment is easy with Wixie. Because each student has a unique Wixie account, simply log in to your teacher account to view the work of all your students and even leave them comments… whether that is at your desk, at a coffee shop, or at home in your pajamas!

Research suggests that sustained learning involves the meaningful application of knowledge. If you are ready to jump in with computer-based centers, look beyond “drill and kill” options. With Wixie’s text, image, illustration, and narration tools, you can have your student learn through applying knowledge not rote memorization!

Build creative and analytical thinking with digital pattern play


"Attention to possibilities leads to intention for possibilities, which equals creativity."
                                                                              --Dr. Henry Olds

Ever since Dr. Henry Olds shared his amazing patterning process in our booth at NECC (now ISTE) in 1999, I have been loved playing with the possibilities in Pixie and now Wixie. I am constantly encouraged to pattern play whenever I look at the calendar on my desk which is filled with Dr. Old's latest patterning favorites.

Dr. Henry Olds's 2014 Pattern Play calendar

Dr. Olds and Dr. Walter F. Drew have been working with kids and patterning activities since the mid-80's and have discovered how powerful pattern play is as a tool to build both analytical and creative thinking skills.

The Stickers Library in Wixie and Pixie includes a Pattern Play folder to make it easy to get started with the process.

Pattern Play stickers folder

Click the Stickers/Library button to see the library. Open the Objects folder and then the Pattern Play folder or search for "pattern" at the bottom of the Library panel. Find a pattern "tile" you want to play with and add it to the page.

Drought tile

Copy and paste, or duplicate the image, using the Edit button on the Wixie toolbar. You can also hold down the ALT key (Windows) or Option key (OSX) and drag the tile to a new place on the page to create a copy.

To begin building a visual relationship between the two pieces, move the stickers next to each other. Click the Options button on the toolbar and click the Rotate and Flip buttons to mirror the tiles and find patterns of line, light, contrast, and color.

Options for stickers and image objects

Select each piece, or groups of pieces, and continue copying, pasting, and arranging to extend the pattern. 

start to the pattern

Repeat and build upon this process to build your pattern!

Pattern Next
You can also create your own pattern play pieces. Open a photograph or photographic background and use the Rectangle Selection tool to select an area and create your tile. 

  • In Wixie, go to the Edit button on the toolbar and choose Convert to Sticker.

  • In Pixie, go to the Options menu and choose Convert to Sticker.

Once you have your tile, start playing.

Pattern play with image of dead tree

I can't wait to see the results of your pattern play!


Project Based Learning and Presentations


To make learning during the process visible and to facilitate assessment, project-based learning culminates in a final presentation of learning. Notice I didn't say presentation, but presentation of learning. There is a difference. A big difference. 

presentation of learningDuring the process of PBL, students receive continuous feedback from team mates, their instructor, coaches, mentors, and others involved in the project. Presenting the final product, idea, or any other relevant artifacts created during the process is a great way to celebrate success as well as get feedback. However, for purposes of growth (learning), presentations need to be more than presenting the product or learning artifact. 

While there are times the presentation will include sharing information about, a presentation of learning isn't a one-way lecture. In effective presentations of learning, everyone participates - the student presenting their learning, the audience, the facilitator.

Before presentations of learning begin, share questions both presenters and audience members should be prepared to answer. Work to establish norms for sharing feedback.

Remind everyone that effective critiques are:

• free of value judgments.
• specific, personal, and directed at one’s work.
• founded on trust from someone respected.
• immediate enough to be useful.

Ideas for the Presenter(s)

conversation and feedback

Begin transforming presentations into presentations of learning, by making this distinction to your students. Let them know that you expect their final presentation to be a presentation of their learning through the process, not just the sharing of a product they created. 

Presentations of learning should include what students learned about:

• the subject matter content.
• planning, organizing, and implementing a project.
• how they learn.
• how their group functioned.
• how they work in a group.

To promote reflection, you might ask them to also share:

• what they would do differently if they had the opportunity to do this project again.
• what they will do differently when working on the next project.
• what they would change in their product/idea/design if they had more time
  (one day, one week, one year)

Ideas for the Audience

The audience should be expected to give feedback on the project content and delivery, as well as share reflections and ideas brought up as students share their learning. 

