Sunday, January 22, 2017

10 Tools For Student Voice

My story of using tools for student voice begins with listening to my students. I try to provide them with as much input as to how they will be educated as possible, and it's no different when it comes to using one technology choice over another.

This focus on what the students say, of course, is at the heart of student voice. They can't control everything that happens in school, but, given the right opportunity, their education can become something far more meaningful than a prescribed set of standards to master.

Here's what my students have taught me about technology.

1. Twitter

When instruction calls for social media, student identity is wide open to the world. Twitter is as authentic as it gets for microblogging student responses, and it's also the riskiest.

The first time I tried to use Twitter for an assignment, I didn't predict that a student may not want to do it. I thought it would work as well as Enrique Lagaspi's history class I saw on YouTube the day before.

The girl told me that I couldn't make her, and she was right. To my defense, I was still in the "Tigger stage" of being excited about the novelty of using digital technology in the classroom. I hadn't thought much about the consequences or issues we would face. I was as naive and excited as it gets.

I was just lucky that a student felt confident enough to speak up to the issue in class. She literally stopped me in my tracks. I didn't hide any of my surprise or confusion. It was like the wind was taken from my #edtech sail and every student knew it. So I turned it into a teachable moment, for me, especially.

The next day, I made "Twitta" on Google Forms.

2. Google Forms

Switching to Forms solved the social risk issue that I had not previously considered. This was the first time I used forms to collect responses from students. It was messy at first, but it was obvious that the power of student contributions is inherently engaging.

These days, Forms is much nicer to look at since you can view responses within the form as opposed to always going to the response sheet. It saves transition time during instructional activities, for sure.

5 Steps to Google Forms in Lieu of Twitter

3. Today's Meet

Since forms didn't give us the look that I was looking for, I searched for edtech tools like Twitter and found Today's Meet. The simplicity was huge, and it worked on mobile browsers, which was what most students were using in my 2014 classroom.

Here are some activities you can try with Today's Meet.

4. Padlet 

Padlet is different than Today's Meet because it allows users to make posts with more options. Without getting into all of the options, I particularly like the ability of students to glance back and forth at all of the posts like a virtual chalkboard or message board. Keep in mind that it's all about student contributions and therefore supporting development of student voice.

Perhaps you use the chalk talk strategy. Use Padlet to collect student responses, and keep the results for future contributions and revisiting for reflection. When the learning content is captured and accessible, we can maximize how deep the learning can go. If you aren't going to the revisit the work, skip the digital technology.

5. Remind

Virtual office hours is a turn off for some teachers, but not me. I wouldn't be a teacher if I didn't want my students to continue learning beyond the brick and mortar. It's the ultimate goal, isn't it?

Remind allows my students to text me via the Remind app at anytime, within reason. It's the fastest way for me to respond, and it's their preferred mode of communication. In this way, the choice of using the app and texting is a reflection of the power of student voice. It works for them, so that's what we use.

6. Poll Everywhere

Some users are are not happy with the response limit. I'm not bothered by it because my class sizes are reasonable for the tool. We use the word cloud to focus vocabulary instruction and the ranking tool to evaluate thesis statements, to name a couple of examples.

Like most people, I am not satisfied when we cannot get to all of the student responses. It makes individuals feel like it was all for nothing, which can be toxic to student voice. The ways my students use Poll Everywhere allows every response to count while focusing our time on the most critical issues among the student responses.

The video below shows how to import Poll Everywhere into Google Slides.

7. Google Drive

Share a link to a Drive folder with editing permissions. I add other folders inside depending what I want my students to share. For example, my students add images to a unit images summary folder. I give them the enduring understandings, and they add content from the Web that they think is relevant.

This exercise is quick and replaces a lot of my slide presentations. I don't abandon the slide presentation altogether because it's a great way to model to the students the kinds of images that I expect them to contribute. Plus, if I want to show certain images in a sequence, I rename the images to take advantage of the alpha-numeric ordering of files in the folder.

In this case, choice is voice.

8. Verso

If there's one tool that's the more powerful and age-appropriate for activating student voice, it's definitely Verso App. The special feature is anonymity. Students can argue their points with classmates while their identity is only know to the teacher.

