Make the World more Accessible with Project Sidewalk

I recently learned about Project Sidewalk from a SciStarter email newsletter. Lately, I have been heavily immersed in biodiversity and conservation citizen science projects; it was exciting to find a different type of project that is both relevant and impactful!

Project Sidewalk is a contributory citizen science project where participants look at segments Google Street View and label issues with accessibility. This includes marking missing curb ramps (and identifying existing curb ramps), identifying obstacles on the sidewalk, labeling surface problems with the sidewalk, and noting where sidewalks are missing. Additionally, you can validate other users’ labels.

Not only do the results help city planners make the cities more accessible, but also the results help train machine learning to identify accessibility issues.

Screenshot of the Project Sidewalk interface.

It’s super easy to get started:

1. Go to the Project Sidewalk website and create an account.

2. Select which city you’d like to contribute to (currently available: Amsterdam, NL; Columbus, OH; La Piedad, MX; Mexico City, MX; Newberg, OR; Oradell, NJ; Pittsburgh, PA; San Pedro Garza García, MX).

3. Go through the tutorial to learn the mechanics. The tutorial walks you through everything. If you need to see more or reference later, check out the labeling guide, created by the Amsterdam city government.

4. Start contributing!

This work is important work. I am looking forward to continuing to contribute to this project and to share it with my students in the future. Currently, I am working on a 5E lesson plan which includes Project Sidewalk. It’ll be posted to my Fulbright Project website once it is finished.

Will you join me in improving accessibility in 1 mile of a neighborhood in Amsterdam?


Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching April Update

I’ve been in the Netherlands for 3 months now! I am very grateful for this opportunity and all the learning I have gotten to do. Here is my April update! (Here are my past updates: February update & March update).

Fulbright Inquiry Project

I have made progress on my Fulbright inquiry project! My goal for April was to figure out the direction my project will take, then start outlining my final project. I decided to create resources for teachers to help them get started with citizen science (personally, in their classroom, or both). Additionally, I plan to make three 5E lessons which use citizen science in some way. For the week of May 8-15, my work will be posted on our internal Fulbright Work in Progress gallery and will be open to feedback from my Fulbright DAT peers. I duplicated the post into a Google Doc–please take a look and leave any feedback you have. There are a few guiding questions at the bottom.

Adventures & Learning Opportunities

April brought even more school visits. The most notable were my two visits to schools with Technasiums. Technasiums are a program offered at many schools throughout the Netherlands. It is a STEM course where students work in teams to solve real-world problems. It is like problem-based learning meets MakerSpace. For example, one class I visited was creating visitor gifts for a local business. On the day I visited, the teams virtually met with representatives at the company and presented their prototypes; they received feedback on their design. Their next steps were to create a final design. This project will take approximately 8 weeks, which is typical for a Technasium project.

Workspace at a Technasium

I have been continuing my work on the “Introduction to Citizen Science & Scientific Crowdsourcing” offered by the University College London. I am almost to the end of the course and I have learned a lot in the process. I appreciate that it has taken me on a deep dive on what goes into citizen science projects, including ethical considerations and data management. While I do not plan to create my own citizen science project, I do plan to regularly contribute to existing projects on my own and with my students.

Science Perceptions Survey

I am still gathering some preliminary thoughts on science and scientists through this anonymous Science Perceptions Survey. I am hoping to gather data from a wide range of individuals. If you are comfortable, please share it with others, including family members, personal children, and students.

More Frequent Updates

I post more frequently on Instagram (@MsVenturino) as I adventure new places and learn new things. My research journal gets updated a couple times a week too; I created this to share with colleagues and family off social media and it has worked out really well. I am grateful for all the comments people have left to ask questions or just say hi.


Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching March Update

I’ve been in the Netherlands for nearly 2 months now! My goal is to blog at least monthly to give an update on what I am doing and learning (February update).

Adventures & Learning Opportunities

March was dedicated to reaching out to schools and museums to organize visits and meetings. I successfully scheduled some school and museum visits, as well as meetings with the education department at two science museums. My school visits were quite interesting. I visited two MBOs (vocational school, community college level) and a primary school, and also met with a secondary school teacher. It was great to see a variety of settings and speak with teachers. Even though my work is not around vocational education, I was very impressed with the MBOs and how they are structured. It seems like there is a good sense of community among the teachers and students; from initial observations, it seems like students would have a harder time getting lost in the shuffle, versus the community colleges I am familiar with in California. At the primary school, I saw a grades 1-2 class, which translates to Pre-k/K. Of course, the cuteness factor was the best part!

