Wednesday, December 30, 2015

My Lesson From 2016 | Responsible Innovation in Education

A new school, in a new state. This year feels very different than the last few. It actually feels most like my first, which, I have to admit, has been tough on my confidence. But I've embraced the transition from Texas to Massachusetts because I'm learning a lot as this new perspective shows me something different yet still familiar around every turn.


One of the things that attracted me to Holliston, where I now teach, is how similar the programs were to what I was used to. The district uses Understanding by Design and Google Apps for Education. These are the two most important aspects of what I do, second only to building relationships with students and colleagues.

This post is about taking a moment to think more carefully about "innovation." It's about asking questions as we try new things and further implement programs like Understanding by Design or using Google Apps for Education.

When is Innovation Also Progress?

The bus tour during the Holliston Public Schools teacher orientation was a nice touch. We learned about historical landmarks, events, and people who have influenced the growth of Holliston. By showing us the treasures of the town, it really made me feel like the school administrators were valuing what teachers bring to a community.

It was the the Cutler School, however, that grabbed my attention. This was the first school in Holliston to depart from a mixed-age classroom and the neighborhood school model, according to the tour guide.

I wondered if this was the best move for the future of public education in Holliston or elsewhere. The tour guide mentioned that parents weren't too fond of the shift. Of course, the context is everything. How was the town to know where the economy and education would go in the coming centuries? In fact, we are still making a lot of guesses with our current system.

The reorganization that occurred with the Cutler School reminded me of Sir Ken Robinson's comment about grouping kids by age – their "date of manufacture." Were the students learning more or less by separating them by age groups? Or was it more convenient for adults?

What will the next shift be? What will be the next Cutler School for Holliston?

Honesty about current situations in education must be paramount in order to avoid being sold on the novelty of an idea. Ask questions, seek answers, and make sure your voice is heard. It's the only way to keep the conversation focused on evaluating the progress of new initiatives.

What is Innovation?

I have the courage to implement 1:1 Chromebooks, and I also have to courage to ask whether or not 1:1 is the next Cutler School. It could go either way. We have many aspects to challenge before we'll know, for sure.

Concerns range from physical and mental health effects of kids using devices to the role of the teacher. In this new model that dissolves the classroom walls and puts the student in the driver seat, educators will have to be trained to maintain a healthy balance between individual and cooperative work, as well as screen time, movement, and face-to-face time.

Here are some questions to consider.

  • How do we know our innovation is successful?  
  • What do we do to support implementation?
  • Why do initiatives fail? 
  • At what point do we let go?
  • How innovative is Understanding by Design? Google Apps?
  • To what extent are we returning to what has been proven to work when we adopt a "new" program? In other words, how new are the programs?
We cannot be blinded by the novelty of an idea. There's too much at stake. At the same time, we cannot be afraid to try new things that connect our kids with possibilities not explored through conventional means.

Innovative is not always great in the long term, but if we don't try to hone in on a model that works for our kids, we will fail them before they fail themselves. We will not prepare them for the kinds of problems they'll need to solve or the technology they'll use after high school.

Where Are We Going?

Since the economic changes don't seem as defined as the onset of the factory system that spurred the end of mixed-age grouping, we have to focus on broader changes. If education shifts too much, too fast, we could find ourselves with a system that looks nothing like the world in which it was born.

I believe our future is in curricula that lend to in-depth study. The best way to achieve the depth and engagement is through proper technology choices that take high-yield strategies beyond the analogue realm. Furthermore, students need to have some control over how they solve the problems educators place before them.

Our Superman will one day be realized – not as a person or program that immediately changed everything. It will be a process that keeps pace with the changing world. It will be a system that is as real as the world our kids will take on. 

I'll leave 2016 with the most important lesson I've learned. Avoid being seduced by words like "innovation." There are good innovations and bad ones. There are bad implementations of good innovations. 