When it comes to activating student voice, the ability for learners to speak without the judgement flying at them is crucial to developing one's efficacy and approach to conflicting views.

For more on Verso App, here's a list of 15 activities with video accompaniment.

9. Blogger

Reflection and sharing is key to developing one's own voice. Blogging serves several purposes. Here's a few off the top of my head.

(1) It's a space to be honest and vulnerable. People may comment harshly about your work, and that only means that individuals can practice responding appropriately. A lot growth can happen when emotions run high and cooler heads prevail in the final decision.

(2) Blogs are good for floating parts of projects that you're working on. It's better to get feedback during the project than at the end. Maybe you are working on posters for a public service announcement, and feedback on the images would be helpful. Share it with people and ask for their honest opinion.

(3) Writing and conversing makes us more fluent writers, readers, thinkers, and learners. More than anything, I want my students to learn how to learn. Authentic writing opportunities are a great way to learn. It's why I do it.

10. Flipgrid

Flipgrid is a tool that organizes student video responses in a discussion format. It has a lot of potential for developing routines that transfer to responsible digital citizenship habits and allows students to exercise spoken language.

Even though video is so easy to produce, I'm not convinced that everyone realizes how powerful it can be for learning. When I make a video for a YouTube upload, for example, I watch and rerecord before posting my best. This process is where the learning happens. I set goals that get me to producing one take that's smooth and casual without too many tries.

The repeated evaluation while creating the video is an opportunity to grow as a public speaker, not just for video production. Since the video does not hide the imperfections, I've experienced a lot of public speaking growth. I'm more aware of what I say and how I fill (or don't fill) the space when I'm searching for the right words. "Like" and "um" can get out of hand.

Although I have only used Flipgrid a few times, I plan to use it more this semester. It's tough, however, because I'm asking for my students to be vulnerable, whether they like it or not. My plan is to talk about this with them openly and set some expectations about how we interact. Since I now feel more ready to support them when they are vulnerable, I think it will be more successful than my previous attempt a couple of years ago. Teacher efficacy is everything when it comes to using any strategy.

Thanks for reading. I hope that you are considering the power of student voice to engage your students. If you have any ideas that work or things you wish to share, please write a comment. Your contribution will help other readers, as well. 

Monday, January 2, 2017

15 Google Classroom Features You Will Love

Google Classroom can help you do hundreds of things. I want to show you a short list of what has made my job a little easier after using it for two and and a half years. 

Lots of updates have been made since the launch in 2014. Some features are more helpful than others, and I get excited about the little things that save time and reduce stress for teachers and students. From the start, Google Classroom has been a instructional facilitator. Here's what I'm talking about.

Getting Started

1. Easy Set Up

Some teachers told me they didn't like Classroom because it was hard to set up. Maybe the concept of Classroom was not well understood by those teachers. Perhaps they weren't primed to explore and learn through discovery, which is so important when it comes to understanding the potential of ... well ... everything. 

The on-screen directions walk you through set up and provide a tour of key features. For an open mind, this is a piece of cake. Hover over almost any button on pretty much every Google application, and a text box will appear in a couple of seconds to tell you what it does.

2. Upload Header Image
This may seem like a minor detail, but your students benefit from a special image when they have four or five other classes using Classroom. The routine of checking Classroom becomes associated with the header image.

I like to make sure that the image is closely linked to the content on a conceptual level. As a history teacher, this means maps, documents, architecture, and other symbols that spark connections to the course themes.

3. About Page

Add resources to the About page that students may need to access throughout the course. I include the syllabus, writing resources, exam prep, and technology expectations.

Making Posts 

4. Drive Integration

This is the basis of making Classroom in the first place, or at least I think so. As a teacher who used Google Drive long before Classroom was available, I can say that the struggle was real.

I tried Moodle and Edmodo before switching to Classroom upon its release. The number one reason for this decision was Drive integration. Moodle was time consuming and Edmodo couldn't handle the volume of materials that an advanced high school class needed. Classroom solved a lot of problems in terms of file sharing, permissions, and other workflow issues.