Ask the audience what they learned about:

• the subject matter content.
• effective presentation strategies.
• using technology purposefully.

Ask the audience to share opinions about the product/idea/design.

• What did you think about while viewing the presentation?
• How did the product/idea/design engage you?
• Why did the product/idea/design engage you?
• How might it be revised or even extended?


The instructor should share insights on the product, student presentations and reflections, and audience thoughts. They should also highlight issues and events that occured for the presenter during the process to help everyone connect with goals for implementing the project. Ask clarifying and open-ended questions that further group discussion and response.

Listen to critiques and feedback from the students and audience to gain insight into what the students have gained from participating in the project. This will enable instructors to reflect upon key elements they will want to maintain in future projects as well as changes they might make to improve the process next time.

As students present their learning, write common themes, issues, and ideas in a place all everyone can refer to when forming their own reflections and feedback.

Beyond Oral Presentations

Don't settle for making every presentation of learning an oral presentation or multimedia slide show. Students can also share projects through small group discussion, peer-to-peer meetings, or even in a mini-trade show or conference.

You may even want to separate the product presentation from the presentation of learning, since they may have competing goals. For example, if outside experts are judging a product prototype or design, the focus does need to remain on the product and the presentation of learning should take place in a different space.

Integrate Reflection

You can also promote reflection and presentation of learning by asking the students to complete a written self-assessment before presentation. You might ask them to reflect on:

•  new content knowledge gained while working on this project.
    Can you share something learned that we didn't see in the final product?
•  their work done and contributions made to team or project success.
    How did you make a difference for your team?
•  obstacles and stumbling blocks to success during the project.
    How did you solve these? (individually, procedurally, collaboratively)
•  their biggest takeaway from the project. 
    What is one related to content and process or completely new?  

It doesn't take major changes to transform a presentation into a presentation of learning. Simply asking for feedback and reflection about the product AND process will help you get there.

Explore a more specific reflecton on evaluating student work in PBL in Assessing Student Project Work on Creative Educator. 


Assessing PBL - "It's the process, not the product"


As a PBL enthusiastic and someone who has seen student project work in action, it has always felt natural and easy to say, "It's the process, not the product." Anyone who has done PBL or watched the entire process knows that you only get to see a small portion of the learning in the final product.

But even though I know its about the process, it really hit home yesterday when we had a site visit from Brandon Davidson, a High Tech High teacher serving as an internship liaison.

I began the visit by sharing how this internship is very different from the one last year which focused on media. I described how during our initial meeting in December, it became apparent that the new intern, Nicholas Harding, had a passion for writing (narrative and creative) at a level similar to our last intern's passion for visual expression. 

During this initial meeting, Nicholas and I decided that this year's internship project would be writing and creating a multimedia/hypermedia story with multiple story lines to give the reader choice. Nicholas decided to explore the idea of fairy tales in his specific story.

As I described in an earlier post, I share that I was excited to have an opportunity to witness/facilitate the process of building such a large project firsthand, since as a trainer of teachers, I don't often get this process experience.

But how much more useful the "process" is for learning really hit home as Nicholas shared his project. I have been reading the story as Nicholas writes, and as he was talking ABOUT the story, it really became obvious that simply reading the final story wasn't really going to tell us much about what was going on in Nicholas's mind as he was developing plot, storyline, and writing dialogue.

notebook with plot diagrams for two acts

Yes, there have been discussions along the way, and the notebooks and plot diagrams he has created do help see this thinking process, but not nearly as much as listening to him share his work during this site visit.

We started talking more about story structure and happened to discuss the Hero's Journey and how this story follows and doesn't follow that structure. Luck would have it that there is a Hero's Journey template in Share, so we opened that and started talking. Brandon suggested he use to help the rest of us see his learning and thinking during the final "Presentation of Learning", or POL, at the end of the internship.

image of hero's journey from the template in Share

Again, my experience with PBL has led me to understand that the end of every great PBL experience is a presentation, and that this presentation isn't just showing the product or artifacts created, but the sharing (and in many cases drawing out) of the learning is a crucial part of the process, and the assessment process.

While reflection is an important part of the learning process, too often I have simply been asking for an oral explanation of what content, thinking, and "soft" skills a student feels they have made progress on during a project.