I urge educators to be wise enough to be able to recognize a good innovation and its proper implementation.   


Sunday, December 13, 2015

5 Things I Miss About 1:1 Chromebooks

Last year, I had the opportunity to pilot a 1:1 classroom. My high school history students were able to do things that could never be done on paper – and that was the goal.


I have since moved to a different state and to a district that does not have 1:1, yet. Our campus has a BYOD program that's as good as those programs get. The WiFi works well, teachers have laptops and projectors, and it has both network and instructional tech professionals. 

While the wait for what comes next labors on, I will continue to reflect on things that I miss about 1:1 as to not get cold on the instructional concepts I've developed over the past few years.

1. Descriptive Lessons

Writing lesson plans are important, especially for new teachers. It's the best way to practice and reflect on the crucial elements of pedagogy. 

The frustration comes in the form of new ideas and directions that come from effective formative assessment. You know, that time in the lesson when we think, "if only I had known that they would need more reading support." Sure, these red flags are predicated and written into the lesson plan, but it's impossible to predict exactly what kids will need in advance. 

The power a descriptive lesson with 1:1 devices is in the freedom to access a variety of text selections or activity tools to adjust to the needs of students as the lesson progresses. It reminds of all the times my students questioned my choice of one tool or another by suggesting one that they appreciate more, like substituting an interactive timeline app with Google Slides.

2. Digital Citizenship 

Almost all of my students are connected at all times, and the few who don't have smart devices with data can access the Internet daily. But this doesn't mean that they all know how to maximize the potential of apps that reduce the distance around the world to a matter of seconds. 

The effect is a classroom that can move beyond the basic uses and build skills and routines that reflect safe and acceptable use. Our kids need it modeled for them. They also need independent practice with some adult supervision. All of this was easy with 1:1 Chromebooks.

Here is my favorite resource for Digital Citizenship.

3. Flattening the Classroom

The walls dissolve when the work students do in the classroom is accessible to a worldwide audience. Even if it's a video that we share with parents through email, 1:1 classrooms are more productive at opening the classroom to the outside.

I have no excuses for not doing more to make this one happen in my new classroom. Amid the changes and uprooting my family, I have failed to send even one video to parents that shares and explains what happens in their kid's classroom. With this testimony, it's time to set some goals for near future. 

  1. Make a video to share with parents about the kinds of technology their kids use for learning. 
  2. Publish a blog post on my student work blog. 
  3. Design learning activities that allow students to work as a class toward a common product. 
  4. Defense be the roles of each student as member of a team working on a part of the overall product.
It has been my goal for a long time to create an ongoing project for students to contribute. Perhaps an online exhibit of the historical evidence we analyze would be a good place to start. Then, we could find another class (probably through Twitter) that may want to collaborate on it.

More on Flattening the Classroom.

4. Device Fluency

When every student has the same device, I can instruct for one set of conditions. This relieves stress on the students who are not as familiar with the power of the Internet beyond texting and YouTube.

Most importantly, the problems are shared. This reminds about the analogy of a classroom being like a ship. We will sink or sail together with the same device. It's especially exciting when the technology issues fade away and the students begin to take more ownership over what they produce. 

Besides consignment directions and easier prediction of technology-based red flags, the likelihood of peers helping one another with tech issues is far greater when they have the same device. That's what school is all about – the opportunity to learn with others and contribute to a community. 

5. No Copies 

I do all of my lesson planning on Google Classroom. The students have access to the essential questions, agenda, and lesson materials. More on Google Classroom Lesson Planning.

If I didn't have to make copies, the time spent running the copies and refocusing in between would lead to more time for students whether in person or to provide formal feedback on assessments. 

It also saves money and the environment.

Check out this post about using Google Forms.




Friday, December 4, 2015

8 Reasons to Read Learn2Earn's Technology Integration Guide

Leaders tell teachers that they need to use more technology. For the most part, teachers will do anything with the right support. When it comes to technology, however, teachers are often the ones left behind. 