In March, I was able to visit more museums, including several art museums, the beach, and a couple windmills. I even took a weekend trip to Germany. Unfortunately, I was also out of adventure commission for a little over a week when covid finally got me. Thankfully during that time, I was well stocked with groceries, tea, online tasks, and books! With our warm and dry weather (50s and 60s, almost no rain) in March, I have gone out on many bike rides to local parks and to two windmills. It has been lovely to enjoy the sun and get a break from the rain and gloom.

Lonneker Mollen in Enschede

I also started taking a free masters-level online course called “Introduction to Citizen Science & Scientific Crowdsourcing” offered by the University College London. It is an introduction to citizen science as an academic discipline and way to involve the community in science, and goes into much more detail on creating and managing citizen science projects. It has been very informative so far.

Naturalis Biodiversity Center

One of the highlights of this month was visiting Naturalis Biodiversity Center in Leiden! It was unlike any other science or natural history museum I have ever visited. Rather than large open museum floors, I was guided along a path to see the history of life on Earth. I started deep under the ocean with a giant squid and made my way through water, land, air, the history of Earth’s structure, dinosaurs, the ice age, seduction, and death. I loved that I did not have to expend mental energy figuring out where to go next, so I relaxed into the journey. The ground floor of the museum also has a section called Live Science which is open to the public for free! In this area, there are scientists who are working on projects and are available to answer questions and share their work. This section also houses the Dino Lab, where scientists are cleaning and studying a triceratops skeleton. I loved speaking with one of the scientists and asking them lots of questions about their work, especially the interaction between their scientific work and the public. Naturalis also has many online resources; I’m planning to dig in more in April. (Check out my Instagram story highlights for the full adventure)

Complete T-Rex skeleton at Naturalis!

Science Perceptions Survey

I am still gathering some preliminary thoughts on science and scientists through this anonymous Science Perceptions Survey. I am hoping to gather data from a wide range of individuals. If you are comfortable, please share it with others, including family members, personal children, and students.

See More Frequent Updates

I post more frequently on Instagram (@MsVenturino) as I adventure new places and learn new things. My research journal gets updated a couple times a week too; I created this to share with colleagues and family off social media and it has worked out really well. I am grateful for all the comments people have left to ask questions or just say hi.

Fulbright DAT

Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching February Update

In August 2020, I was awarded a Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching. I was supposed to travel to the Netherlands from January to June, 2021. However, due to covid, our Fulbright experiences were pushed back a year. After lots of covid worries, changes in plan, and shuffling, I finally arrived in the Netherlands on February 7, 2022!

I spent most of February settling into my new home in Enschede, in the east of the Netherlands. There have been many logistics, including getting my residency permit (visa), bank account, BSN number (Dutch version of social security number), uploading my covid vaccinations into the Dutch system, and picking up my bike. I used this time to get familiar with Enschede, the University of Twente, and a couple trips to explore other cities. I visited Utrecht for a Fulbright dinner and visited Amsterdam to explore a bunch of museums.

The working title of my project is: “Using Technology to Build Bridges in Science Education Between School and the Community.” My goal is to examine how to better engage students in real-world science learning and data collection through citizen science projects and other community-based endeavors. I will observe at schools across the Netherlands, meet with science teachers, visit museums and science centers, and learn more about citizen science. Of course, covid adds complications, as teachers are extra Tired and it is more difficult to be a visitor in schools. No matter what, I will make the best of this experience and learn all I can.

Giant stroopwafel in Enschede!

Furthermore, as part of my project, I am also gathering some preliminary thoughts on science and scientists through this anonymous Science Perceptions Survey. I am hoping to gather data from a wide range of individuals. If you are comfortable, please share it with others, including family members, personal children, and students.

I will try to regularly post about my travels and learning opportunities on Instagram (@MsVenturino). Additionally, I created these Slides as a sort of research journal and scrapbook, and as a way to share with work colleagues and family outside of social media. I will blog monthly about what I am learning.