But in this case, with edits, there may be a more structured way to gain specific insight into a student's thinking. While too much structure can make things rote and boring, many students need more guidance as they learn to share the process of learning along with the final product.

I will definitely be looking at more ways I can provide structured ideas to support reflection, metacognition, and the presentation of learning.

Using Pixie and Wixie for English Language Acquisition


As they are learning a second language, all students go through distinct stages of language acquisition. Effective ELL instruction reflects a student's stage, helps students move through stages, and engages students at all stages in high-level thinking.

Stages of language acquisition, identified through research by Stephen Krashen and others, are:

  1. The Silent/Receptive Stage (Preproduction) 
  2. The Early Production Stage
  3. The Speech Emergence Stage 
  4. Intermediate Language Proficiency Stage
  5. Advanced Language Proficiency Stage

Knowing these helps you accept a student’s current ability and modify your instruction to help move them to the next stage. Pixie and Wixie provide helpful tools for teachers who want to build both content knowledge and support language acquisition. 

wixie iconpixie iconPixie and Wixie can help teachers and students use and combine visuals through paint tools and the use of clip art and photographic images; text construction to label and produce written language; and voice recording tools for oral instructions and practice.

1. Silent/Receptive Stage

During the Silent or Receptive Stage, students are acquiring language but not producing it. They may understand up to 500 words, but comprehension is low and they rely on gestures and facial expressions. They can respond with non verbal responses such as nodding yes or no, pointing to a picture, or drawing their own. 

In Wixie and Pixie, students can use the paint tools, click and drag, and name and label objects. Both tools come with hundreds of curriculum-based activities, many of which utilize click and drag opportunities to help you evaluate student understanding.

Click and drag activities in Wixie and Pixie

This is especially helpful in classrooms using the Sheltered Instruction Operation Protocol (SIOP) model to promote content knowledge as well as language acquisition.

Students can also show knowledge, understanding, and creativity through the use the paint tools, allowing them to participate in classroom learning.

students examples of painted artwork

2. Early Production Stage

While comprehension is still limited during the Early Production Stage, students can respond verbally using 1 or 2 words. In Pixie and Wixie, students can do the types of activities listed above, as well as record voice and type short phrases. 

It is helpful to create and use cloze, or fill-in-the-blank activities. These can be particularly helpful for helping students focus on vocabulary essential to a unit of study, as well as use words in their speaking vocabulary.

For example, if you have just visited a farm or studied these animals, you might construct a page that provides a picture of a cow with the sentence, "On the farm, I see a ____. It is ____ and _____." The image provides a clue as to the word you want them to use and also provides an opportunity to use basic adjectives.

You can also take an open-ended approach to fill in the blank to make this type of activity less tedious. My son's Kindergarten teacher read Denise Fleming's In the Tall, Tall Grass. She then set up a page with fill in the blanks and the students added a noun and verb. Each students completed the sentence, illustrated the page, and recorded their writing. Each students page was combined into a class book and shared online. 

Find more videos like this on Tech4Learning

Not only did this allow each student to choose what they wanted to talk about, their completed eBook turned them into published authors, motivating them to continue reading and writing.

Effective ELL instruction can also utilize work you are already doing to build early literacy skills such as alphabetic principle, vocabulary, comprehension, and fluency. In this Kindergarten project, Marlene Robles set up a fill-in-the-blank style project based on sight words. Again, student work was combined into a class book that was published for others.

Find more videos like this on Tech4Learning

3. Speech Emergence Stage

At this stage students are able to produce and use simple sentences. You can encourage them to produce language by explaining their thinking using sentence starters. Graphic organizers also provide opportunities to demonstrate critical thinking through both visuals and simple sentences.

Venn diagram comparing two species of penguin

Encourage students to record the sentences they write or complete. At this stage they still make a lot of grammar errors and listening to their speech can help them better identify the errors. 

Find more videos like this on Tech4Learning

4. Intermediate Language Stage

In the intermediate stage, students have mastered basic interpersonal communication skills (BICS), making them sound like fluent speakers. Because they no longer make as many grammar mistakes, they have the confidence to ask more questions and even express their opinions. It is important at this stage to focus on building academic and domain specfic vocabulary.

