Friday, July 7, 2017

Up Up and Away: Super Students Write Superhero Stories

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, wait...It's a Kindergartener!

This year I decided to be adventurous and try something I never attempted before. No risk no reward, right? It began with a simple assignment I left for my sub one day. I found on Teachers Pay Teachers a superhero design sheet. It allowed students to design their own superhero. Students had to come up with a name, characteristics, and superpowers for him/her. The goal was to keep students occupied during my absence.  I also wanted it to be a fun and creative writing project for my students. They got so invested in it and loved designing their own superhero that I decided to make this a bigger project. This would be a great opportunity for students to use their writing skills to spread kindness and thank our kindergarten buddy class. During PARCC testing each 3-5th-grade class is paired with a K-2 grade class as their buddy. The younger students do not test. Instead, they deliver little gifts and words of encouragement to the older students during PARCC testing. It's fun and sweet and the older kids love seeing the little ones. It brings a smile to their faces during the long PARCC week. I thought it might be nice for us to say thank you to the kindergarteners who gave us kind words and support.

Thus, began Top Secret Plan: Superhero Story. After emailing the teacher and getting her class list, I informed my authors of their brave task. The task was to create a superhero story that had a kindergartener as the main character. To be honest, I thought a few of my students would reject this challenge at the end of the year. Yet, no one complained. They knew it was a gift. A student was depending on them and they did not want to let anyone down. This took about three weeks total. The students filled out a plot page (which I created) on Google Docs with the very basic parts of their story. They had to go through their draft with me before advancing on to Google Slides. This was to ensure that grammar, spelling, and sequence were appropriate. Each Google slide became a page in their story.  It was cute to see how they incorporated the kindergartener and the stories they created. The students had creative freedom so their stories were so different. I loved how some students used the different point of views. While others used real world problems like pollution. Students were to write at least ten pages. This was to make sure no books were too short. Students got to design the cover, add appropriate online images, or draw their own after completing their story. I emphasized that they needed all the words typed before designing. I had students peer review each other's stories before they came again to meet with me for the final edit. Once completed, the stories were printed in color and bound like a book. Students then gave the book to their kindergartener.

Each student was given the opportunity to present their book to our class. Many were so proud of their creations. What was even better is when we surprised the kindergarteners. They had no idea we were coming (besides the teacher of course) and welcomed us with open arms. My students got the chance to share their stories with the students that characters were based on. There was so much joy in every students' eyes. There were some little ones who were screaming for joy when they heard their name in a book. My students could not stop talking about this experience. When they left the classroom, each child sharing how their kindergartener reacted. They got to pay it forward and in their own way share kindness. They were able to make someone's day. That is priceless. 

What did we learn? Students worked on plot, narrative writing, editing, revising, presenting, and using digital tools. An important life lesson learned was kindness. It was about doing something for someone when they have not asked anything of you. Saying Thank you to those around you and finding joy in surprising others. I have always enjoyed surprising others. Whether by creating homemade gifts or something giving them something they enjoy. One story I share often with my students is the story about how I feel when I see my grandmother open a Christmas gift. A gift I have worked days to complete. From spending several days drawing my grandmother or the family tree I painted for my mom. It's always been something I find joy in and I got to share that with my students this year. They got to have that feeling surge through them and bring joy to others. 

I learned something too. I learned that it is okay to jump on an idea and see where it takes you. This could have tanked and I will admit the timing was not the best (weeks away from the end of the school year), but we did it! The end result was worth all those hours spent working on the project in class. The time dedicated to it in my class was well worth it.  I hope that I can continue this type of activity with future classes. Also, I learned that tech tools can do such much more than we thought. I had never before used Google Slides other than to create presentations. Using it to make a picture book was a great idea. It allowed my students to have so much creative control over their work. It also allowed for so much peer teaching in the process.

Have you ever taken a risk on a project? How did it go?

How can we encourage more teachers to take risks?

What kindness projects do you do or would like to do?

Share your thoughts with me on Twitter @teaching_power or on Facebook

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

WITcon17: EdTech Overload

WITcon17 was an Amazing Experience!