Classroom Strategies, Technology

Daily Check-ins with Microsoft Forms

It is well-documented that I am a huge Google Forms fan and user! I have published numerous blog posts on how I use Google Forms in my classroom. Recently, I was asked to present an social-emotional learning (SEL) session–using only Microsoft tools. Therefore, I had to re-create my daily check-in Google Form using Microsoft Forms.

I will admit, I am overcoming an irrational and unfair bias of Microsoft tools. I get frustrated that it does not feel as easily collaborative as the Google tools. But, as I have used some of the tools, I have been pleasantly surprised with a few tools, especially Microsoft Teams. There, it’s in writing: I love using Teams for communication! In all honesty, I am determined to keep an open mind when it comes to creating with Microsoft tools. So far, so good!

Let’s try it!! Before you continue, fill out the Form here!

For those of you new in the Microsoft world, you will be happy to know that Microsoft Forms is very similar to Google Forms. I was pleasantly surprised and relieved that the workflow felt very similar.

Why do I use a daily check-in Form?

A daily check-in Form is an essential component of my classroom. It provides a much-needed routine for both my students and myself. This has been a routine that carried over to online learning–the first five minutes of class are dedicated to our warm-up. While my students are completing their warm-up, I am taking attendance and making sure everything is ready for class. The responses double as a way to verify attendance, in case I make an attendance mistake and need to correct it later.

Additionally, I am able to provide students with an opportunity to let me know how they are doing. The SEL questions are essential for addressing students’ needs. My students share all kinds of things in the “anything else I need to know” question. Responses range from silly things to academic questions to more serious life events; in most cases, I address these individually and privately with the student.

SEL Check-in Questions on our Daily Warm-up

What do the daily logistics look like?

I use the same Form every single day. In the response spreadsheet, I hide the previous day’s rows (click on the first row, shift + click on the last row you want to hide, right click, hide rows) so I can easily access the current responses.

Lately, we have been using our first two questions as content-related questions and our third question as some sort of silly question. We’re a huge fan of “would you rather” or “what is your favorite” questions. For example, “would you rather eat pancakes or waffles?” It is a fun way to carry the getting to know you activities throughout the school year.

Ready to try it? Here is a Template!

(Using Google tools? Here is the Google Form post & template!)

I am excited to hear how you use the daily check-in with your learners!

Classroom Strategies, Technology

Promoting Student Response Sharing in Pear Deck

I absolutely love Pear Deck! I have been using it in my classroom for years, and consistently find it as an excellent way to make students’ learning ap-pear-ent.

One awesome thing during distance teaching has been working with student teachers. I know that supporting student teachers while also teaching 100% online comes with a whole set of challenges (the topic of a future blog post), but it has been a great experience for all of us.

My amazing student teacher, Ms. Cortez, and I noticed many of our 8th grade students were hesitant to share or participate out loud and in the chat, but actively participated in the Pear Deck questions. We wanted to figure out a way for students to volunteer to share their work, without adding additional stress or complications. We created a system where kids would draw a green 🙂 or a red 😦 on the top right corner of their Pear Deck response based on their willingness to have their answer shared with the class (see image below).

Example Pear Deck slide with student sharing 🙂 or 😦 option

Students took to this system quickly! When we use Pear Deck in class, we review the responses in the teacher dashboard (we are lucky to have the premium version at school), then star the responses with a smiley face to only show those responses. Students have the option to unmute to share their response, elaborate or claim the response in chat, or allow us to anonymously review their response with the class.

Starred responses on the Pear Deck teacher dashboard

We only do this for some responses, mostly drawing questions. For text questions, we do this same system by asking students to start their response with a green or red emoji. Other times, we do not give students an option and show all of the responses.

Here is a template (or see this example on Slides and Pear Deck) to help you get started! We hope it helps encourage your students to share their work with the class.

What are some ways you get your students to actively participate on Pear Deck?


Social-Emotional Learning Strategies for Your Classroom

This post was originally written for and published on KidsDiscover on March 2, 2021!