While students have good language skills, they often don't feel confident about using language in all situations. Second-grade teacher, Katy Hammack found it helpful to have students create instructional videos to teacher others the new grammar skills they had mastered. 

While producing oral language and writing that are on public display can be intimidating, they provide opportunities for students to show off new language skills. Students can also use a headset mic and practice reading and speaking a passage over and over again until they are comfortable sharing their output.

Find more videos like this on Tech4Learning

5. Advanced Language Stage

At this stage, language learners have a nearly-native level of speaking. Focusing on complex ideas and critical thinking can help students continue building language expertise. Liz Allen share some great ideas, such as If/But Comparitives, to build literacy in her article "Build Thinking Skills with Informational Text Projects."

Rainforest and desert biome comparison in If,But style

You can also help students practice producing academic language through persuasive writing projects that tap into their passions. Public service announcements are great examples of writing and oral fluency that almost every student has seen.

Find more videos like this on Tech4Learning

No matter what level of language acquisition, Pixie and Wixie provide powerful opportunities to utilize visuals, practice oral fluency, and participate in meaningful language production. Find additional resources in our free English Language Acquisition Resource Kit!

ELA resource kit

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Create Rotation Tessellations in Wixie and Pixie


You can use Wixie’s paint tools to create a rotation tessellation.

Launch Pixie or log in to Wixie.

Start by drawing a filled square.

Paint a solid square

To do this, click the Paint button on the toolbar. Click the Shapes tool. Click the square/rectangle shape. Make sure the solid fill option is selected.

paint panel in Wixie

Choose a color from the color palette. 

Move the cursor over the page. Press and hold down the Shift key on the keyboard. Click and drag across the page to draw a square.

Click the Selection tool and the Lasso option on the Tools panel.

Selection tool options in Wixie
Click and drag the lasso to select a shape from the top of the square. You must start and end on the vertices.

Top area of painted square selected
Click the Rotate Right button on the Paint panel.

Rotate right button found on Paint panel when area is selected
Move the cursor over the middle of the selection. Click and drag it to the left side of the square. Line it up so the edges touch and there is no space between them. Click the page away from the shape.

Tessellated shape with one side complete
Click and drag the lasso to select a shape from the bottom of the square. Be sure to start and end on the vertices of the original square.

Click the Rotate Right button.

Rotate right button
Move the cursor over the middle of the selected area. Click and drag the selection to line it up on the right side of the square. Click on the page away from the shape.

Rotation tessellation completed shape
Use the Lasso selection tool to select this shape.

Click the Edit button on the toolbar and choose Duplicate.

Move this new copy to the side and use the Paint Bucket tool on the Paint panel to fill it with a different color.

Paint bucket tool on Paint panel

Click the Rotate Right button. 

You should now have two shapes of different colors and orientations, but you should be able to see how they are going to fit together.

Before you begin tessellating, select one of the shapes with the Lasso tool. Go to the Options menu and choose Convert to Sticker. Repeat to convert the other painted shape to a sticker as well.

Line up the two shapes so there are no gaps in between them.

Start to tessellation
Click one of the shapes. Click the Edit button on the toolbar and choose Duplicate to continue creating shapes for the tessellation.

It is easy to continue fitting shapes together along a horizontal axis, but once you create a new row of shapes, you will need to select shapes and use the Rotate buttons to get them to fit together for a tessellation!

Print your tessellation or export it as an image to share online.

Rotation Tessellation

You can also use the paint tools to add details to each shape to create picture tessellations, but you need to paint on the shapes BEFORE you convert them into stickers and begin tessellating.

Planning for projects at work or in the classroom


Tech4Learning is once again privileged to host a High Tech High intern in the month of January. On Thursday, I got to meet this year's intern, Nicholas Harding, to discuss and plan the work that he might do while at Tech4Learning.

I have an ideal position at Tech4Learning to lead an internship because I am involved in marketing, curriculum, training, and media devleopment. This makes it is easy for me to come up with a range of tasks students could complete as part of an internship. But which ones are interesting and allow them to create something that demonstrates how their skills and hard work can create something valuable?

Last year, our HTH intern Jacob Meyer designed beautiful backgrounds like this one that are now part of the media library in Tech4Learning tools!