Jessica Sanders addresses this issue in her book How to Bring Technology Into Your Classroom: A Quick and Easy Guide for Teachers. By addressing the most relevant issues teachers face when integrating technology, Sanders has developed a thoughtful program on the shoulders of experience. The mindset and checklists are reflective of experienced edtech integrators.


As I scrolled through these chapters, I could hear the questions I've fielded from teachers who struggled to use technology. The suggestions Sanders presents reminds of the choices that worked well for teachers who gave such a great effort toward doing more with the tools within their reach.

Here's what you may learn from each chapter, mixed a few of my thoughts.

1. Who's Doing the Work?

If technology is stressful or feels foreign, ask your students or colleagues for help. Avoid thinking that you need to do every activity with a digital tool by starting with one thing. Choose something that cannot be done with paper alone. Use the new tool to take your classroom beyond what's possible without it.  

2. Devices and Connectivity

Connectivity was one of the things that I struggled with early on in my journey of integrating technology. It's still a challenge, but you get better at making adjustments or talking students through problems. 

Sanders suggests to consider the choice of devices, tech support, and a tech learning community. Until you're comfortable using a variety of devices, I suggest trying new tools in a computer lab or with a device that you're comfortable troubleshooting and that each student can use for the activity. 

3. Test the Tools

I believe Kyle Pace called it "Sandbox Time" during one of his presentations. It's important to simply mess around and click on things to see what happens. Create a sample group or student test user if you can't see what the kids can see. 

This guide has a few very helpful printable checklists, including one for organizing notes as teachers test new tools. 

4. It's About the Learning

Stick to your learning objectives. I wouldn't look for something that features me in the driver's seat (see Chapter 1). Think of a product that you want the students to make that demonstrates their achievement of the learning objective. Just make sure that it's a tool that takes the product beyond the potential of what you would do otherwise (also Chapter 1).

5. Quality Over Quantity

Sometimes we need to slow down to speed up. I can't tell you how much time and energy can be wasted by trying integrate too many tools. From time to time, I ask myself if we can live without the tools we're using. Whichever tools consistently earn a "no" are let go.

6. "Be Flexible"

Being flexible is about being aware of your limitations both personally and logistically. Sanders does a nice job introducing strategies that address the kinds of issues we encounter as beginner and advanced users of edtech. 

This is the chapter to reread when you feel like you're wasting valuable time. 

7. Data. Data. Data.

Measurement is one of the tasks that teachers must do well to succeed in the profession. It's the easiest way to distill an experience into a yes or no judgement. 

The list of questions and issues to consider in Chapter 7 would be particularly helpful for setting and measuring goals for the formal teacher self-evaluation process.

8. Reflection

This perhaps the most important step. I have a blog for reflection and sharing student student successes. It's been great for collecting evidence for evaluation. Most importantly, it's the best way to communicate with parents and establish a wider audience for the work your students produce. 

Choose from these links to get your copy. 

Smashwords 

Amazon



Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Retuning Engagement: Reflecting on K-12 Classrooms

Kindergarten classrooms are always a delight to visit. A few nights ago, my son showed me all the different learning centers in his. At first, it was overwhelming, but it soon came to life as he explained how he moves through the day. 

As a high school teacher, I have to admit that I can get a little bogged down in the content. That's why I love to see what the teachers are doing in the earlier years. It reminds me why kids come to school. It reminds me that the adolescents, however brilliant they can be, are still children with learning needs not dissimilar to what they experienced in kindergarten. 

It was the classroom routines that did it for me. My son was able to tell me the expectations and consequences for non-compliance in each area. That's great, but it was two thinking routines posted on the walls that grabbed my attention.

The first ...

1. Read the pictures.
2. Read the words. 
3. Retell the story.

And the second ...