5. Schedule Posts

I have routines, but I have to work really hard to maintain them. The work comes easy to me at different times and places, so the ability to write out a weekly plan days in advance is great. 

Most importantly, a post to the stream doesn't have to be posted right away. When posts made too long before students need the information, they freak out because they fail to read the dates on the agenda and start doing the following week's homework. True story.

Scheduling posts makes things run like clockwork, literally. I can do my part when the creativity is flowing and productivity is high, and students are not confused over posts that don't pertain to where we are in the lesson cycle. 

6. Reuse Existing Posts

This may sound simple, but time and energy are everything to a classroom teacher. The ability to reuse posts is helpful whether it's from one year to the next or to prepare for multiple classes with similar needs. 

7. Stream Post Link

You can't count on teenagers checking email regularly. They text, so we use Remind to communicate about timely matters. Sharing a link to a stream post in a Remind message is the best guarantee that one of my students will not worry and wonder about to which post I am referring.

Let's be really honest. People communicate differently than they did ten years ago. Most of these kids have been texting longer than they've had email addresses. If I can relieve some stress by adding a link to a text message, I'm am happy to take the extra 15 seconds. They're worth it!

8. Move to Top

The story usually starts with a student saying, "I couldn't find it." Shortly after, several other students chime in to confirm the concern. By moving a post to the top, it allows teachers to position an agenda post, for example, to keep the class on track.

Sure, kids need to learn to search and find, but teachers also need to reduce stress that comes with technology, especially when students are accessing the information outside of school.

Staying Organized

9. Organize By Topic

The stream can become a mess of posts over the course of a few months. Topic allows users to sort the posts by relevance. For example, I write a weekly agenda, so one of my topics is "00 Weekly Agenda."

The "00" ensures that the topic is at the top of the list of topics, which is because the order of topics is alpha numeric. Notice that my unit topics include 01, 02, etc. These topics are for student work like assignments and questions. Lastly, I make exam review posts so students can filter the reviews for end of course exams.

10. Last Edit Date 

The post date is automatically added to the top of each stream post. The last edit date is added separately to show students if there were any changes. This is nice because teachers can tell students to look for the agenda posted on a certain date. For students who are absent, the last edit date helps because it gives them more information when they ask questions about the accuracy of the stream posts.

11. Calendar Integration

We all have so many appointments and deadlines, regardless of the careers we have chosen. Users benefit from the automatic integration of Classroom and Calendar, which is accessible through Classroom. Calendar events are based on the items with a due date.

Instructional Support

12. Post Questions

Learning starts with questions, so it's no surprise that Google would include a tool that posts to the stream and updates the gradebook. Last year, my classes routinely responded using the question tool. The question posts take seconds to make and are just as easy to grade.

One of the concerns I often hear is that some individuals dislike grading on the computer. Specific concerns range from not wanting to learn the technology to the health risks of screen time. Many concerns stem from the discomfort of change. Many people still like paper because it's what they know, and there's nothing wrong with that. 

13. Classroom Extension

I lost count of how many times I found a website while searching for an answer to a student's question and was able to share it right away because we had the extension. The Classroom extension is as simple as that. It's great for quick transitions.  

Push to Students

Ask a Question

14. Invite Co-Teachers

When Classroom was first released, I was working closely with another AP World History teacher. We wanted to share a Classroom and use different sections for our specific classes. This would have been great for sharing resources without bugging each other about what we're doing. We would still bug each other, but the conversations would have been more productive.

Last year, I taught a class of 14 students with learning differences. I worked with a co-teacher, and we were able to communicate efficiently because of the option to add Co-Teachers.

15. Import Classroom Roster to Other Tools

It's hard for me to try new tools because of the time it takes to get rosters organized and teach students how to access the sites or apps. For many tools, those days are over. The video below shows how quick it is to add a roster from Classroom to a new class in EDpuzzle, a video-based assessment tool.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Lessons From 1:1 | Toward a One-to-World Learning Environment

Four years ago, I started getting the itch for a 1:1 classroom. I wrote grants, begged for computer lab access, and did everything short of kicking and screaming to get what I wanted.