Canyon River 01 15 13 resized 600

As Nicholas and I began talking about his interests, I could see that he loved writing... Not writing for marketing, but writing stories and interesting, imaginative stories.

As a company that provides creative tools for students, we have lots of potential tools for telling a story. While I love digital storytelling with Frames, I didn't think this was the format that would most interest him.

I have always loved Choose Your Own Adventure© style stories and suggested this as a potential format, showing him how you could design this type of story in Share using a basic template. 

It was fun to watch his mind start buzzing as he shared two archetypal characters he likes write from and how he might use this format to intersect their stories. When we began looking at what sort of deliverables he could write down for each week on his internship form, the scope of doing real project work hit me once again.

Many of the teams at Tech4Learning use an Agile system to help manage projects and time. This system comes out of software development, but we use it many different areas to manage projects done by our marketing, curriculum, and creative team.

Once of the things I like about our scheduler is that it forces us to take a look at the actual steps to success as well as estimate the time we think it will take to complete them. As we looked at trying to break up the process into component parts, the month-long intership started looking way to short! 

I was struck by how much planning for the internship reflects the process of planning for project work in the classroom.

The rest of the day my mind began buzzing with ideas. Not ideas for the project (ownership of that belongs to the intern), but things I could be thinking about to encourage other students and educators to tackle big projects like this in the classroom. I even discovered that I had arleady written a lesson on writing a Choose Your Own Path lesson plan!

First, as a company that produces blank-screen software, a final product like this helps clarify they type of things that can be done when students are given license to take time to create. This would have the potential to inspire teachers to support projects like this in the classroom and to set expectations for students about the type of work they can and should be producing.

But even more than thinking about the final product, I am excited to witness the process of creating something at this level and to see where watching and supporting Nicholas's process takes me, the mentor!

Questions that build expertise with the Common Core State Standards for Mathematical Practice


The Common Core State Standards for Mathematics begin with eight Standards for Mathematical Practice. These aren't content standards, but behaviors, expertise, and habits of mind necessary for successful work with math. Great math instruction pairs content standards with these standards of practice to ensure student success with math.

In preparing for an upcoming workshop on Implementing the Standards for Mathematical Practice, I was trying to find some specific practical actions to help educators successfully instill these habits of mind in their students. 

describe the imageWhile teacher modeling, task selection, and discussions are crucial to success in these areas, I found myself circling back to questioning strategies again and again. (Too much time with Bloom's?)

Here are examples of the types of questions you can ask to build student expertise in the area of focus for each Standard for Mathematical Practice.

1. Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.

• Before we move on, are we sure we understand this?
• What are our options?
• Do we have a plan?
• Are we making progress or should we reconsider?
• Why do we think this is true?

2. Reason abstractly and quantitatively.

• What if...?
• How else can we...?
• Does this always work? Why?

3. Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.

• Why do you think it's true?
• What is an acceptable argument?
• Does this always work?

4. Model with mathematics.

• How could we break this down?
• What does this remind you of?
• What do the numbers show?
• How are the values similar? Different?

5. Use appropriate tools strategically.

• What can we use to...?
• What else can we use to...?
• What would work the best?
• What can't we do with this?

6. Attend to precision.

• Should we recheck our work?
• Is it appropriate to estimate?
• Is this quality work?

7. Look for and make use of structure.

• What is happening here?
• What goes together?
• What can we do first?
• Can we break it down? How?

8. Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning.

• Can you describe what is happening?
• How is that the same? Different?
• How is that different?
• Where did we see that before?
• What do you think will happen next?


While student expertise with math still requires deep understanding of the math
content standards, building these behaviors and habits of mind help provide them
with the disposition to "see themselves as capable of learning mathematics and using
it to solve problems." (Adding It Up: Helping Children Learn Mathematics)

Asking questions might just be the best modeling you can do, since the ability to ask effective questions is essential to success with math. 

Using the Backgrounds in Pixie 4


One of the more subtle features in Pixie 4 is the addition of a Backgrounds folder to the Library. Unlike clip art stickers, which float above the paint layer, backgrounds exist behind the paint layer. In essence, that means you can paint over a background without destroying it!

