NTCsym Session: Peek Inside a 21st Century/Blended Learning Primary Classroom

This is a collection of resources for the attendees at the New Teacher Center Symposium session entitled “Peek Inside a 21st Century/Blended Learning Primary Classroom”.

My Slides (with all videos embedded)


Blended Learning: Personalizing Education for Students (MOOC created by NTC, Clayton Christensen Institute, and Silicon Schools)

Infinite Thinking Machine – Blend Baby Blend (video)
The Bedley Bros #EdChat featuring Catlin Tucker (video)
Second Grade Students in Computer Lab (raw footage)
Intro to My Classroom (video)
Tech-Integrated Centers in a Second Grade Classroom (raw footage) 
Differentiating in Math Using Computer Games (video)

Criteria for selecting an edtech tool:
Rubrics for Evaluating Educational Apps
Web 2.0 Tool Selection Criteria
10 Criteria Teachers Should Use To Find The Best Apps
8 Things To Look For In An Educational App

Searching for the perfect app/website/tool:
Graphite from Common Sense Media
EdSurge Edtech Index

What we didn’t cover… (making, coding, engineering…)
Invent To Learn (Kindle e-book – Free on Tuesday, Feb 11!)

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Making a Makerspace: Two Weeks In

The Makerspace has now been open for two weeks. Two exhausting but exciting weeks. Two weeks of learning, for the students and for me.

When I put together the concept of the Makerspace, I planned for three types of sessions: class time, lunch time, and after-school time. I also thought that the first phase to launch would be after-school time. However, when it came time to open, I realized lunch time activities would have the greatest impact on the students. Opening the space at lunch would also provide me with a lot of research that I needed in order to make the after-school piece be effective.

We opened up on January 7th. I put up a few posters around the campuses and sent an email to all the teachers with a spreadsheet to sign up for times to visit. Two classes came by for an introduction that Tuesday and by the last recess of the first day, the Makerspace was packed. How to handle such a large number of students? I’m still working out the kinks, but here is what I have done so far:

The first day a student enters the Makerspace during his/her free time (generally recess or lunch recess), he/she must complete the “Makerspace Entrance Survey”. This survey is based on the research of Dr. Paulo Blikstein at Stanford’s Graduate School of Education. It is how I will measure the success of the Makerspace at impacting students’ lives beyond the time they spend in the Makerspace itself.  For students in third grade and below, the survey is a series of Yes/No/I Don’t Know questions about their perceived capabilities in traditional school subjects and their interest in making. Students in fourth grade and above are asked to share how familiar they are with certain technologies and how much they agree with certain statements about mindset.

Entrance Survey

Given that everyone entering the first couple days was new, I had computers lining the walls already directed to the survey. Students completed the survey and then made a name badge (a name badge I now ask them to wear every time they enter the Makerspace). The name badge enabled me to get to know the students and ensured they had completed the survey.

Instructions on wall

While I wish I could say the instructions on the wall were enough to help the students with the construction of their name badges, it was actually the badge I made and I wore which gave students the most guidance.


Creating name badges

At this point, I knew students’ names, all kids had completed the entrance survey, and they were beginning to explore. Then recess came to an end. The room was nowhere near clean, even though I’d played the “Clean Up” song I played for my second graders and had asked them to clean up. Nearly all the students did make an effort to clean up, but there was still a lot I had to do after they left. Yet the next group of students was banging at the door, waiting to come in.

I’m getting closer to solving the clean up conundrum each day. Since I can not change the fact that other students will come into the space next regardless of cleanliness or that we are working in a shared space, I am trying to change the amount of responsibility each individual student has for their space.

First, I created “Today I am responsible for…” cards, which each listed a certain tool or area of the room that students may choose to use.  After picking up their name badge, the students told me where they wanted to work and took a card. I planned for the students to turn the card back into me as they left and I would verify that they had cleaned their area. It turned out that it’s hard to verify each area’s cleanliness and individual accountability while standing at the door ushering students in and out.

Name badge cart

Fun fact: I designed this little card holder in Sketchup!

Fun fact: I designed this little card holder in Sketchup!

