Fun Teaching and Learning Tools

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This morning as I was reading through my Shipley PLN Lower & Middle School edition, I found so many things I wanted to share with you I almost didn’t know where to start. I had to rearrange my tabs to get them organized and ready I was so excited (I need to get out more).

The first thing I am sharing is so cool, I think you are going to LOVE it! Insert Learning might be the coolest Chrome extension. I first read about it from Catlin Tucker. It turns any webpage into an interactive experience/lesson for your students (and you if you choose to try my links that follow) and allows you to insert learning in the form of sticky notes with videos from you, questions, discussion prompts, as well as be able to see what your students are highlighting too (a la making their thinking visible). The above post explains it nicely and includes screenshots. I was so intrigued I popped over the the Chrome store and added it so I could try it out. I used their resource page as the example and when you make your way over there, you will see there are even lessons created and shared by other teachers that you can assign to your own students. You can view the lesson I created as a teacher to see how it works by installing the extension, then clicking on this link; or view it as a student by clicking on this one (a caveat: to view as a student, you need to be enrolled in my class and have the extension so if you would like to try it out, let me know, I’ll add you as a student). For those that use Google Classroom, assigning/sharing lessons with your students is super easy, you just click the Classroom icon then select your class, you can also share it as a link as I did. When I shared this news with my colleague Wendy she mentioned that the Hypothesis extension worked similarly. I did not know about that one yet so took a peek and checked out their article, 10 Ways to Annotate with Students. Pretty, pretty cool as Larry David would say.

In last week’s post, I shared a set of PBS lessons with Lin Manuel-Miranda discussing how he turned history lessons about Alexander Hamilton and the founding of the United States into the musical Hamilton. Today I am sharing a Visions of Education podcast that discusses ways you can teach with Hamilton that includes, along with the podcast, several links to books, articles, related podcasts, close-reading activities, and hip-hop based education resources to name just a few of the many.

Speaking of teaching with a musical, how about teaching concepts, subjects, and topics with tv and movie clips? This morning, my colleague Lucie asked me about finding a math clip from a tv show to share with her students as she was making a playlist of these. I knew the site but could not remember the name so I quickly did a search and landed on Teach With Movies where I instantly searched the snippets and shorts by subject matter and sent off the results. Teach with Movies has full-length, shorts, snippets, and clips from tv and movies, and has lesson plans you can use as well for most school subjects. Class Hook is another way to engage, or “hook” your students using clips from TV and movies. Your free account will allow you to search by grade level (K through college), clip length, and series (there are hundreds). They have premade playlists on all sorts of subjects and topics from writer’s craft and phonics to digital citizenship, US history, and social-emotional learning, and you can add to them or create your own.

While some of us may enjoy being creative and making new things, others of us may not enjoy reinventing the wheel which is why we look for templates. Today I have two sets of templates to share with you. First is a link I got from Matt Miller. Paula Martinez, creator of the FREE SlidesMania templates for Google Slides and PowerPoint wrote this guest post where she shares 20 free templates for you to use in your presentations. This is only one-eighth of the number of FREE templates she has on her SlidesMania site. And guess what, teaching and being creative is not even her regular day job (or even her temporary day job), she is in finance! The next is a FREE fake Instagram template to use for Google Slides and it comes from Carly Black who wrote a guest post on the Shake Up Learning website. With many students being all over social media, having them turn what they like to do into an educational purpose makes sense. That’s what Tara Martin did when she figured out how to turn the fun of using Snapchat into the very popular #BookSnaps to which I can attest, kids love to create.

Who does not enjoy playing games? Well, some of you might not but your kids will. Educandy is a free site (currently in beta) for taking your words or questions and turning them in to a game like hangman, word search, crosswords, memory and others or quiz. All you need to do is create your free account, click the type of game you want to create (words, matching pairs, or quiz questions), enter your words or questions, then Educandy turns them into the games and activities. Here is one I just made. It literally took me about 3 minutes and there are now three games to play with my words. There is no log in to play, just the link or the game code. So fun!