Halfway through the school year, I received a Chromebook for every student as part of a campus experiment. Then, I received ten more to try as part of a district experiment. This was all after receiving two iPads from a grant. We had more computers than students, and, in some cases, twice as many.

What Did I Learn?

Be careful what you ask for ... I got it! Not the computers. I learned what it was like to manage a classroom that could shift gears without a trip to the copy room. I learned how we could collect ideas, concerns, and questions from the entire class and use it all as part of the lesson content, merging student voice and formative assessment. 

But still, it wasn't enough. I constantly had this feeling like something was missing. We went beyond replacing paper worksheets with digital ones, and the lesson plan would never be the same because it could change drastically based on student needs. Homework was shrinking to almost nothing because we were getting so much done with our class time, yet I had a feeling like there was something more we could do.

Digital Learning Farm

I was fortunate to have attended a keynote by Alan November the previous summer, so I bought his book and read it almost in one sitting. It's not a long book, but the stories jumped off the page because they showed me what we were missing in our "one-to-too-many" setting.

The book presents the idea that classrooms, like farms, are places where things grow. Alan calls it the Digital Learning Farm. Being a history teacher, I couldn't help but relate it back to Thomas Jefferson's concern about how industrialization would take away our freedom because of how we would become slaves to the clock.

From Industry to Information

Classrooms and schools have long been criticized for being too stuck in the industrial model, so I embraced the digital learning farm. Perhaps the Web is like a farm, yet students can grow by cultivating knowledge and making publishable things that can be harvested to feed the world. Maybe connected technology would bring together the best of both industrial and agrarian economies to make an Age of Information that even Jefferson could appreciate.

I'm not there, yet. I have more to learn, which is why I've decided to write about it here and share the project that I am working on. It's called the Digital History Farm. I wanted to specialize my approach a bit because there are a lot of resources being developed as digital history. It's huge, actually.

These are resources that my students can both learn to better access and make contributions to if I implement some of Alan November's approach to technology integration. For example, instead of reading clips of primary sources and secondary interpretations, which are important, my students made a spreadsheet of all of the items and amounts taxed by the Stamp Act.      


Alan November's ideas about 1:1 are not aimed at discouraging the initiatives. He knows, however, that too many schools have placed the selling point and vision on the device instead of the connectivity, the opportunity, and what it means to foster Web skills that can leverage powerful databases to find and solve problems.

My lesson designs have plenty of room to grow, especially when it comes to providing opportunity for new lines of inquiry and broadening the conversation to engage authentic audiences from around the world (, accessed 12-30-16 at 10:55 EST).

Recent Posts to Digital History Farm (click or touch images)

What's Next?

At the publishing of this post, the pages in the horizontal navigation of the Digital History Farm blog were incomplete. The goal is make the blog a place for resources as well as sharing of the featured content made by students. The project will grow and likely change, so stay tuned for updates.

Please leave a comment on the Digital History Farm if you have suggestions.  

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Making Websites With Google Docs

When the preview for the new Google Sites came out last summer, I got excited and frustrated all at once. The new Sites looked great and was easy to use, which means my students were likely to pick it up quickly. But I was also frustrated because I couldn't do a lot of the things that the old platform allows.

This situation prompted me to consider whether or not my students even need to make a website with Sites, new or old. After all, I want them to learn skills and experience the audience that comes with publishing their work online.

I chose to teach with Google Docs as much as possible. There's so much you can do with it, including publishing to the Web. Plus, teaching with Google docs allows students to choose their platform in the future.

Here are a couple ways to make it happen with Docs.

Publish to Web

Docs has a feature in the File menu that allows you to publish a document to the Web. It comes with a default header and footer, but it's really quick. This way of publishing is good for working across devices (smartphones, tablets, full browsers, etc) and publishing simple documents like agendas or a syllabus.

WWW Drive

If you are looking for a more appealing product, I recently found WWW Drive. The nice thing about this tool is that you can host your site from Google Drive or Microsoft OneDrive.

Here are the steps I took to make it happen.