New strategy? I printed out two tiny cards that fit into the student’s name badge and also has his/her name and grade on it. When each student decides what to work on for the day, he/she drops his/her name into the appropriate envelope, labelled with the area of the room or tool the student might wish to use. Once students leave, I can verify cleanliness of each area and make a quick note if there is a group of students I need to talk to the next time. It’s working better than the first strategy, but I’m not sure it’s quite where I need it to be yet.

Makerspace area/tool envelopes

The other compounding issue is the transition between groups. The way recess and lunch time is set up at the schools, I am usually saying goodbye to one grade level as another grade level is entering. I tried to let the transition happen naturally, but everyone bottlenecked at the door. As we only have one door into/out of the Makerspace, that didn’t work. I also realized quickly that I can’t have students come in during a special recess that happens to be during another grade level’s lunch or recess. If it doesn’t follow exactly on schedule, it can’t happen.

Daily Schedule

This is not to say that I don’t believe in being flexible. In order to allow the flexibility within the space though, I have to set certain guidelines and boundaries. So even if your class gets out for recess early, you’re going to have to wait at the door until the current students have cleaned up and cleared out.

I’ll be back with another entry this week about the tools students are using and not using. For now, I wanted to make sure I reflected on what has/hasn’t worked as grade levels transition through the Makerspace each day.

I’m excited to get back in there this week and see if I can move onto the next big challenge: Increasing students’ ability to learn from each other rather than rely on me.

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Making a Makerspace: Tools for Coding & Robotics

My last post on the Makerspace detailed the building of the space. Okay, it didn’t detail it – detailing it would have included the double coat of paint I had to do on the green wall, that the IdeaPaint didn’t give me the 400 square feet it promised, that Facebook also donated a lamp and seven trash cans, and that I ruined a pair of shoes thanks to the pouring rain as I carried the tiles from my car to the Makerspace and the speed at which I tried to paint the walls – but I gave you the basic specs.

This post will share many of the new tools for Coding & Robotics that we acquired for our Makerspace. Tools for Making will be shared in a later post. Before I share any tools though, I want to make it clear that this is all before students have used the space. I don’t actually know yet which of the tools will be most utilized by students, which ones we’ll need to order more of, nor what will prove to be the most durable. This is a pilot, so what we learn will be applied to the rest of the Makerspaces throughout the district next year.

Tools for Coding 


The main tool for coding we acquired was Chromebooks. We have a combination of Acer 710s, 720s, and Samsungs, as they were what I have been able to find over the last month. We will be be adding some HP Chromebook 11s as well now that the charging issue has been resolved and they are selling them again.


Oh, you want to know what we’re going to be doing on the Chromebooks for coding? Well, that’s what we’re going to be figuring out with the students! Currently, we’re leaning toward the code.org Computer Science course. Of course, the original plan was Tynker followed by Scratch, so nothing is set in stone and we are all about revising.

Tools for Robotics


Right now, we have a Thymio and a Bee-Bot, with a Hummingbird on order. In addition, we are planning on buying some LEGO robotics kits if they are not donated.  We also contributed to Play-i’s Bo & Yana robots which will come out in the summer.

The current plan is to use the Thymio and/or Bee-Bot with grades K-3, LEGO WeDo with grades 4-6, and LEGO Mindstorms with grades 7-8. But, I must admit that this is the area where I have the least expertise. All of the plans so far including the current purchases have come from recommendations by other educators running their versions of a makerspace.

In that fuzzy area between all of these fields is where you’ll find our electronics kits, including Squishy Circuits, the Lilypad, LittleBits, and our Arduino kit. I’ve also brought my own Makey Makey and Raspberry Pi into the Makerspace. This is perhaps the most exciting area for me, as there is so much potential for engaging in the Internet of Things with these tools.


Again, we’ve only purchased one of each tool because we won’t know what is most successful and engaging for our students before actually getting the tools in their hands. If it turns out I need to get online and rush order a class set of LittleBits or Bee-Bots, that’s exactly what I’ll do. This pilot is about getting the tools that engage students in creating and learning, not the tools that I think students should use for whatever reason.

What will be that “must-have” tool in electronics and robotics? What will be that awesomely-addicting programming course? I’ll let you know once the kids tell me.

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Making a Makerspace: The Physical Space is (relatively) Finished!