Sing, Sing a Song

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Back in 2016 I wrote a post, More Than Just Music to Their Ears, on using songs for teaching to help with memory. Today I am reiterating that here with some additional sites. In case you choose not to click on the past post, I will summarize: music helps with memory. Not only can songs trigger memories and evoke emotions, it can create a positive learning environment and help solidify scientific concepts. I go in and out of classrooms when I teach so earlier this fall I started incorporating mindfulness into the beginning of class time to refocus students and get everyone together. I created a YouTube playlist called mindfulness jars and I do notice a difference when I start classes with a mindfulness transition. Additionally, in the younger grades, I sing the directions to the students that I want them to follow. By now, they know the tune so I can just hum it and they will know what to do. Since I use a song, I can add on when additional directions are needed.

With all that being said, here are some sites for teaching with songs:

  1. Numberock– This is a YouTube channel and website with math songs for all concepts for elementary age students. They even have songs about holidays and other special events on the calendar The YouTube channel has playlists in English, Spanish, French, Hindi, Chinese, and Portuguese (and maybe more but I stopped scrolling) so you can learn your math concepts in many languages.
  2. Using Music to Teach Science includes songs created by high school and college students to teach science concepts like the Krebs Cycle, Physics, and Polymerase. This was inspired by this Life Science Education publication, Using Science Songs to Enhance Learning which offers a study and includes a rubric to use with (college) students who create their own songs as evidence of understanding.
  3. Songs for Teaching has songs for teaching Science topics like Astronomy, Botany, and Earth Science to name a few. It also has songs for teaching Math topics for elementary school as well as advanced math topics like Geometry, Trig, and some Physics. The lyrics to songs are included with a short sample of the song, enough to give you the tune to sing along.
  4. I happened upon this Jack Hartmann channel of songs that includes songs about letters of the alphabet, phonics songs, counting songs, brain breaks, and additional songs for younger students and early elementary. The digraph one is quite catchy and will have your students singing about sh and th among others. And who could resist, Silent E by the Bazillions? Check out their channel of songs too.
  5. For history teachers and students, this PBS set of lessons, Hamilton’s America with Lin Manuel, is about the process of writing the song, My Shot for the Broadway show, Hamilton. The videos and support materials will introduce students to the process of turning history into music. If you are considering having students create and adapt history into music, this set of lessons will be inspiring.
  6. Last is one I have shared before. History for Music Lovers YouTube channel is 53 songs about events and people all set to popular tunes.

So if you want your students to listen to or sing these songs, write your own, or have your students write their own, songs can enhance the learning environment and experience.

Black History Activities for the Month and All Year Long

“Won’t it be wonderful when black history and Native American history and Jewish history and all of U.S. history is taught from one book. Just U.S. history.”

Maya Angelou

February may be the official time to celebrate and recognize the contributions and achievements of Black Americans with the hope of educating people and eliminating bias, but we know that culturally competent and responsive educators embed it all year long in the books they read with their class, the songs they play or sing with their students, the posters on the wall, the people study, and the missing voices and perspectives they seek out when learning about our history.

There are a number of great resources from which we can all learn. Here are just a few.

Black History Month Cube for Teachers has about a dozen different resources including videos, novels, stories, women in STEM, lessons, and more for all ages of children. CUBE for teachers is a global education network of resources shared by educators all over the world.

This next is an incredible resource. It is a Black History Month shared public folder complete with videos, full documentaries like “Eyes of the Rainbow”, “An Interview with Malcolm X at UC Berkeley”, and “Marcus Garvey”; PDFs, as well as 42 folders of information on people from Aime Cesare to Zora Neale Hurston, and topics from Afro-Centrism and Black Film Scripts to Speeches and Black Panther Party.

PBS Learning Media is always a great place to start looking for lessons on any topic and this one, The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross is a collection of lesson plans that address a large variety of themes. The collection of lessons for middle to high school students uses clips from Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s series of the same name that “explores the evolution of the African-American people, as well as the multiplicity of cultural institutions, political strategies, and religious and social perspectives they developed — forging their own history, culture and society against unimaginable odds.”

The ADL has curriculum resources including lesson plans for teaching about historical events like “60 Years Later: the legacy of Brown v. Board of Education”; current events like “Representing the People: Diversity and Elections”; and issues like “Experiences with Race and Racism” for elementary through high school. They also offer children’s and adult literature and discussion guides, and teaching tools and strategies. Additionally, they offer these 10 Ideas for Teaching Black History Month for K-12 educators to help get you started.