1. Make connections with me.
2. Make connections with the text.
3. Make connections with the world.

Within the complexity of skills you may observe in my high school history classroom, these thinking routines are the fundamentals. Although I infuse them in every lesson, it's comforting to see them so distilled.

Spelling was done through song and movement. Ongoing work and communication to home were managed by the students through different color folders. There were clearly defined student jobs. And the word wall was alphabetical. The room was so well organized that I could see the kids completing their tasks.

"Their tasks." That's what makes their learning engaging. If it's something I want my students to do, engagement is at the whim of the individual. But when learning is designed to require ownership, engagement is infused in what it will take to be successful.

This leaves me with a reminder to empower my students. Make their learning their own. It reminds me that when I am doing most of the producing of original work, the scale is tipped in the wrong direction.

The takeaway from this visit to my son's classroom is to revisit Pernille Ripp's book on empowering students as well as Alan November's book on student ownership of the learning. Perhaps somewhere in my transition to a new school, in a new state, I got sidetracked and bogged down in the content. It's time to reinstitute the digital learning farm. 

My students deserve the best of me, and, more importantly, they deserve the best of themselves. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

5 Ideas for Incorporating Technology into Staff Development

Faculty and department meetings can be a drag when it's a sit-and-get experience. That's why I made a commitment last year to integrate technology in ways that enhance the exchange of information during our meetings.


Here are a few of the things I've tried and a couple I'll use in the future. 

1. Poll Everywhere Word Cloud

Sometimes the best way to collect data is through an open response like a five-word summary. Use Poll Everywhere to collect the words and set the presentation view to word cloud.

I use this for vocabulary discussion, and it's great because it's novel and it gives you a starting point based on the groups priorities. The example below was from a world history discussion.


2. Today's Meet Summary

How many times have you been in a faculty meeting and the atmosphere is thick with silent opinions? What if some of those points of view were typed and anonymous? 

Sure, certain topics are inappropriate for this type of collection. For short summaries or back channel questions and comments, Today's Meet is perfect.

3. Verso App Discussion

Do you want to know what people really think? Do you want to hear from those who don't speak up? 

Verso App provides an opportunity for users to focus on only the ideas. It allows all of the identity issues and baggage to remain mute in these conversations. 

It's always interesting to see the reactions from my colleagues when I show them the level of discussions kids experience with this app.


4. Quizlet Check for Recall

Instead of conducting a meeting to tell my department about a new policy, I broke up the beliefs and practices into a card deck. They took a quiz and we discussed the data on Quizlet based the frequency of incorrect responses.

This approach did three things. My teachers experienced learning at their own pace, they learned a new tool, and we only discussed the group's most troublesome areas. It also modeled for them the things we want to see in classrooms. 


5. Flubaroo with Google Forms

This one is a little more advanced, but easy to learn because it walks you through the steps once the add-on is in your Google Sheets app (browser only). From start to finish, this process can take two minutes if the form is already made.

1. Make Google Form.
2. Add Flubaroo to the Google Sheet that contains the form's responses.
3. Walk through provides steps.
4. Evaluate the results.

We could think of so many more ways to use technology for staff development, so here are a few to start. How have you used digital technology for staff development? 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

10 Reasons Your Colleagues Should Use Google Classroom

Kids like knowing what to expect, and they want to be self sufficient. Well, at least that's how I translate the 20 questions I usually have to answer about what we're doing on any given day. There's no magic app for that.


With Google Classroom, my students are asking clarifying questions with more substance. They know roughly what we are doing and are expected to reference certain resources or tasks when asking questions. And this routine becomes easier and easier to teach the more students are familiar with Classroom.

I don't suggest that teachers push a tool on a colleague. That would foster ill relations and set up the conditions for poor learning. But we have to be ready for the question, "Why should I use Google Classroom?"

Here are some reasons your neighbor, colleague, or whoever you work with should use Google Classroom.

1. It's Basic

The purpose of Classroom is to share content, communicate expectations, recieve student work, and provide feedback.