The last time I posted about our Makerspace, I had finished my first month of research and planning. I was just beginning to put together my “pitch” and share it with those who might be interested in supporting the effort. I spent most of November dedicated to that task. After a couple of amazing people chose to donate to the project, I was able to move forward with building the space.

For those of you who may not have read my first post, the space needed a bit of work to look like I imagined:

empty MakerspaceScreen Shot 2014-01-04 at 1.29.46 PMI started by painting the walls. Yes, I did the research that said primer & paint all-in-one is not the best, but I didn’t want to spend any extra time on painting. I went forward with a matte primer/paint in two colors: purple and green. Why? No, it wasn’t a subtle way to get the students to think positive thoughts about Yahoo!. I wanted the space to be accommodating to all students, especially those who wouldn’t normally venture into the room. I also want students to enter without any pre-existing feelings, which is pretty likely if the room looks like the classroom they are in most of the day where they may or may not feel successful. Oh, I also chose green to allow for some easy chromakeying if students ever get interested in video production.

Painting the walls

Painting the walls

Next, I pulled out the carpet and replaced it with foam interlocking tiles, like those you might find in a gym or a preschool. I chose foam tiles because they are easier to install than any other flooring and didn’t require me to strip the floor as I would have had I chosen a different material. Also, it turns out they are easy to wipe off, easy to replace, and feel quite nice. They may lead to the production of additional static electricity,  which could be an issue if it continues.

Tiles to the Ceiling

Tiles to the Ceiling

Laying the tiles

Laying the tiles

And yes, you’ll see I added my own curtains, which is just a fabric I cut at IKEA and put up with their wire curtain hanger. Actually relatively cheap.

Now, if you’re here to see what tools I put into the space, you’ll have to wait until the next post for me to go into detail. I will share about the storage of some of the materials, so you’ll get a sneak peek at some of the tools in the photos.

I wanted to make all of the tools easily accessible to students, so I took some IKEA shelves and mounted them to the wall with the tools placed on them. Above that, are IKEA photo displays which showcase books that are relevant to the tools sitting below.

Electronics tools and books

Electronics tools and books

I got most of the storage for the Makerspace from IKEA, as they offer these rolling carts with three open spaces. Yes, they only come in two colors, grey and light blue, but, with some creative building, I was able to design four different carts. The plastic and wire cart came from Office Depot and is not as portable as the IKEA carts.

Mobile Chromebook cart

Mobile Chromebook cart

I also painted the purple wall behind the carts with Ideapaint, to allow students to write on the wall. It’s only one of the four walls, but it gives the students the opportunity to make the space a little more their own. The lights are Philips Hue lights, which will allow me to control the lighting and change the mood (via the color of the lights) from my phone. Students will eventually have this control too.

Even more storage carts

Even more storage carts

In addition to controlling the lights via mobile device, I also have a Belkin WeMo installed and connected to the Makerbot. This enables me to turn off the Makerbot when it’s done printing, even if I’m not in the room. How will I know the printer is finished? I installed a Dropcam to monitor the Makerspace. That’s not the main purpose of the camera – security is a much higher priority – but it is an added benefit.

Belkin WeMo on the right side

Belkin WeMo on the right side

You might be thinking I just bought everything I wanted to have at home but can’t. While I won’t say you’re wrong (this job feels like a dream come true), I will say that I did a lot of research before purchasing any of these objects. I ensured that if I was purchasing an object that was more expensive than the others in its field, it was because of the benefit it provided to the Makerspace. Nowhere is that more relevant than when discussing the Dropcam.

The Dropcam is $50-$130 more than other webcams, but Dropcam offers the best HD & night cam images, a wide visual field, a microphone for capturing sound, video stored in the cloud for the past 7 to 30 days, and even the ability to speak through the webcam to someone in the space. Most importantly, the Dropcam notifications are fantastic. If there is movement or an unrecognized sound, Dropcam will send an email or iOS notification and I can view it immediately. If someone were to theoretically break in, I could let them know I was calling the cops, turn on the lights via the Hue app, and download the video for the authorities. I hope I never have to do that, but given the investment made for our students to have this space, I definitely want to be prepared.

Where's the furniture from the plans?

Where’s the furniture from the plans?