I had the privilege of attending and presenting at the Whatever It Takes conference (WitCon) for the second year in a row. This is an awesome teaching conference that emphasizes technology in the classroom. This time my presentation focused on something I love to discuss, engaging students! I had the opportunity, along with some of my fellow teachers, to talk about the different ways we spice up our lessons to engage our students. We went through each subject and shared our ideas and lessons we are passionate about. We encourage others to do the same. We spend so much time in our classrooms that we often need the summer to re-energize and fill ourselves with new ideas. Our goals were to give and encourage new ideas in the classroom.

Beyond our session, there were so many other sessions that made an impact on me. I had the privilege to attend sessions focused on student choice, creating democratic students, Ditching Homework (this one was led by the amazing Matt Miller himself) and much more.

Student Choice is something I try to incorporate into my classroom as much as possible, but it was great to get ideas from another amazing teacher @Oto_4thGrade.
I enjoyed what I heard I wanted to try out Flexible Seating in my classroom. I created a Donors Choose to help with getting materials. I'm hopeful and excited to create a new environment that allows students the flexibility that they really need.

I also had the opportunity to listen to the 2017 Illinois Teacher of the Year and his philosophy of teaching students to be a part of a democratic society. He does an amazing job of connecting the school with the community. I realize that is something that makes a huge difference, especially in tough neighborhoods. I took a lot of notes and am trying to find ways to bridge the gap between the community and school in my building.

Lastly, I got to participate in several sessions ran by Matt Miller the author of Ditch That Textbook.
These sessions not only opened my eyes to other tech resources for the classroom but reassured me of the crazy things I'm already doing in my classroom. I do agree with Matt in that we need to change how the classroom is run and find more ways for our students to be ready for our ever-growing technological world. There are so many ways to integrate technology and put learning in the hands of students. It is scary to think that we might not be the holders of knowledge anymore especially with the use of Google. People can access information at a moment's notice. However, we are the guides for students and need to grow with them, learn with them, and help them use technology the right way.

Matt Miller signed my book!

There are so many different sites and apps I have come across thanks to Matt Miller, Witcon17, and #notatISTE. I'm hoping to be able to utilize some of these in the coming school year. I use to feel like there was not much in the way of free teaching resources online, but now there are more and more being created every day. It takes the time to sort through them all but I realize that there are more than enough for every teacher, their classroom, and their teaching style. You can't use them all, even though I feel like I try to every year. It just isn't possible! The key is to find what works for you and use it. Any technology is better than none, the key is to never get complacent. Instead, build on what you have and improve on what you do not.  Be adventurous, take risks and I promise you even if you don't know how to use it right away your students will help you along the way. This year alone I'm going to look into using some of these amazing sites and resources:

My notes from Ditch That Textbook Session

Now I will say I'm not an expert on these but I hope to be soon. These seem to be easy implementations to my classroom and what I am already using technology wise. I am super excited to be using more video technology in my room. I want to help students tell their story and share other peoples' stories. I have been fearful for a while of using video in the classroom because I didn't know how, but I can't let my fear get in the way of my students' development. In the words of an amazing teacher @MsMagiera students need a way to tell their story.  Just like I took a risk to tell mine with this blog, my students need a way to share theirs. Now I know that there will have to be a lot of pre-teaching and a lot of digital citizenship that will have to be discussed, yet if we don't do that who will? Like I stated earlier, we have to be their guide on their quest through the internet jungle. We can't be afraid of the innovation and the future. We have to embrace it and help them through it the best we can because these students have only lived in a digital age. We might even let them be the teachers and help us along the way. All of these amazing technology conferences have taught me that we have to take the leap. We don't have to reinvent the lessons, but we have to change it up. Embrace the technology that students embrace.

What are you excited to try this coming school year?
Is there any EdTech that you love or are an expert in?
How can you share your passion for EdTech with others?

Share your thoughts with me on Twitter @teaching_power or Facebook.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Our Morning Meeting: Community Matters

Creating a classroom community is important to getting the school year off on the right foot and making the school year more joyous. I feel there are so many ways to instill that classroom community within your classroom. Many teachers, especially in the the primary grades, use their calendar or carpet time as a great way for students to share and learn from one another. Students need to make those connections and have their chance to share their stories so they know that they matter. It also allows students to realize all the things they have in common with each other. Recognizing and seeing similarities can help create a family atmosphere in the classroom cutting down on so many behavior issues. I have had the opportunity to teach primary and upper elementary and students regardless of age just crave the time to communicate, share, and have fun with one another.