Last is a HyperSlides presentation that I made and continue to edit each year.

 “If the only time you think of me as a scientist is during Black History Month, then I must not be doing my job as a scientist.”

Nel deGrasse Tyson
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Challenge, Listen, Create, Learn, Repeat

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People always ask, how do you find the time to find the things that you share? First off, I am so lucky that my current position allows me to spend time looking for learning opportunities for myself, my colleagues, and my students. I have a schedule but I am not with students all day as many of my colleagues are because I go in and out of the different classrooms on a rotating basis. Additionally, I no longer have children at home as my oldest graduated from college this past May (#WeAre) and my youngest is a college sophomore (#GoQuakers) so after I take care of the J (16 year old Bichon) and give him sofa time, I am pretty much free to do what I want when the school day is over. I also found that working without the tv is helpful. Hence, the time both during the day and in the evening to get to do what I do and be able to share with you the things I am sharing today.

Social Media Simulators

First are some templates you and your students can use to share their learning and show their understanding of a character, event, story, or topic in almost any subject. The first is a Netflix template you can download to use with Keynote, PowerPoint, or Google Slides and the other is an Instagram template. Your students can easily show their understanding by creating a profile from the character’s point of view. Further clicking led me to the Twitter, Facebook, Time and Nat Geo magazine templates, as well as a link to a social media generator.

Writer’s Block

This next share is for our English teachers, budding writers, experienced writers who want to hone their craft and learn from an online community, or just those who enjoy writing and would like to exercise their writing muscle with random prompts. The Writer Igniter is a cool tool from DIY MFA where you are given a character, situation, prop, and setting (to me it sounds like the game Clue: Ms. Scarlet in the kitchen with a candlestick) and then you just start writing. For people looking for more, this site offers writing resources, an online community, podcast interviews with authors, and more.

Icons: More than Celebrity

I’m fairly certain I got this next site from a recent Matt Miller post but without going back in my history, I cannot be certain. I just know I have it open in a tab ready to share. It’s called, The Noun Project and it is basically a searchable set of free, downloadable (with your log in) icons for any noun (or verb, or adjective, or other part of speech including gerunds) you can think of– even “ugly sweater.” You can change the tilt angle, rotate it, add a shape, and change the outline color to get it exactly how you want it for your project. Kind of fun!

Front and Center

Sometimes having something front and center, staring you in the face, or just out on your desk where you can easily flip through and reference makes it more likely you will use it because you will be reminded of it. This downloadable image of four tools for learning from Pooja Agarwal is one of those things. It’s a simple mini-poster of the definitions of retrieval practice, spacing, interleaving, and feedback-driven metacognition along with downloadable guides for how to use these in your classroom. Who is Pooja Agarwal you ask? Well, you can check out these other posts where I have previously shared her great, research-based practices.

The Matrix

While scrolling through my Twitter feed this morning, I came to a guest blog post on Alice Keeler’s blog. It was written by Robert Kaplinsky and it is on depth of knowledge matrices. The first sentence of the post is like clickbait to me, “Ready for a problem that will make you rethink how we teach students mathematics?” Honestly, had that been the title of a Buzz Feed article, I think more than math people would click on it. But it wasn’t and I was not specifically looking for it but am so glad I scrolled by when I did because while the blog post has several, I repeat, several DOK matrices from elementary math through Calc. I am so glad I was reminded (I first wrote about him last February) of his cool math website, Open Middle which has math problems for literally every grade in school from kindergarten through twelfth grade.

Click Here for Free Stuff

Now that I have your attention again, the above link is from We Are Teachers and it goes to their free, downloadable posters and lesson plans. Check out their upstander, character ed, historical figures, world language, math posters and the many others on the 21 pages for all areas of the curriculum.

And now for some professional learning and listening opportunities

I have been doing a lot of reading and personal work on culturally responsive teaching and mitigating implicit bias. It seems the more I read, the more that I find to learn, and the more articles like this from Medium that make their way to my inbox and Twitter feed. Most recently I read these articles from Edutopia, “Reflections on Becoming More Culturally Responsive”, “How to Audit Your Classroom Library for Diversity”, “Bringing a Culturally Responsive Lens to Math Class”, and “How to Make Social Emotional Learning More Culturally Responsive”.