But, you might say, where is the furniture? Where will students sit? Are you going to do all your work on the floor? Well, I asked that question too. And wouldn’t you know, our neighbor Facebook answered in a huge way. They brought us some of their lightly-used furniture, enough furniture to make all of our wishes for the room come true. We have stacking chairs (key for making the room more spacious), rolling tables and whiteboards (allowing many configurations of the room), and even a storage cart and a couch.

Ready for students!

Ready for students!

While students might be more excited about the tools than any of the things I’ve shared in this post (and perhaps you are too), I know that building the right inviting atmosphere is important to allow students to be their most creative. And don’t worry, we’ll get to the tools soon too.

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My year in the Chrome Omnibox

Inspired by Karl Lindgren-Streicher‘s post, which was inspired by Jennie Magiera’s post, I decided to take the easy way out of 2013 blog posts by listing the website that came up with I typed each letter into the Omnibox on Google Chrome and sharing how it relates to my 2013.

A – amazon.com: Frequently visited in the past couple months as I’ve built out our district’s pilot Makerspace. If you haven’t read my first post on it, click here.

B – blendspace.com: I had an incredible time at ISTE 2013, including getting to know the Blendspace team better. Harrison and Amy are both a blast to know and I am also impressed by how they keep learning front-and-center in their work.

C – cue.org: CUE 2013, Fall CUE 2013, SVCUE’s Teach Through Technology, SVCUE Board Meetings, and BrewCUEs. Yep, CUE was definitely a big part of 2013 for me.

D – dirtysexyedtech.tumblr.com: A great resource on calling out some of the ridiculousness in edtech. EdSurge is my source for most edtech news, but DirtySexyEdtech helps to keep the edtech world in check.

E – elementaryedtech.com: This site right here. The way I get feedback on my larger projects and the way I raised funds for Google Glass, which needs an update post, but it hasn’t been used in any useful enough way to get that post started yet. Huge shoutout to Jessy Irwin, who really pushed the Google Glass sponsor project forward!

F – fitbit.com: While Jenna (my wife, who joined Twitter in 2013!) has had a FitBit for years, I just got my own in September. I’ve worn it everyday since then and it has really helped me stay moving and conscious of what I’m eating daily.

G – google.com: I’m continually using Google, whether it’s Google Drive for work, for SVCUE, or for other collaborative projects (one which may come out in 2014!); GMail for communication (I love the Boomerang extension!); Calendar or any of the many other useful tools, including Google Shopping Express, which has saved me a lot of time.

H – homedepot.com: As I said in ‘A’, I’ve been building out our Makerspace, including painting the walls and stripping the floors.

I – i-ready.com: As much as I’m not a fan, i-Ready was definitely a big part of 2013, as it consumed a lot of my work for the 2012-2013 school year. So excited to be focused on the heart of STEM this school year.

J – Nothing

K – kayak.com: Travel was definitely a part of 2013. Palm Springs for CUE, San Antonio for ISTE, New York for Teachers College (ok, that was Jenna, but I explored the city during that time), Hawaii with Jenna for a vacation, and Los Angeles for the Rose Bowl (Go Card!).

L – launch.co: Launch is where I go for all my tech news. You should too.

M – makerspace.com: Interested in creating your own Makerspace? Their Makerspace Playbook is key.

N – news.google.com: When I’m not on my iPad using Flipboard, I use Google News for my world news.

O – omnigroup.com: It’s expensive, but I used the demo of Omnigraffle to make a pretty robust STEM Roadmap for our district.

P – pronovost.weebly.com: This site was a quick design I made for a tech integration training I gave at one of our schools this year. While I spent 2013 doing quite a bit of edtech training, I’ve come to realize that it’s my work with students that is more exciting and rewarding.

Q – Nothing

R – reddit.com: Reddit, while infamous for the not-so-cool parts that exist within, is actually an incredible community, where I often find out about things before I see them anywhere else (beside Twitter). If you don’t believe how amazing the Reddit community can be, check out the Secret Santa posts from this year.

S – sports.yahoo.com: Who does sports right? Yahoo! does. I don’t say that just because a friend works for them. I say that because it’s the best place on the web I’ve found for checking up on sports scores and news without the video ads that plague another sports site out there. And I love their Fantasy Football (and other Fantasy Sports) work. Oh yes, this is where I meant to mention the Packers making the playoffs and the opportunity for another great Niners/Packers game this weekend.