When I started teaching 5th grade three years ago I wanted to find a way for my students to create bonds and for me to learn more about them. I knew that the calendar time that I did with my 3rd graders would not be the right choice for fifth graders.  So I did a lot of research. I picked up the Morning Meeting Book by Roxann Kriete and Carol Davis. I also talked to a fellow teacher who did Morning Meeting in her classroom to get ideas. I ended up with a hybrid that worked for me and allowed me the chance to build a community while balancing curriculum time that always seems to be cut down. I wanted to try and keep as much teaching time as possible because my students truly needed it, but I recognized the need to build a caring and respectful community. So I decided every morning for the first quarter we were going to have a Morning Meeting.

Within the first week of school I started teaching my students about Morning Meeting expectations as well as the schedule of things so that I could have student leaders. I realized very quickly that the Morning Meeting Book had some great ideas, but I knew that some of them were not going to work for me. I wanted my Morning Meeting to last between 15-30mins tops. I also wanted it to be more open and fluid for the students to have the opportunity to share at will. I went with a schedule that worked for me:

  • Good Morning Greeting
  • Teacher's News of the Day
  • Student Check-In & Share
  • Activity or Game
I really chose to focus on the students having the ability to share their life with others and the chance for students to bond over games or stories. I think student voice and movement in general is a great way to start the day. It gives students the time they need to settle in and get ready for the day.

Now before I get into my morning meeting schedule I want to preface this by talking about rules. Every year when I'm introducing Morning Meeting to my students I talk about what it is, why we do it and the schedule of things we do. Following that discussion we create a list of rules. Students share what rules they think will be important to follow during Morning Meeting and I write them on a big piece of chart paper. Everyday, for the first few weeks we start our meeting by reviewing the rules. During the meeting time I give reminders or talk to the students about what rules we need to work on and we work towards that goal. It's important that the students have a voice in the rules so they take them to heart and monitor themselves as well as one another.

A fellow teacher's Rules and Expectations 

My Morning Greeting changed daily but revolved around the students learning each others names, greeting one another in different ways, and working on acknowledging one another. I had simple things such as shaking hands and saying good morning to people by name. Yet, I also have them high five as many people as they can in 30 secs saying good morning. I try to switch it up as much as possible to keep my students on their toes. I also want them to recognize each other and realize that we are family here. My favorite greeting is when the students pick a name from a hat and say good morning to that person, but also compliment them on something they have notice they have done in class. Students acknowledging other students allows them to build a bond between each other that that means more than any that come from me. It also helps the students see the good in others and feel personally recognized.

Teacher's News of the Day is just a chance for me to share with my students all the different things that are going on that day or later that week. I let my students know all of the school events, share any national holidays, or even promote any new books being placed in my classroom library. I try to use this as a quick time to share with my students and get them excited about anything going on in our classroom or in the school. You could use this time differently such as focusing on a classroom standard, review a skill, or sharing a challenge of the day.

Student Check In & Share is of course the favorite time of the students. During this time the students check in with me about how they are feeling that day. They rate themselves on a scale from 1 to 5, 5 being super excited and happy, while 1 is seen as having a rough day. This is a tremendous opportunity for the students to reflect on their feelings and for me to gauge how my students a coming into the school day. When I say "Check In" the students hold up their rating using their fingers. I take this moment to scan the room seeing everyone's rating before asking if anyone wants to share their reason why they are feeling that way. This is the moment that students love. They get to explain that they went to Fun City last weekend and had a great time swimming or that their birthday is coming up. You also have students who share that they had a hard time sleeping because their baby sister cried all night . In these conversations students laugh together, ask questions, and share common experiences making them feel connected. I  often  tell the students I am only going to call on 5 people to share, but then I call on different students the following day. It saves time and provides some restrictions. I spend time at the beginning really coaching my students on proper ways to share and proper ways to respond. We want everyone to feel included and that if they do share they won't be disrespected. In adolescence students number one fear is not fitting in or just being made fun of so sharing can be hard, but with the right coaching and rules students will surprise you.