1. Download your Doc as an html file.

2. Unzip your files and organize them in the proper folder.

Open file in zip extractor.

Set the destination folder.

Move files out of the unzip folder.

Share unzipped files so they are searchable on the Web.

3. Go to and click the cloud storage you want to use. Make sure you are signed in to your account.

4. The site will take you to an admin panel where you will find links to your published html files.

Tip: Use a link shortener like or to make sharing easy.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

7 Steps For Making Portfolios With Google Apps

Every time I read through term and semester portfolios, I find students who under perform on exams yet blow me away with what they showcase. Their ability to reflect on the activities and organize their products is super exciting. I also see the opposite from some of the best test-takers.

google docs, eportfolio, portfolio, gafe, googleedu

No one cares about your grades after a certain point in life. Employers and customers want to see what you've done. They want to know that their time and money will give them a return on their investment in you. In other words, our kids have to learn how to sell themselves in order to be successful.

I want more than scholarships and entrance to amazing colleges for my students. I want them to understand who they are, what they want to do, and how to best present themselves to realize their dreams. This comes from routine reflection, making thinking visible, and learning in an environment that doesn't stress them in unhealthy or irrelevant ways, which is often what too much testing will do.

I've been working on portfolio activities for about three years, and I'm confident that I have many of the critical pieces. I'm also confident that this kind of summative work supports the learning process at the course level far better than final exams, especially if the goal is to educate the whole child.

Plus, portfolios are more authentic. They simulate the kind of work my students will be expected to do for many of the jobs in our economy, which is increasingly leaning toward information-based skill sets.

1. Creation

Knowing that students can only show quality work if I assign quality activities, I try to give them opportunities to take risks and show their creativity while exploring new information. The portfolio, from this point of view, holds me accountable for not assigning too much waste basket work – the stuff that drives too many classroom and occupies too much space in gradebooks.

It's important to remind students that the work they do will be included in their portfolios. Since many of the individual assignments do not receive scores in my class (feedback only), students need to keep the end in mind so they don't become too complacent.

We keep a running list of the activities as the term progresses. This allows students to reflect holistically on the coursework and catch up on their portfolio tasks so they don't scramble at the end. I've heard of some teachers using Google Calendar to manage mini-deadlines, as well as simple tables in a Word or Google Doc.

2. Curation

Staying organized in the digital world is just as important as it is working with analogue materials. As students complete activities, they need to keep their work in a folder along with a document for reflections and any images of their work they may want to include in the showcase portfolio.

Digital files can be lost easily, so naming conventions go a long way for consistency in a classroom. The skills that kids learn from the English teacher who requires the same heading on every assignment are very relevant in the age of information. Just because our work is a bunch of ones and zeros doesn't mean the traditional expectations should be thrown out, although sometimes it's interpreted that way.

Since my students use Google Drive, I dictate the name of the folder in Drive to avoid confusion when referencing it during instruction. I hope my students experience the efficiency of responsible file management and don't end up like my father with 5,000 photos on his phone and no idea what he should do with it all.

3. Reflection

“We do not learn from experience... we learn from reflecting on experience.” - John Dewey

Formalizing reflection has been one of my goals this year. In years past, I've incorporated opportunities for reflection into lessons, but this year it's been about making reflection a classroom routine.

Students wrote reflections after completing activities, regardless whether the activity would make it to the showcase portfolio or not. The reflections were written on a single Google Doc to stay organized. Students wrote paragraphs that responded to the following questions and were asked to use specific examples to support their responses.
  1. What did you do?
  2. What did you learn by doing it?
  3. How can you use what you learned outside of school and beyond? 
4. Showcase

The final product is often called the showcase, portfolio, or showcase portfolio. It can be put together in a variety ways, using a bunch of different tools to present the final product. Some examples of tools include Blogger, Google Docs, Google Slides, Google sites, YouTube, Wordpress, and Storymap, to name a handful. 

As shown in the image below, my students use Google Docs because it's simple and free. I don't like taking much instruction time to teach kids how to use new tools. Sometimes it's necessary to do so, but it can come to dominate the time if you're not careful. I would prefer to teach technology concepts, such as links, formatting images, and designing for use on a variety of devices.