2. Drive Integration

Classroom solved the problem many educators faced when they started using Google Drive with their students. How do we share work and provide feedback efficiently?

3. Email Blasts 

The ability to email an entire class with a few clicks is crucial for the 21st Century educator. What's more, the ability to email students who didn't turn in their assignment is pre-sorted. Tell your colleague to try it and see.

4. Student Forum

Sometimes we just need a quick check for understanding, an exit ticket, or have a silent discussion. The question tool does this in Classroom.

5. Monitor Student Work

Post a link to a Drive folder in which students can add their docs. As they work, you can monitor their progress. This may be a bit advanced for some of your colleagues, but it's a concept that 21st Century educators should try a few times a year.

6. Return Work Immediately

You've probably thought something like, "If only Sarah could get this paper right when I'm finished writing these comments. She'd have it ready in the morning and be all caught up."

Classroom gives you the option to return work digitally with one click.

7. "Because Everyone is Doin It!"

This is not a good reason to do anything, yet let's consider how easy it will be to manage if most of the students' other teachers are using Google Classroom.

8. Manage It with a Mobile Device

Forget about logging into your computer to update an assignment. The Classroom app works well and the browser version works almost as well on mobile devices.

9. Automatic Notifications 

It's not another thing that needs to be checked. We all use email at this point, right? Classroom will send email notifications when a student posts a question to the stream, and students recieve an email when the teacher posts a new assignment or announcement.

10. Co-Teaching 

This year was my first with a co-teacher. When he was apprehensive about using classroom, I sent him an invite be a co-teacher and he caught on immediately. Your colleague may only need a little direct support. 

Saturday, October 31, 2015

7 Steps to Supporting Learning with Quizlet

Her eyes welled and my heart broke. Just the mention of the word can set off test anxiety for some of my students. This time, the save came in the form of a compromise through technology. She agreed to review the vocabulary on Quizlet and take a practice test.


The next morning, she couldn't wait to tell me how well she did on her practice quiz. I checked out the practice tracking, and her classroom experience that day was everything you could want from a teenager struggling with a fleeting self-esteem – the kind that turns the world dark every chance it gets.

Why Quizlet?

I have always loved Quizlet. It's great for printing card sorts, quizzes, and digital study aids. I've even used it in lieu of a slide presentation. The app works great on all devices, and it's easy to share decks, folders, and track progress in classes.

Then, I discovered that you can record your own voice for 30 seconds each card. Making videos has been the way to flip classes for many years now, but this is much quicker. Plus, try making a quiz automatically from a video or a card sort.

Here's what I do.

1. Make a Deck

You can make a deck from scratch or search Quizlet for one that meets your needs. I often search first because there's usually something that may only need a few taken away or a few added to be complete.


2. Import Terms

Take your old vocabulary lists or quizzes and import the terms. It saves time, and the site guides you through the process by design.


3. Auto Define

Here's another time saver. Once you've spent the 15 seconds it takes to import your list of terms, click the auto define search icon on the far right to select a definition that works for your students. You can still edit the one you choose, and make sure the languages are set for the term and definition.


4. Add Images

The image option is great in the classroom and for homework. Sometines I use the deck in lieu of a slide presentation because the images switch to full screen when you click on them.


5. Record Narration

The text can be read automatically by a programmed voice. You can also record your own voice up to 30 seconds. I like this feature because it gives me the ability to remind students about the context of the word they are learning. The possibilities with this feature are very exciting. It's not complicated. Play with it.


6. Share the Deck

Quizlet let's you share directly to social media, Google Classroom, a Quizlet folder, or class on Quizlet. I use the classes and folders because the users will know where to find the decks.


7. Track Student Progress

This is the best. When students practice on Quizlet, the data is tracked for each student, game, and individual term. I often start a class with a review of the class summary. The terms are grouped and listed by achievement. Think about what this can do for learners who need to develop a sense of priority. It's great immediate feedback.