One thing that the Morning Meeting Book really helped with was all the different games. I had a bunch from my time as a camp counselor, but this book has so many other ideas that I just loved using with my students. Games seem to some teachers to be a waste of time, but truth be told that is where students engage the most, especially when it comes to building on teamwork and communication skills. Now at times I subbed my games for more educational ones or stem activities that still brought students together. Regardless of what you choose the key is to sell it. You have to make it fun and don't be afraid to play along with them. Students regardless of age will look to you and will have so much fun if your playing along with them.
If you are looking for activity ideas, games, or projects there are so many free ideas online. Check out  Pinterest and Teachers Pay Teachers for some ideas.

Students Working on the Perfect Student Activity
Students Final Stem Project
What I have realized is there is no one way to do a Morning Meeting. That as long as your giving students a chance to form a community by interacting with each other  you are doing it right!

What are your thoughts on Morning Meeting? Do you do one in your classroom? How do you run yours? What are your favorite activities?

Share your thoughts on Twitter @teaching_power or on Facebook!

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Tech Tools: ReadWorks

Have you used Readworks? If you haven't you really need to check it out!

In today's tech suggestion I'm going to be discussing Readworks and why it is such an amazing free digital tool for teachers.

Last year, I was told by another teacher to check out the site Readworks. I instantly fell in love! This site allows teachers to find texts to use in class based on subject matter, grade level, lexile level, type of text, or even skill. I started using this as a way to choose text and easily differentiate based on my students needs. It has a variety of both fiction and nonfiction passages that are of high interest to students.

This past year I have been using the Readworks Digital option in class. It has been a game changer. In my school we are one to one chromebook devices which makes this digital option an amazing tool. I can create a digital class on Readworks and select a text and questions for my students to answer. I love that it allows me to post it to Google Classroom so students can immediately click the link and log in for their assignment. It also is easy to differentiate the readings based on the students reading level. In some cases you can assign the same reading at different levels. The best part is it automatically grades the multiple choice questions for you. As a teacher, all I need to do is go in and hand grade the short responses. I use this tool when I have substitute or when I'm pulling groups. Students might read the text with me and then do the questions at a separate rotation or even on a different day. I have also given harder texts to challenge my higher level readers. They read and take notes independently. Then when they come to small group we reread and discuss before they begin the questions. Readworks Digital allows students to highlight the text and make notes as they go. I actually taught my class as a whole group how to use these tools using a 3rd grade text. They are so easy for the students to use and allows them to continue to use the note taking skills I teach them even on the chromebook. They love to mark up the text using different colors and even reference them in their answers to questions saying things like "this is shown in the text as I highlighted in yellow." I love it because it makes looking back in the passage fun because they get to use the highlight tool and to some of them just enjoy using technology in different ways.

Making an account is so easy and most importantly it is free. Once you have an account you can save articles, stories, or passages so you can use them later on in the year or even the following year. They have other resources that you can use such as Article of the Day that focuses on reading fluency and note taking skills. They also have lesson plans to go with popular books or novels for grade levels that interweave paired Readworks Texts to support different skills. There is even a way for you to find lessons or passages that focus on specific standards. Need I say YAY! Though I don't teach younger grades using the Readworks Digital you can search for readings that students can have read to them which can be a center in itself. There feel like a million ways you can use this tech resource that I highly suggest you look into it right away!

If you have any questions about how I use Readworks or if you have another tech suggestion feel free to message me on Twitter @teaching_power or email at

Also check me out on Periscope @teaching_power for my Sunday morning coffee talks!

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Author's Purpose = PIE

PIE'ED In the Face!

During the year I cover Author's Purpose and the acronym PIE'ED is used to describe the many different types: Persuade, Inform, Entertain, Explain and Describe. This can be a tough concept in the beginning for some of my students, especially when it comes to differentiating between them. It can also be a dull point as well. Students reading passages and just labeling them based on evidence can be daunting or worse yet boring, but thanks to Hope King and some amazing  game creators it doesn't have to be.

About a year ago I saw one of Hope King's blog posts on Elementary Shenanigans that I just had to try out. She turned her classroom into a bakery and during her Language Arts lessons students worked together to sort through task cards with different passages to decide what the authors purpose was of each. In the process, they got to play Pie in the Face. If you haven't had the luxury of playing this very fun and very messy game, the idea is that you put whipped cream on the arm piece and based on a spin of a spinner you crank the little cranks that many times. If your lucky nothing happens, but sometimes you get pied in the face. Hope created this whole lesson to drive engagement in the lesson and bring life the "Bakery" story she created. I decided to use this lesson to inspire my own bakery inside my classroom.