Google Docs is publishable (see video below) and has all that the kids need to present their artifacts and reflections. It's also a great opportunity to teach the concepts I listed above. The same process could be done with Microsoft, of course. I chose Google because that's what my school uses.  

5. Formative Assessment

As with any formative assessment, the goal is to give shape to future activities. This means students reflecting on what they need to do and teachers redesigning activities to meet the specific needs of their students.

The activities that are eventually packaged as portfolio items receive feedback on the individual and classroom levels throughout the lesson cycles. I don't like to place grades with this feedback because kids focus on the numbers, not the specific strengths and weaknesses and how to take their work to the next level. On the issue of grades or no grades, portfolios are a great inroad to reducing grades in the gradebook or getting rid of them entirely (More schools than you might think have abandoned grades.)

We often use a Google Doc to share links to group work if we need to see the product for class discussion. If the activity is more about the writing or information, we use Google Forms to collect responses and project them with the overhead. You can use Padlet for both of these situations, but I like to use as few tools as possible. Too many accounts can get annoying.

6. Setting Goals

Many teacher evaluation systems are driven by goals, and the goals are often written by the person being evaluated. Why wouldn't we do that with our students?

My students write a goal based on a pattern that they find in their weaknesses. The image under Step 7 (see below) shows the table where students list the activities, including columns to the right for strengths, weaknesses, and action steps. They look for the most prevalent weakness on which to base their goal, often focusing on skills.

The first round of goal writing is sometimes weak, so it's important to teach students SMART goals, for example. The blue text in the image below is teacher feedback. I require my students to rewrite their goals and resubmit for approval because their summative evaluation at the end of Term 2 is based on the Term 1 goal.

7. Summative Evaluation

The Term 2 summative evaluation is based on the following question. To what extent did the learner achieve the goal? This time, the portfolio items are chosen as evidence to support the student response to the question. Whereas the Term 1 portfolio is about setting the bar from which students can individually assess and evaluate their achievement, Term 2 is about evaluating the progress on a goal because our classes are on a semester schedule.

If your schedule is yearlong course, you would want to adjust this process accordingly. A yearlong course would allow students more time for reflection and collection of evidence. I found it much easier to implement portfolios in a yearlong schedule versus the semester schedule under which I currently work.    

Publishing to the Web

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

3 Tools to Automate Assessment For Learning

It was only a week ago, but I'm dying to know if I passed the exam for an endorsement on my teacher license. I know that if I don't, I will receive feedback on areas that need improvement, I'll practice more, and take the exam again. But it doesn't make the wait any easier.

Our students go through these feelings, too, and I often wonder if I'm better at processing them because I didn't have to grow up in an education system that promoted high-stakes testing. I'll never know, for sure, so I use this concern to inform the way I design assessments.

With all the great new ways we can manage information, one of my favorite concepts is automation. I automate emails, text messages with Remind, posts to Twitter, Google Classroom posts, and much more. Why not automate assessment grading?

Timely feedback is the keystone to formative assessment. Students need to know, in the moment, whether or not what they are thinking and doing will work in the long run. I can't take away all of the stress of testing, but perhaps the little formative tasks along the way don't have to contribute.

Here are a few of the ways I've been using automation to address the issue of timely feedback.

1. DocentEDU

A docent is a guide or a person with the right to teach. DocentEDU made a wonderfully simple tool to do just that. I use Docent for guided reading. It's quick to set up, and there are a variety of question types.

The image below shows a multiple-choice question. What's nice about the multiple choice question is the automation. Each question is scored automatically, reducing the points on each try.

I like the reduction in points because it adds a gaming element. Plus, I don't put these grades in the gradebook to calculate summary grades for report cards because they're formative. I want my students to reflect on their strengths and weaknesses, not stress about them. This is assessment for learning.

The second image shows the scoring by question for each student. Teachers can see the class average and download a CSV file for data collection. A low class average tells me either that the students didn't do well or a handful didn't do it at all. Either way, the conversations are based on data collected automatically.