Saturday, October 24, 2015

Flip Your Class with Flipagram

Who has time to make a video for each lesson? For most flipped classrooms, it takes about three years to make all of the videos you'll need. That was true until I started using Flipagram. 

Okay, it's not the best quality, but I can make a video with images and voice narration with my phone. From the time I choose the images and record the narration to the upload directly to YouTube, a 5 to 10 minute video takes 15  minutes.

Here's what I do.

1. Make a New Flipagram


2. Add Images or Video




3. Establish a Sequence


4. Record Narration


5. Finalize the Video


6. Share Your Video


Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Follows and Clicks: Putting a Number on Engagement

My students found my Twitter account. It's not like I was hiding it. I just didn't want to endorse some of the unhealthy behaviors social media can draw from the most innocent users.

"Wow! Check out how many followers he has."



My first thought was, "Yes, and I follow many people, too." Instead, I held back because the students seemed like they were having a productive conversation without my interference.

"Wait! Look at all of the retweets."

This time, I asked what was more important: How many followers? or How much engagement? It got me thinking about YouTube and ad sales and all kinds of decisions we make because of the chance to be accepted by lots of people.

The class discussion went into some current events and digital citizenship best practices, but I kept reminding the students about the importance of quality engagement over quantity of clicks and likes.

Here's what I came up with for reflecting on my social media journey and best practices.

1. Notifications are off on my phone. 

It became too much to resist, even when it was out of sight. At first, a quick peek seemed harmless, but it soon became a burgeoning distraction.

Now, I engage with others on social media and email when I set aside time to give them quality time. Even then, it's hard to connect deeply on every idea, mention, comment, or interesting article.

2. Connecting with people through conversation is more powerful than clicks.

This was the message I hoped my students would take away. I believe that they can be taught social norms embedded in reflections-type discussions like the one on social media described above. Perhaps they make it a goal to talk with a particular few people at a social engagement or about certain topics rather than bouncing around to catch everyone's ear – even for a fleeting moment.

3. Be yourself. 

Isn't that what this post is about? I want my students to be themselves in person and online. 

I've learned that people want to read about my experience using a learning tool – even if they already know how to use it – simply to gain another perspective. I'm the same way. We collect our tricks of the trade pieces at a time from practitioners, which is why so many educators love social media like Twitter.

4. Your Voice Matters!

Todd Nesloney (@techninjatodd) and George Couros (@gcouros), among others, talk about how important it is to tell your stories and to encourage our students to do the same. Maybe our stories are similar to other people's, and that's the beauty of sharing the story. It gives people a chance to relate to one another.

5. Show your work.

People want to see what others do. This could be lesson plans, a video for instruction, photos of student work samples, or a reflection video. Long or short, the opportunity to catch a glimpse of the things classroom walls block from view. The Internet and all of the tools we have can flatten those walls.

6. Be honest.

Why wouldn't we be, right? What I mean here is that it's okay to tell a story about time when things did not go so well. In fact, I read those stories to the end. Why? Because I want that person to win. I want to win. I want my students to win. And the inroad to success is honesty, always!

7. Use hashtags.

Grouping information and labeling it appropriately is one of those skills my students develop during their time with me. It helps organize and focus information for something as academic as a thesis statement or as recreational as an opinion a new movie #NoMoreSequels. 

8. Participate in Twitter Chats.

This is a great place to find people who are like you and others who challenge you. Either way, you are likely to grow from the variety of perspectives.

9. If you like it, share it!

A lot of content is free these days. I think we owe it to the creators and potential consumers to share good content. In fact, the more we share good content, te better the search engines become at giving good content priority.

10. Be friendly. 

You're never too important to respond to someone's comment or follow a fellow educator, musician, engineer, or whatever you are.

Why Twitter?

This post was spurred by a conversation about Twitter. It got me thinking about how Twitter allows users to share bits of information that guide people on their path. 