Next is a podcast series, Neuroscience Meets Social Emotional Learning. It has 38 episodes ranging from 8 minutes to 1 hour and 8 minutes with the bulk being less than 30. I have not listened to any yet as I just happened upon them, but plan on listening to this one currently open in a tab, Dr. John Dunlosky on “Improving Student Success: Some Principles from Cognitive Science”.

For our 1st through 9th grade math educators and specialists, this summer you can pack your bags and head west to Denver or south to Texas (my directional perspective is from the northeast) to the [Co]Lab. At the [Co]Lab, you will learn and think collaboratively with other math educators from around the country about math practice and creating mathematical experiences that you can bring back for your young mathematicians (aka, your students). Even before you go, you can learn from their suggested readings, books, and articles, and resources including video playlists and free downloads.

For those teachers who would like to pack their passport along with their luggage can check out 5 Programs for FREE Teacher Travel (or “travel with great funding”). This site is run by a Boston public school teacher as a way to connect teachers who like to travel and travelers who like to teach so we can all learn from each other ways to combine these passions. A quick click on the “explore” will lead you to clickable categories, tags, and archives making it pretty easy to see what’s there for you. So, if you are looking to travel to reboot your teaching self or inspire your lessons, then check out what others have done, how they’ve done it, and give it a try.

This Week's Clicks, aka Down the Rabbit Hole

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Good morning, good afternoon, good evening, good -whatever-time-you-are-reading this. There is much to share this week with articles, tools, and learning opportunities for you and your students.

First is a review by Common Sense Media of 16 Authentic Assessment Tools for Teachers and Students. This list combines various sites for your students to engage in performance assessments while working on purposeful, real-life tasks including collaborating around social justice issues using The Wonderment, connecting with students across the globe with projects using Pen Pal Schools, and more. The list includes both free and paid options for ELA, Social Studies, and STEM classes like, Can Figure It for working through proofs in geometry. I encourage you to take a peek.

Not Sudoku but . . .

I happened by the Mathematics Learning and Technology blog where I learned about Futoshiki and Yohaku puzzles among many others she shares like this list of logic games. I had heard of Sudoku and KenKen but these were new to me. Futoshiki puzzles work in grids of 4×4 through 9×9 and like Sudoku, the numbers (same numbers as grid style) can only be used once in a row/column. The difference is the appearance of > and < within the grids bringing a whole new challenge to solving these puzzles. With the Yohaku puzzles, you are practicing your number sense as well as your problem-solving skills as these puzzles are either additive or multiplicative for the rows and columns. These puzzles are 2×2, 3×3 or 4×4 and there are puzzles for fractions and decimals, algebraic thinking for older students and adults as well as junior puzzles for younger kiddos. I spent a few minutes before class trying a 4×4 and just when I thought I had it . . .

I admit that during lunch, I will check my Facebook page to see what is there. I have gotten to the point where at times, I am looking at posts and having to look to see who I know, why they are showing up in my feed and if I actually know who they are. Today as I was scrolling I came across a question posed by a Nearpod educator about educational tools. One of the first responders pointed her to “The Amazing Educational Resources” Facebook group. Just like the Mouse and the Cookie, I went to that page to look around and found several items of interest.

My first click was on essaypop an online, essay-writing teaching tool that you can use with your students to help them practice their writing skills. Students can work on writing thesis statements, persuasive essays, paragraphs, topic sentences, hooks, and more. It is online and interactive and breaks down the components of an essay into individual, color-coded sections for students to practice as they build an essay around the myriad of prompts. This is a FREE tool with complete lessons for all levels of school including up through AP courses. Everything you need for a lesson including the resources is all embedded in each essaypop prompt. In addition, when you create a hive and add your students to it, they are prompted to comment and give feedback on their essays included in their hive. Pretty cool tool!