To access the Backgrounds, select the Library button on the toolbar.

new Library folders in Pixie 4
You will see folders for habitats, locations, story scenes, writing, and more.

Find a background you want to use and drag it onto the page just like you would a sticker. The image will fill the entire background. Now you can easily use the paint tools to illustrate characters and events on the scene.

Student archeaologist at Pyramid of Cheops 

For example, have students design or illustrate themselves as narrators or tour guides at famous locations around the world or in different periods in history.

In the Classroom

Yes it may be quicker to add clip art, than use the Paint tools, but creating original illustrations with the paint tools makes project work unique to the creator. While the process of adding clip art to the page is quicker, sometime searching for unique or specific clip art images or photos eats up valuable time. Original illustrations and diagrams can also help you gain insight into students understanding and comprehension. 

The backgrounds in the media library are great for projects where students:

  • Paint plants and animals in a biome
  • Show a complete food chain in the context of a habitat
  • Draw themselves exploring sites around the world
  • Send themselves back in time
  • Trace the routes of explorers or animal migrations
  • Write and illustrate a story
Map of Lewis and Clark's Expedition

Create your own story starters

Staring at a blank page, whether it is a sheet of paper or screen on the computer, is not the easiest way to trigger imagination or get students writing. To spark ideas, add the background to different pages in a Pixie project and save it as a template.

For example, in this story starter, available from the Trading Post, there are 4 pages with a uper hero theme to help students begin writing their own story. 

superhero comic template 

All images are backgrounds so it is easy to add text and paint to each page. Use the storyboard view to duplicate and rearrange.

The Pixie 4 media library is added to on a regular basis (I added 4 more backgrounds today), so new additions will continue to inspire your students.

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Modifying Pixie for Young Users


Pixie is pretty easy to use. You can see that when a lab full of Kindergartners is buzzing as the latest feature discovery sweeps around the room. But with young learners whose brains and skills are still developing, you may want to try to make their experience even easier!.

Pixie 4You can make changes in the Pixie 4 preferences to change what students can see and do. You will find the preferences on Macs under the Pixie menu and on Windows under the Edit menu.



Adjust the number of recent projects

If you are concerned about students ability to navigate to open files, increase the number of recent documents that Pixie displays under the Project menu. That way, when students click Project and Open, they are likely to see their files.

Recent documents

Set the default panel to show the Paint tools

Most projects with young learners involve drawing and painting. By default, Pixie opens to the Option panel. At the General Preferences, use the Open to: pull-down to choose Painting.

open paint


Now when young users launch Pixie the Paint tools show immediately. Here is a sample from Aspen at age 2. She already found the 3D paintbrush. Now at age 3, she loves to explore the spray can shapes and add letters and numbers as well as butterflies and hearts. 


Aspen at 2


Remove Sharing options you aren't using

If students will not be collaborating on the same file, exporting to FTP, or publishing their work to K12Share, turn these options off in the Features Preferences. This will remove these buttons from the Project menu and Export panel!

Pixie 4 Features Preferences

Choose what shows in the Library panel

In Project View, you can also hide things you might not use too often. For example, in the New panel, you may want to hide Specialty (sizes) and even Pics4Learning to simplify choices.


Project view with hidden options


In the Open panel, you might also choose to hide options like Desktop. If you have already set the Recent Documents high enough, students may have to scroll to see these anyway and you may not feel you need to hide them. Students with more experience, can always click Show to see more option. 


Create your own activities

Pixie comes with hundreds of pre-designed curriculum templates, and easy to create your own. You can create activities with locked objects, default text boxes, and even custom sticker captions. You can also use Save as Activity to simply include instructions students can listen to (Options menu, Edit Instructions) or open a blank document with a specific Stickers folder already open (Project>Current>Default Library Category).




Once you have created the activity, go to the File menu and choose Save as Activity. Since activities automatically Save As, simply put it on the Desktop or in a common folder for students to open and use. If the save using their name as part of the file name, it will be easy to find in recent documents if they need to work on it later!

And don't forget to join the Trading Post! The Trading Post is Tech4Learning's file swapping site that included hundreds of educator-created Pixie templates.


Customize even more!

These subtle changes to Pixie will make it even easier for your youngest users. Here are more instructions if you want to customize even more.


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