It being that time of year, I couldn't help but make the correlation to birds flying south for the winter in V formation. Scientists believe the formation shares updraft and therefore conserving energy during the long flight. 

If even in draft form, share with others if only for the chance that our journey may do more with the energy we conserve.  

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Supporting ELLs with Google Apps

It's been three years since teaching sheltered English language learners, and I often think about how different the experience would be with the digital tools I currently use. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to tutor an ELL over the summer and got to try some things.


We started off with some pre-assessment and reading activities. It was through identification of trouble words that we found Google Translate and Images to be helpful tools. 

Here's what we did.

Google Translate

Finding the right word can be tough. Although bilingual dictionaries are very useful, using Google Translate and thinking critically about the results can increase the benefit of translation. But these are skills that students still need to learn under the guidance of a good teacher because, as we know, literal translations can be problematic.

The student was preparing for his fourth attempt at an engineering license exam. When we went through some of the content, he understood the concepts very well. Reading for understanding was his struggle.

Here's our process that ultimately helped him to move beyond his affective filter.
  1. Select a chunk of content for the learner to analyze for troubling or unfamiliar words (any words, not just content-related), and underline or otherwise mark them for study.
  2. The learner then writes a prediction for what he thinks each word means.
  3. Use Google Translate to look up the words and discuss the different possibilities in the primary language. This is an opportunity for the student to teach the teacher, which is critical for building a healthy atmosphere for learning. This conversation should be misty English, of course.
  4. Prompt the learner to use context clues from the selected chunk to determine the meaning of the English word.
Most discussions will lead to an understanding of the word. For the words that are really tough or unfamiliar, incorporate Google Images.


Google Images

Maybe the learner is close to understanding the context of a word and is still unsure. Teach them to routinely look up the word on google Images to make a visual connection with the context they may already understand. 


Using Google Images like this is a great way to move toward not needing to translate for understanding.

More Tools


Consider other tools that support ELLs. Perhaps it's an extension or a tool within an app that makes learning content in English more accessible. 

Chrome extension Speak It! 

Quizlet reads it to you and allows teachers to record their voice for each card. Students like hearing their teacher's voice. 

Google Docs and the ability for live commenting. 

Thursday, October 8, 2015

10 Tips About Google Forms for Learning

One of the things teachers do best is collecting evidence. We survey students about their knowledge and use the results to provide feedback to students as well as make adjustments to instruction.


Google Forms is a great way to do this efficiently. Here are 10 things to consider.

1. Multiple choice

Before you get discouraged by the labor involved in transferring your questions from a perfectly good document format, consider this trick. 

Copy all of the answer choices at once and paste them into the first "option." You'll find that the hard breaks are acknowledged and Forms will separate them automatically.


2. Written response

Why shuffle through papers or bring stacks home when you can grade student work on Google Sheets?


3. Scale

This tool is great for reflection. A simple question to gather data about student confidence can give you insight into the emotional experience of your students.  

4. Grid

Need to sort a long list of attributes among a few categories? I often use the grid item for identifying cause and effect, fact and opinion, or making rubrics. 


5. List of Traits

Use the checklist item for collect data for lab reports or characteristics of landforms, to name a couple. This would provide data to analyze for similarities and differences. 

Part of the exercise may be to have students make their own checklist based on a bit research and some predictions.

6. Image Analysis

Add an image to the form. Follow it up with questions that guide analysis. The debrief could include projecting the results (in sheets) on the screen.


7. Video Response

Flipping your classroom? Forms is a great way to gather responses to video guide questions. The video can be embedded in the form as easy as an image.


8. Flubaroo

I've tried several ways to quickly collect student responses. Forms is the best way, and Flubaroo is a great add on to Sheets that will grade the responses. 

The steps are few and simple. Try it out.


9. Change the Theme

I like to add an image to the header. It gets us all mentally prepared to address the topics.