Next are Bunk History and Back Story. Bunk History is a site for history teachers and their middle or high school students that looks at historical topics and events from various points of view as well as how topics and events connect to others including to today’s current events. When you select a topic to read like The Myth of the American Frontier, and then click to look at the connections you will find an article like this one, American Extremism Has Always Flowed from the Border. So if you are looking to connect today’s news to the past, then check out the connections and ideas in Bunk History.

Back Story is what it implies: it is a weekly podcast that takes the history you know, or think you know, and gives you the back story. Additionally, like Bunk History, it makes the connections between the past and the present by using today’s news to understand our past. While the 12 year old podcast will be recording its final episode this summer, there are over 300 episodes on countless topics (literally, I could not count them there are so many).

After I clicked around in the Facebook group, I started in on my emails. In this post from Edutopia I read about Lyric Training, a free website for world language students to practice using the target language by watching music videos and filling in the blanks as the words scroll along. There are thirteen languages to choose including Spanish, French, and German as well as Portuguese, Japanese, and Catalan and you can choose your skill level from four options. I tried it to see how it works and I must say, I did very well. Of course I was using my native English but don’t judge. Later I tried to revive my French and guess what, I did it and it was pretty fun! The music video pauses if you don’t type the word and will resume once you do replaying the lyric. I think it would be a great way for your students to practice their language while learning some new songs too.

Finally are two important articles on the importance of culturally responsive teaching, Getting Clearer: Culturally Responsive Pedagogy and teaching your students how to recognize implicit bias. In “Everyone Has Invisible Bias. This Lesson Shows Students How to Recognize It” you will read how a library media specialist and an English teacher used op-ed news pieces and Mad-Libs to teach their students about their unconscious biases and how these biases impact their worldview. We need to create this awareness so that we can mitigate the implicit biases we all carry.

Just One Thing

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So much to do, so little time to do it. That is often how I feel, especially at certain times of the school year, and I know many of my colleagues feel the same way. Since it is part of my job to help facilitate technology integration, I tend to send a lot of ideas in their direction. While no one actively averts their eyes or quickly runs away when they see me coming, I know that some may feel like they have to explain why now is not a good time to do/add/try something new. I get it. There just is not enough time, or else the time is not right at the moment. And while there may not be time to do/try/look at everything, maybe there is time to do/try/look at/read just one thing. This week I am sharing many things, so perhaps pick one to open, read, or try.

Pass the Mic

If you are having class discussions in the form of Harkness, Socratic Seminar, Fishbowl, or the like, then this app is for you.

This first app comes at exactly the right time. I was recently sitting with one of my English-teaching colleagues talking about how her Harkness discussions are going (she loves them), and our conversation went on to talking about how cool and useful it would be to record one and then have her students watch it and break it down the way sports players watch game film. Coincidentally, and I’m going to say, it was meant to be, Equity Maps and two articles (“two” and “articles” are links to each article) talking about it, showed up in this week’s Shipley PLN Lower & Middle School Edition. What Equity Maps does is record the conversation, play each person’s contributions, and visually shows how the conversation moves from person to person. The premium version ($9.99) even allows you to note the type of comments and contributions made by each student. Not only will this be useful for you the teachers, but also for your students to help them grow their discussion capabilities.

6 things to try- here are 2

Jennifer Gonzalez, aka the Cult of Pedagogy recently shared her 6 Ed Tech Tools to Try in 2020. One of the ones she mentions is Parlay. Parlay is a looks like it will work as a complement to class discussions in that it helps students practice first in an online space using either their (Parlay) or your own topics. Parlay is a paid tool but even if you are not interested in or able to purchase it for your class, the topics, links to related articles, and videos along with discussion prompts is still browsable and searchable by nine subject areas and would be easily adaptable outside of the tool (perhaps in the discussion section of your LMS, as a topic in Flipgrid, or a subject of a threaded podcast. If you are interested in using it and getting the full experience, it looks pretty robust.

The next one she mentioned that I think looks really useful and you can start using it right away is an ice-breaker, class/group activity site called PlayMeo. Playmeo has hundreds of activities searchable by type, program outcome, or learning theme and then further filterable by time, size of group, and exertion level. This is a site you can pay to have access to all the activities, or you can have access to the 44 free ones. I am all about free and feel like I could easily make use of the 44 and will potentially utilize the Paired Share Debrief at our upcoming White Fragility check-in. Each activity comes with directions, a video, variations, and other resources (like this FREE Instant downloadable book Sure-Fire Ice-Breakers & Group Games). A reminder that if you like things like this, you can check out this list of Brain Breaks sites/downloads I curated as well as Go Noodle.