Without a doubt, the past year has been taxing on all of us. Prior to the pandemic, I noticed that my students social-emotional learning (SEL) needs were much greater than they had been in the past. Once we all shifted to 100% online learning, I noticed that while some students thrived in the online-only setting, others needed much more support, access to resources and love. As a classroom teacher, I know the available resources in my school, district, and community to support students and families. This post will focus on strategies I use in my classroom to support students’ SEL. No matter your current learning context (100% online, hybrid/blended, 100% in person), these strategies will support your students! 

Daily Check-in

One of my go-to beginning of class routines has been a daily check-in. I use Google Forms to do an SEL and academic check-in for my students each day. During in-person and 100% online learning, I use a daily check-in at the beginning of the period. When we were in emergency remote instruction (fully asynchronous), I used a weekly check-in. Both of these allow students to communicate their needs; when needed, I will have a private conversation with the student to offer support or encouragement. 

Take a Deep Breath

Teaching is hard. Being a kid is hard. Sometimes, we need to pause to take a deep breath. Towards the beginning or at the halfway point in class, we will take a short break to take a deep breath. 

Did you know that if you Google “breathing exercise,” a 1 minute breathing video will pop up at the top of the Google search page? This has been an amazing resource for all of us lately! 

Here are a few of my other favorite short breathing/mindfulness exercises:

Incorporating SEL Into Class

Lastly, I have been integrating SEL into class every day. Sometimes it is at the beginning, sometimes it is in the middle, and sometimes it is at the end. If you’re already feeling overwhelmed, do not worry! “Integrating SEL” does not need to be one more thing to plan! It can be as simple as pulling up the 1 minute Google breathing exercise I mentioned earlier, or it can be a more formal curriculum. My student teachers and I have curated a selection of our favorite (and quick!) SEL activities in these SEL Slides. Add one to your lesson as a way to pause, check in with yourself, and take a moment to reset. 

How do you incorporate SEL into your classroom? 

Classroom Strategies

3-2-1 Waterfall!

We all have our go-to classroom strategies. During in-person learning, I had structures and routines in place for students to Think-Pair-Share: students would think, then turn and talk to their partner, and finally either volunteer or be voluntold (random name picker or popsicle sticks) to share their or their partner’s answer. Sometimes this would be pre-planned and other times it was spur-of-the-moment when I realized students had been sitting and listening to me for too long.

When the world stopped and we moved to online learning, it took me a while to find ways to engage students in sharing their ideas during our class video chats. Many of my students felt too shy (or had louder learning settings) to unmute and share out loud. Even now, a year later, most are not willing or not comfortable to unmute to speak. But, all of them are able to participate in the chat! Cue the waterfall!

I learned about the Waterfall strategy in a mandatory district professional development just before the start of the school year. I have heard others refer to this strategy as “flood the chat” too. Regardless of what you call it, it is easy to teach students (or adults!), simple to setup, and does not take a lot of time.

How it Works

The waterfall setup is simple:

  1. Ask a question
  2. Students answer in the chat, but do not click send
  3. Teacher calls out “3-2-1 Waterfall!”
  4. Students all press send together for a cascade of answers!
Student directions for the Waterfall

After all the answers come in, I review key points or common patterns with students.

When to Use It

I have used the waterfall as a beginning of class question, as a check for understanding, and as an exit ticket. Sometimes it is a silly or simple question, like “what is your favorite animal?” and other times it is more academic-focused, such as “give an example of ways humans have positively or negatively impacted the environment.”

Example SEL Waterfall question

Since my district does not pay for Google Enterprise, we do not have breakout rooms in Meet. This has been one way we have efficiently gotten students participating in class!

Why a Waterfall?

This strategy is quick, informative, and encourages participation. I love that it allows all students to participate. For some questions we ask online, the first few students are willing to respond, then a few others trickle in once they see their peers’ responses. With the waterfall, students are able to feel the anonymity of answering in the large group and may not feel like they stick out, whether they don’t know the answer or are simply hesitant to be the center of attention.

Student Directions

Use these Slides (template) to structure a waterfall for your students! I place a waterfall clipart in the top right corner to remind myself and my students of the question type and procedures.

What are some ways you will use the Waterfall in your online classroom?

Classroom Strategies, Goals

Setting Goals for the New Year

This post was originally written for and published on KidsDiscover on January 7, 2021!