T – thingiverse.com: 3D printing! Yes, we were able to secure 3D printers in our Makerspace, thanks to some kind donations toward our pilot and the MakerBot Academy push. Thingiverse is full of designs that others have made and want to share with everyone to make themselves. I anticipate that in a few years, I could design a gift, send it via email to family, and they could print it out on their 3D printer. Would save on shipping, lost mail, and much more.

U – ups.com: Until we have 3D printers everywhere though, we will still use UPS and others to ensure our packages (presents, Makerspaces tools, and more) make it where needed.

V – virginamerica.com: Our airline of choice. Virgin America actually makes me excited to fly, which is not something that one would normally hear me say.

W – weebly.com: Where I go to make my personal websiteSVCUE website, our wedding website (that was 2012 though), and anything else. Weebly makes it easy.

X – Nothing.

Y – yammer.com: This is where we have been communicating for our iZone work, which is a collaborative project with the San Mateo County Office of Education, the Full Circle Fund, and many of us within the county. Our goal? To improve education for all learners in San Mateo County.

Z – Nothing.

That concludes my final 2013 post, but look out for my first 2014 post, which will update you on our awesome Makerspace work!

Happy New Year,

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Making a Makerspace: Peek Inside My Plans

On October 1st I started on my efforts toward creating a set of Makerspaces in our school district. I immediately jumped into visiting the d.school at Stanford, collecting every book I could on the topic, and applied to attend the FabLearn conference. A Makerspace has been my goal since the first day I started as STEM Coordinator last year, so when I was recently given the flexibility and permission to move forward, I jumped on the opportunity immediately.

Now, what I’m going to lay out here is my vision, supported by numerous individuals, conference sessions, and books. I’ll include a list of resources I’ve referred to at the end. When I’m finished, I’m hoping you’ll have a good idea of what I’m doing and can give me some great feedback – be it the programs we use, companies I should reach out to, or something I need to fully rethink.

First of all, the vision and mission of the Makerspace Collaborative:

All sites will have access to a Makerspace where students can work together in developing STEM familiarity and competency through after-school 2-week Introductory (Level 1) courses and 2-4 week Advanced (Level 2+) courses, along with lunchtime clubs meeting once or twice a week. These courses and clubs will include coding, robotics, and making/design thinking.

Across all sites, at least 700 kindergarten through eighth grade students engage in Introductory (Level 1) courses in coding, robotics, and making/design thinking or lunchtime clubs per year. Engage at least 100 students per year in Advanced (Level 2+) STEM courses.

How do I plan to get there?
Students who complete all three Introductory courses will earn a badge (puzzle piece pin in lower right-hand corner) that will connect with the Advanced badges (puzzle piece pins – R(obotics), M(aking), C(oding). Advanced badges do not need to be earned consecutively or in a particular order.

RMC Pins

RMC Pins

The Makerspace after-school programs will run in approximately 8 week cycles, beginning with an “open house”, followed by 2 week courses in making/design thinking, coding, and robotics. The cycle will conclude with a celebration/reflection the following week.

Instruction for courses will come from:

  • Coding – Code.org, Tynker, Kodable, Turtle Art
  • Robotics – Lego WeDo, Lego Mindstorms, Thymio
  • Making/Design Thinking – Institute of Design at Stanford, Make Education Initiative, RAFT, FabLab@School

Lunchtime clubs will be for students in all grades and there will likely be some overlap with nearby grades. Clubs will all be student choice and may include Legos, 3D printing, e-textiles, video production, Scratch, or whatever kind of making they’d like!

Open House – January 7-10th
Making/Design Thinking Level 1 course – Jan 13-24th
Coding Level 1 course – Jan 27th-Feb 7th
Robotics Level 1 course – Feb 11-28th
Celebration/Reflection – Evening in week of March 3rd

2013-2014: Build Makerspace and create pilot introductory and extended STEM opportunities at one site, supporting students from that site and other nearby campuses.

2014-2015: Implement full introductory and extended STEM opportunities at first site. Build Makerspaces and pilot introductory and extended STEM opportunities at two other school sites.