2. Google Forms

Before the quiz mode on Google Forms was available, I used Flubaroo. The new quiz mode will autograde assessments. More importantly, automated feedback can be left for correct and incorrect responses, a feature that allows me to use this tool in the assessment for learning context. 

When we allow learners to take risks and receive timely actionable feedback, they don't need to wonder how they did. They can spend time thinking about how they got there and how to succeed next time. Like the story I shared about myself, it's hard not knowing. It can take something away from us, and I'm not willing to do that to the kids in my high school history classes when we have the tools to do otherwise.

3. EDpuzzle

This is another one of my new favorite tools. It autogrades, provides several question types, and adds opportunities to think critically while watching short videos.

Like the Google Form quiz mode, the responses can include feedback for answer choices. What's more, EDpuzzle allows teacher users to provide specific feedback for each answer choice. Google Forms only provides for feedback to correspond to correct and incorrect answer choices.

One of the additional points of data that EDpuzzle collects is the watch behaviors. For example, if I notice that a student got a question wrong, I can compare that to the watch behavior, which shows how much video was rewound in particular spots. When this information is compared to the response results, we can talk to students about how they are processing the information in the video to respond to the question. In other words, I can see whether or not a student is struggling or just going through the motions.

Just because kids watch YouTube, doesn't mean they are skilled at comprehending the content. EDpuzzle is a game changer for educators who recognize this 21st century learning issue.

Why Automation?

We do a lot of formative assessment in my classes. It's the only way you'll every know if what your students are doing will help them achieve the learning objectives. By automating some of these assessments, it frees me to focus on providing feedback on writing, which is where learners are more likely to be engaged. 

I also believe that automation needs to be leveraged the more we use digital tools for learning and assessment. We don't have the tactile memory of carrying the papers back and forth to school or the visual of stacks of folders on the desk (many still do, of course). 

Google Keep has been one of the ways I remind myself to check writing assignments and to take a peak into the virtual classroom that's always ready and working, like the world that's being reinvented as we speak.

Here are some related posts on the tools mentioned above.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Integrating Technology: The Danger of a Single Tool

It's not often that I walk away from a faculty meeting inspired by the way it was conducted. Although my principal always tries to model classroom expectations in her meetings, this time she nailed it.

The content, questioning, discussion probes, and use of technology were all meeting and exceeding my expectations. In particular, I was delighted with the way she used a tool called Mentimeter. She used it for word cloud generation and open response during the debrief of a great TED talk, "The Danger of a Single Story."

The Danger of a Single Tool

As I sat and participated in the discussion, it got me thinking about the ridiculous amount of digital tools available to us in 2016. There are so many tools to facilitate individual responses and visualize thinking. Mentimeter was a great choice for my principal, and she explained why she chose it over other tools. For teachers who don't know their options, however, choosing tools can be more troublesome than they've yet to realize.

It's hard to find one tool that does it all. More often than not, I find myself asking if I really need to use anything beyond Google Apps. On the occasion that a Google App doesn't facilitate a strategy, the search is on.

The main idea to focus on is the reason for the tool, not the tool itself. Designing lessons, in other words, is about considering tools that could add efficiency or support a particular strategy. After going through this process for several years, I've realized that my allegiances are to the tasks, learning process, and outcomes more so than particular tools.

I feel it's necessary to make this statement about my process because the echoes of the single stories about me and my interests in technology have frustrated me for years. Luckily, I've found enough people who do understand my intent, so here's a few of my uses and rationales for a handful of tools – always a work in progress.

Word Clouds

My first encounter with word clouds was in 2010 when a teacher gave me the idea to use Wordle to represent the academic integrity policy that my students made. To this day, you'll hear people refer to a word cloud as a Wordle. No big deal. Frisbee and Dumpster are brand names that we use generically all the same.

Word clouds arrange common words or submissions by making the most frequent words larger than the others. They are great for prioritizing vocabulary studies or, as in the way my principal used it, making the thoughts of a group visible to create a general reflection of the room.