Similar to Hope, I bought colored table cloths at Dollar Tree and got pie tins. I also purchased face wipes, paper towels, and whipped cream for each table. After setting up each table I put one set of Pie in the Face game at each table. I was fortunate to  have four. Lucky for me they were 70% off at Walgreens the last time I went in. I also chose to print out task cards in the form of a packet for ever student. To make the lesson more manageable I had students work together on one page at a time. They had to read through the task cards then discuss the answers. I chose to use task cards that were multiple choice, but you could just use reading passages/ excerpts. Students debated and discussed and once they finished the entire page they would check in with me. I would tell them if they needed to correct one or not. If they had them all correct the Miss Lee's Bakery tradition was before they could move on they must play a round of Pie in the Face to celebrate!

The students had a blast! They loved using this activity to review what we have been studying all week. Following this activity, I created a pop quiz for students which included some questions about authors purpose as well as actually labeling and explaining the authors purpose of five passages. This of course wasn't the most exciting part of the lesson, but I acted as though this was the exam that allowed students to become true bakers. Since I teach all subjects to my students I wanted to make sure the rest of the day followed the morning theme so during math I decided to work on fractions and perimeter and area working through a packet that allowed students to create their own bakery and baked goods. The students really enjoyed it and had a great time working in pairs creating logos, commercials, and designing their bakery. I will say that this required more time than I had for one lesson so it became an enrichment project that students could work on in their free time. Also, I decided to conduct my Mystery Airhead experiment for science which had students work through the observation skills as well as using support to deduce the Mystery air Head flavor.

Overall, the day was long but very exciting for the students and I. They loved wearing their chef hat and aprons and didn't want to take them off when it was time for PE. It was so nice to see such engagement and joy in my students faces and moving forward I plan on building this into my lessons and making this a truly fun filled, learning centered day.

If you have any questions about the lesson or want to learn more feel free to contact me on Twitter or at my email:

Also, many of my lessons are semi homemade and based around Teacher Pay Teacher materials that I find so check out the links below if you are interested in some of the items I used to piece my lesson together. Also, if you are not already following Hope King at Elementary Shenanigans you need to!


Language Arts
Task Cards for PIE'ED Game
Pop Quiz Part 1
Pop Quiz Part 2

Magical Bakery
Mmm Mmm Bakery - Fractions/Multiplication
Breaking Up the Bakery - Fractions

Airhead Lab

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Dr. Seuss Spirit Week


March is coming up fast and this past week our school did a school wide spirit days in honor of Dr.Seuss. This amazing author will always be one of my favorites and regardless of age of the students in my class, I will continue to read to them these classic books because they have such meaning ingrained in them that they speak to all generations.

My first classroom was Dr.Seuss themed and I just loved being able to pull in his books to teach lessons. As I moved grades and was placed in 5th my classroom theme changed from Dr. Seuss to Hockey (another love of mine). Yet, I still tie Dr.Seuss into my school year. I love using Sneetches to discuss the Civil Rights Movement or Lorax to discuss environmentalism. Of course, there is not a year that goes by with out me reading my favorite, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, while the students discuss plot and figurative language. Dr.Seuss will forever be a favorite so I had to make his birthday a big deal. March 2nd is Dr Seuss's birthday which has become a school holiday in its own right called Read Across Amercia Day. Schools celebrate in their own ways and make plenty of time to read on this day in honor of a man who did so much for children's literature.

In the past two years I have celebrated this week with my 5th grade class tying skills or lessons to different Dr. Seuss books. I will always remember the joy of my first year when my students brought pillows and read in the dark with flashlights for "All the Places You Will Glow" Day. My 5th graders were beyond excited to do it and it was refreshing to see them just enjoy a good book. This year I have had a chance to help with House Council (our schools version of Student Council). We created a school wide spirit week to promote school spirit and a love for reading!