Celebrating the new year, whether it is in January, the start of the school year, or turning one year older, it is so much fun to set goals. It is important to model how to be a reflective human, set goals, and encourage ourselves to be our best selves! 

Here are three ideas to help students set goals for the new year! All three can be used as either digital or analog activities, and are perfect for virtual, blended, and in-person classes. 

Future Me

Have students write a letter to themselves using FutureMe! Students do not need an account and it is free. I have had my students write themselves letters to be delivered at the end of the school year, at the start of the next school year, or even at the start of their senior year of high school. 

If students do not have a school email address, have them use your teacher email, then give the student their letter once it arrives to you. 

For analog options, have students write themselves a letter, collect them, then return them to students on a specific date. If you have funding available to purchase stamps and have access to students’ current addresses, mail the letters to your students (remember to alert them ahead of time that you will mail this and/or give them the option to opt out–they may want to be more selective of what they write if they think an adult will open it before them).


Have you seen people share their #OneWord on social media? Try this same idea with your students. It’s simple: everyone picks a word that will represent their goals, hopes, and aspirations for the year to come. Many people prefer to use this in lieu of a New Year’s resolution. Use this template with your students as either a digital or analog (print it out for each student–I printed 2 per page to save some paper and cut down on wall space used when hanging them up) activity. 

If you’re doing it as a digital activity, have students post their final product on Padlet! For the analog option, it is awesome to hang these up on the wall, in the hallway, or in the windows as a reminder for each student. When I have done this as an analog activity, I pass them back at the end of the school year; it sparks awesome conversations with my students about how their OneWord has represented their year so far. 

Where I’ve Been, Where I Am, & Where I’m Going Reflection

Finally, try out this more in-depth reflection activity: Where I’ve Been, Where I Am, and Where I’m Going. I first participated in this type of reflection in college during Resident Advisor training; we used it during a week-long workshop on diversity and inclusion as a way to process what we had learned and what we would learn for the upcoming day. I have repurposed it as my own yearly reflection! 

Use this template to have students fill in their own reflection. It pairs well with soothing background sounds (like these ocean waves!) and some deep breaths. 

Happy New Year! No matter your teaching situation as you start 2021, remember that you matter to your students! 

Classroom Strategies

Improving Quality of Peer Feedback with TAG Feedback

I previously blogged about using Google Forms for peer feedback, and briefly mentioned TAG Feedback. I am excited to share an entire post dedicated to my favorite peer feedback strategy.

Early on in my teaching career, I had my students do a project that included a peer feedback component. After getting students into pairs, I instructed them to give each other feedback on the assignment, then sent them outside to spread out to work. Are you surprised to hear it didn’t work? Students were confused or left comments like “good job,” “I like it”, and “bruh” (no joke!). I very quickly realized I needed to provide some structure to the feedback process.

Thanks to Google, I found several examples of TAG feedback. I am not sure where this idea originated (if anyone knows, let me know and I’ll link the creator!); it has been one of my frequently used tools in my classroom. Whenever I need my students to provide each other feedback, I pull up the TAG Feedback (bit.ly/TAGfeedback for easy access during class!) slide.

And, a huge shoutout to my friends Hildur (Icelandic), Dominique (Spanish), Aubrey & her grandma (Chinese), friends of Hildur (Russian), and Hildur & family/friends (German) for creating the translations!!

TAG Feedback process

First, students tell their peers what they liked about the work. This is usually the easiest part of the feedback cycle.

Then, students ask a thoughtful question. This takes a bit of modeling, especially for my 7th graders.

Last, students give a positive suggestion to improve the work. Often during feedback, my students write that there is nothing that needs to be changed. The TAG Feedback sentence frames help to guide students for how they can provide constructive suggestions.

TAG Feedback ideas

Try TAG Feedback in the following ways:

  • Comments in a Google Doc or Google Slides presentation
  • Oral feedback in pairs or small groups
  • Class/peer feedback using Google Forms
  • Gallery walk with mini sticky notes or pieces of paper
  • Virtual gallery walk on Padlet (enable comments on posts)

Not only have I found TAG Feedback useful for my students, but also I use it myself when I am providing feedback to my peers. I use the sentence frames to help me leave better feedback!

Do you speak a language not represented in the TAG Feedback slides? Email Mari to contribute.