At the meeting, we watched a TED talk and submitted the first three words that came to mind after reflecting silently for a moment. The tool my principal chose worked perfectly on all devices and with no account required. She liked it because there was no limit to how many responses each question could receive, and it was free.

My word cloud generator of choice is Poll Everywhere. I continue to choose this tool after using it for four years because it integrates with Google Slides, the app allows me to push questions to students while I walk around the room, and Poll Everywhere has a variety of types of question response options and presentation formats. I could go on and on, but this post is not about the tools.

Students can submit the words that are not sticking, and our discussion on terminology can be based entirely on student data. With the more troublesome words appearing larger than the others, we make the most of our learning time, and, most importantly, the priorities come from the students.

By design, the word cloud strategy is a lesson in itself because it teaches kids to prioritize and use technology to access and analyze information efficiently for the benefit of the group.

Open Response

Keeping with the theme of guiding lessons through student contributions, the open response is another power strategy with many tools ready to facilitate the process.

Open response, as a strategy, comes in many shapes and sizes. That's why I have a long list of tools to accommodate different types of open response activities.
  • Today's Meet is a chat room with a character limit – 140. We use it for silent Q&A during readings, sharing current events for homework, and simple back channel discussion. 
  • Google Forms is the tool I use most often, especially since it doesn't require you to access the response sheet anymore. Students can submit a longer response, and we can project the responses on the front screen for discussion. 
  • Poll Everywhere has some fancy tools. My new favorite is the up / down response tool. Students can submit a summary statement (or anything short) and they can vote up the better work and vote down the work that doesn't necessarily meet the standards. Think about all of the thought processes involved in a tool like this one. It's powerful, for sure. 
  • Verso App is my go to for argumentative discussion practice. It's claim to fame is the way it provides user identities to the teacher but makes them anonymous to the users. Students are more likely to take chances with both responses and comments. It also has like and flag tools, which allows students to identify the helpful work as well as the work that does not meet the standard or simply aims to disrupt. 
  • Google Classroom questions are great for when students need to submit work for marks and feedback. Sure, you might be thinking that Google Forms should suffice. The problem with forms is that it's too much work to separate the range for an individual student into a tab and send the tab to a sheet so students can see their feedback and score when it's entered. Did I lose you? In other words, Google Classroom lets me return the work to my students once the marks and feedback are ready. This can be done with forms, but it's a long process with tedious details that classroom teachers don't have time for. 
Quizzes and Surveys

Google Forms. Plickers. Mentimeter. Poll Everywhere. Zipgrade. Try all of these. They all do something different and could help you support a variety of strategies. But be patient. Updates from a variety of directions can bring new successes just as well as new challenges.

Google Forms, for example, recently added quiz and auto-grading options, so I don't have a huge need for some of the other tools like Plickers or Zipgrade. I particularly like how I can insert a primary source document as an image and ask a variety of question types. Take the matrix, for example. Teachers could assess for identification of fact or opinion statements by listing a series of statements in the rows and using the columns for fact and opinion options. Try the same for cause and effect.

You see? We're not integrating technology to teach kids how to use Google Forms. We're assessing their ability to identify fact from opinion, and we're [they're] getting the results right away. 

When I want to give a paper-based assessment, Zipgrade is the best. I can print the answer sheets and use my phone to grade. The results are itemized and graphed for quick analysis. Again, I'm not using fancy tools to write blog posts. I write blog posts because it would be a crime to not share the facility I experience through the strategic use of tools like Zipgrade to immediately inform how and what I will teach next.

As I mentioned earlier, Poll Everywhere integrates with Google Slides. Every few slides, I like to add a question to check for understanding. The kids like it, and it breaks up the lessons, especially during a sit and get activity.

The Benefits of Multiple Tools

I try to limit my technology choices so that my students are not distracted by the variety of tools. This got me thinking about whether it would be a good idea for a school to endorse one tool over another – if it would be beneficial for the students to not have to learn so many different tools.

My conclusion is simple. Kids need to learn a variety of tools and web applications so they can become more digitally literate. Over time, they will begin to view different sites and tools in terms of the functions of the different parts as opposed to the branding of a particular piece of technology.

They won't suffer the danger of a single tool.