Like I said before I love tying lessons and making it relevant for 5th graders:

Monday- Fox and Socks Fluency Read Off: Students practiced then competed to read a passage from Fox in Socks. This works of fluency, friendly competition, and a reminder of growth mindset that we have bee discussing this year.

Tuesday- One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish: Students practiced math skills by "catching" fish from around the room. I have cast out paper fish with different math problems on them, one per fish. Students worked in pairs to answer the math problem on the back of the fish and check with me to see if they got it correct. If they were incorrect they would have to try again, but if they got it correct they got to cast it back out and catch another one. I stole this amazing idea from a fellow teacher in the building who used it to practice for the quarterly assessments.
I have also done the activity where the students have a packet of problems and have to "catch" a fish that only has a number on it, and based on the number they answer that problem in their packet. Either way it is fun for students to enjoy a good math fishing derby!

Wednesday- Sneetches Debate: Students listened to the story The Sneetches and discuss how it relates to the Civil Rights Movement. This story has such strong ties to bullying and segregation that no matter the age I think it can be discussed and related to.
If there is time next year I would like the students to debate to who is more at fault for the segregation the Sneetches or Mr. McBean (the machine owner who can change the stars).

Thursday- Cat in the Hat Day: Students had a set time to read in the classroom and curl up with a good book. I had the students bring in pillows or a stuffed animal. I even took out my flashlights and had the students read in the dark. I wanted to make it a fun, comfy reading day to celebrate Dr. Seuss and his love for reading.

Students Read Around the Room 

Friday- Oh the Places You Will Go: As a class we will discussed SMART Goals and how to think about future. I want students to think about how much work and perseverance comes with going for your dreams. We will practice soft skills like handshake, conversations, and active listening. With any luck, next year I might be able to have a volunteer or two come in and talk about goals while also allowing the students to converse with them in small groups to practice their conversation skills.

Overall, I was really excited to celebrate this week with my students and enjoy the amazing spirit days that go with it! How do you use Dr. Seuss in your classroom? Let me know in the comments below or  tweet me @teacher_power

Hope to hear from you soon!

We Had a Blast on Cat in the Hat Day!

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Saturday, February 25, 2017

Grammar Football

So when all else ball!
One of my students throwing for a touch down in the hallway!

Okay, so this was an activity I did for my schools family reading night that I decided to do with my 5th graders the following day. I was pitching a book called: Kid Owner. This book is published through Scholastic and is about a kid in middle school who ends up owning the Dallas Cowboys because his father passes away. This book  deals with responsibility and trust, as this young teen deals with juggling his everyday life and life of an owner of an NFL team.

To inspire reading and tie in the book, I created a classroom board game of sorts. Students and families alike designed their football playing piece. This was a blank clip art football helmet that I found online, but you could have it be a football, a player, even real action figures. After they designed their piece they had to put them on the field goal line. I basically went to dollar tree which had football table cloths and laid it flat on a table and a desk. The students and parents worked together to get their football helmet down the field toward the opposite goal line. They got to move their piece based on the how they answer the questions posted around the classroom. I found task cards that had a "football" theme for reading night. They focused on subject and predicate as well as identifying the main idea of a passage, but you can choose any task cards you would like. Once parents and students found the task card, read it, and came up with their answer they would tell me and if they were right I would let them know so they can move their piece down the field. If they got it wrong they had to go back to the task card and try again. The amount of competition that came out was fun to watch. Some families with older students competed against each other,  Mom vs. daughter, while younger students worked with mom and dad to figure it out together. It was a fun experience for all. When they got to the end they got three tries to throw a giant inflatable football through an equally giant inflatable field goal. Kids and parents alike loved it! Best of all it was the best $10 investment I ever made!

This lesson was a new one I added to my class this year but I definitely plan to incorporate it into my class for years to come. It not only is educational, but engaging for students regardless of age. It would be a great, simple lesson to "kick off" the school year with and teach students how to play nice.

Linked below are some resources to help if you are interested in setting this lesson up for yourself:

 Inflatable Football and Goal (This one is $20, but I got mine on Walmart clearance so keep an eye out there too)

Table cloths (I got mine from Dollar Tree in the seasonal section but I also found these online)
Amazon Table Cloth

Walmart Table Cloth

Football Helmet

Teacher Pay Teacher's Search (Check out this link for lessons to tie with this activity)