Let me Count the Ways

50 Shades of Grey, 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover, 50 Ways to Say Goodbye,


50 Ways to Use Sutori

Let’s go with 50 Ways to Use Sutori. I love Sutori. It’s easy, students can collaborate on a shared timeline, there are tons of resources for all classroom subjects for all ages, you can now upload any kind of file directly from your device to your Sutori story, and it’s free. There is a paid version ($99 for a teacher) of course that you can get even more features (like inserting videos and other cool things), but to get started right away with something you can use to teach with or your students can use to write an alternative book report or share their learning, then you can easily start with the free version and go from there.

So, what will your one thing be . . .

Jump In

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Sometimes the empty title box and + at the beginning of a blog post can be intimidating. Sure, you may have plenty of things to say or share, but looking at the empty space can make you hesitate, second guess, and procrastinate. I liken that to both the start of the new year– be it in the fall when a new school year is beginning, or in the winter, when the whole year is in front of you — and a swimming pool. Some people like to dip their toes in the water to get them used to the temperature as they ease their way in; others just jump right in.

In this case, I am going to offer you both: things you can jump in and use right away with your students and other things you can dip your toes in to try out as you ease your way in to the new year.

The first two are from PBS Learning Media, a favorite of mine for all subjects, all ages, and all types of content.

First is for our younger elementary students: Xavier Riddle and the Secret Museum. This series of episodes, lessons, games, and activities is based off the book series, Ordinary People Change the World. The group of lessons is designed to help children make the connection between the character strengths of the historical figures and the same strengths they may also have. So far there are lessons on Zora Neale Hurston, George Washington, Cleopatra, and Isaac Newton.

Next is geared toward upper elementary, middle and high school students in grades 4-12 and it is a collaboration between PBS Learning Media and Ken Burns called Ken Burns in the Classroom. I first read about this in this article from the Washington Post. Ken Burns has been photographing and creating documentaries on all subjects and this partnership with PBS Learning Media is a “one-stop destination” of “classroom-ready content.” There are lesson plans, media, photographs, a gallery, and documents searchable by era or film beginning with the Revolution and the New Nation in 1754 to Contemporary United States from 1980 to Present. Each lesson comes with supporting materials and articles and links to additional content. Just by clicking on the lesson tags will bring you to even more content from PBS Learning Media. For example, I started here with Ken Burns’ Civil War and Reconstruction, made my way to The Civil Rights Act of 1964 from the Library of Congress, then to more materials on Civil War and Reconstruction housed in PBS Learning Media.

If you are thinking about flipping your classroom, this article from KQED offers a few tips from a teacher who has been flipping her math classes for the last several years. First, a flipped classroom model is when your students view content at home, often in the form of a video or another online option, then use class time to work on clarifying understanding, working in small groups, or working through the problems at school. This allows for more interaction between the teacher and the students during class time which, in traditional models, can often be spent delivering instruction and covering content. In this article, Three Simple Tools to Make Math Thinking Visible, Stacy Roshan shares her flipped learning journey and some ways she has iterated on her original model including how she uses Flipgrid, Edpuzzle, and Sutori to enhance the interactivity with her students.

Next, you know my fondness for what Pooja Agarwal shares to help make learning stick. This past week she and her co-author, Patrice Bain were interviewed (again) as part of the DITCH Summit and this download is notes from their session, Using Powerful Teaching to Remember and Thrive. You’ll find easy-to-implement tips, practices, and tools that you can begin using with your students tomorrow like brain-dumps, retrieve-taking instead of note-taking, and Just two things.

Last, do you want to build a snowman? How about an app? In his recent, “Favorite New Updated Tools of 2019” post, Richard Byrne shared Glide Apps. Glide Apps creates an app from content in Google Sheets. If you can add information to columns and rows, you can build an app with Glide.

So, which one of these will you jump into and which ones will you choose to dip your toes in this new year?