2015-2016: Full introductory and extended STEM opportunities across first three school sites. Build Makerspaces and pilot introductory and extended STEM opportunities at all remaining school sites.

2016-2017: Full introductory and extended STEM opportunities across all school sites.

While I am going to run the pilot Makerspace this year to work out all the kinks and make it as powerful as possible, my goal is to recruit Maker Corps or some other Americorps organization to staff each Makerspace in future years. Eventually, this funding will come from within the district, though at this point we will rely on outside support, along with all the materials for students to use.

What will the Makerspace look like? Well, I’ve created this mock-up of the room in reset mode and one way it can look while in use.

Room Reset North Room Reset South Room in use South Room in use North

But, to be honest, that’s a huge dream. Right now the room looks like this:

empty Makerspace

I’ll be shopping around for support, that’s for sure, but even without any additional support I’m still going to open up the Makerspace by January. As Sylvia Martinez and Gary Stager say in Invent To Learn, “We owe it to our students to close the digital divide immediately and offer expanded learning opportunities.” I have a box of Legos, a few old MacBooks, and a brand-new Thymio robot (you can find it at Techykids.com). I can also pick up a button-making kit easily from a craft store in order to make cheap pins. Just that, along with the right prompts and support for the students, is all that’s really necessary. Everything else will just help make it more powerful and give students multiple entry points and materials for creating.

All of this work has come together after a lot of reading, listening, and observing. Here’s what I’ve done so far and what I plan to do before opening the first space:

Make Space by Scott Doorley & Scott Witthoft
Invent To Learn by Sylvia Martinez & Gary Stager, Ph.D.
Makerspace Playbook: School Edition by Makerspace.com
Young Makers Maker Club Playbook by YoungMakers.org
The Maker Movement Manifesto by Mark Hatch
Creating Innovators by Tony Wagner

Don Orth & Christa Flores – Hillbrook School’s iLab
Heather Allen Pang, Angi Chau, and Diego Fonstad – Castilleja School’s Bourn Idea Lab
Nate Rinaker & David Malpica – Bullis Charter School
Aaron Vanderwerff – Lighthouse Community Charter School
Christine Mytko – Black Pine Circle School
Amy Shelley & Katie Kinnaman – Garner Bullis School

I’ve also talked to or hope to talk to the Maker Education Initiative, RAFT (Resource Area For Teaching), TechShop Menlo Park, Watsonville Science Workshop, TechyKids.com, FabLab@School, d.School at Stanford, The Tech Museum, Recology, Menlo School, and as many other teachers/makers/companies/schools/organizations as possible.

Any thoughts? Suggestions? Am I completely missing something?

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Allow others to upload to your Google Drive without a Google Account!

I’m super excited right now because I solved a problem that I didn’t think would have an easy answer. No, not running Flash sites on a Raspberry Pi, although I do think that is solvable too.

We wanted to be able to allow teachers in our district to share resources from the TCRWP Homegrown Institute in the Teaching of Reading with everyone else, without making everyone join DropBox or go through the unfortunate hurdles that sometimes appear when logging into their GAFE account.

A little research and tah-dah… EntourageBox to the rescue!

What is EntourageBox? Well, basically they create the ability for anyone to upload to a specific Google Drive, DropBox, or S3 Bucket (don’t yet know what that is) folder via a weblink.




I chose “Google Drive”, which brought up this next prompt after asking me which Google account (I was signed in under two accounts in Chrome) I wanted to use.



I entered a folder name, clicked “I agree to the Terms of Use”, and then generated a free URL. After doing that, I quickly upgraded to a Priority URL (just over $2) in order to make sure the files uploaded in a prompt fashion.

Then I was set! I had a URL I could share with peers that brought them to the following page:


Now all they have to do is click “Add files…”, choose the files, and click “Start upload”. I believe they don’t simply start uploading because they want to make sure you’ve selected all the files and they could be from my folders on your hard drive.

All the uploaded files are then accessible with the same link, or they can go to our district’s Teacher Resources page where I’ve set it up to automatically show all the files within the Google Drive folder I created.



Wow. I was so excited I just stopped eating my dinner for twenty minutes so I could share this with all of you. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!


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