10. Collect Questions

It's impossible to learn without asking questions. Use Forms to collect your students' thought process so the inquiry can be accessed for instruction.

Once you and your students get comfortable with this, an entire unit could be guided by student questions. In other words, they will come up with the pattern instead taking a handout from the teacher.


Tuesday, September 29, 2015

10 Google Classroom Routines that Work

The school year is starting off more and more smoothly as my new groups of kids are more acclimated to apps for learning like Google Classroom. It's also nice to think about not having to learn an entire new platform – only the updates and added features.


Here are some routines we use in our Google Classroom.

1. Lesson Plans

Maybe save the three-page narrative for blogger, but Classroom is a great place to write lesson plans for a student audience. I write one post per week to avoid clutter on the stream and include essential questions, activities, materials, and homework assignments.

Google Apps for Lesson Plans

2. Stream Comments

Students can make comments on the stream. This is awesome because if they have a question, I get an email when the stream post is made, which means I can respond in a timely manner. The other benefit is that sometimes students have the same question and can see that it was asked and perhaps a response has already been posted.

3. Discussion Questions

It's important to be able to manage student responses and provide feedback in a timely manner. The Question tool is quick to use and allows teachers to comment and assign a score to each post. 

Discussion Ideas

4. PDF of Slide Notes

Providing the slides or notes can be very powerful. It's a great way to teach note taking skills like restatement and labeling groupings of details or ideas. Sometimes we take our work elsewhere to take in a new environment. 

5. Link to Drive Folder

One of the easiest ways to share documents among students or from the crowd to one place is a Google Drive folder. Set the permissions to "anyone with link the can edit," and you can receive rich content like images. Click the images and Drive will provide a slideshow. Who needs PowerPoint, right?

Corwdsource with the Drive App

6. Sub Plans

It's not the neatest way to do it, but it's quick and easy. Right click and print the stream. It will PDF or print whatever is loaded. I usually highlight the important parts and make notes to help the substitute understand the expectations. 

7. Share YouTube Playlists

Why share video after videos on the stream. Share a YouTube playlist in the "About" tab via link. I usually make a playlist for each unit. 

8. Share an "Auto-Copy"

The last chunk of text on a doc URL is "edit." Change "edit" to copy on the doc URL and share it if you want to ensure that the recipient makes a copy. When the "copy" link is clicked, users will be prompted to make a copy. 


Other Google Drive Hacks

9. Quizlet Decks Folder

Why share each deck separately on the stream? It clutters and causes confusion. Put a link to a Quizlet deck folder in the "About" tab. Now, students know exactly where to go to practice vocabulary and background information.

10. Email Blast

This one is self explanatory. Sure, I would prefer to send short messages through Remind, but Classroom sets me up to quickly email a group of students with a similar issue like missing work, for example. 

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, September 27, 2015

4 Questions My Students Can Answer

What's more important? That the teacher does everything "right," or that the students master the curriculum goals?


We're past the getting-to-know-you stage of the school year, and teachers are already writing their evaluation goals and self assessments. That's why I think it's time for me to be very clear about what I expect from myself professionally. 

Although I'm in a new school, in a new state, I won't let go of what I learned working in Denton, Texas. The most important of which was that it's about what the students are learning. Sure, the teacher's tasks play a crucial role, but it only matters if the students understand the expectations and are motivated to learn.

What Motivates?

We are often trying to figure out new ways to motivate students, and Dan Pink's autonomy, mastery, and purpose are widely accepted as the defining conditions. But the question still remains: How can we measure motivation?

I don't propose that the following questions measure motivation, but I think that they can measure our progress toward setting up the conditions for students to be motivated.   

Furthermore, students need to become self motivated. For this, a thinking routine is necessary to establish a culture of learning that allows students to develop intrinsic motivation. 

Here are four questions that I have restated from my experience collecting data on what students are learning. They were originally designed by Look2Learning and rephrased from the student's point of view. 

1. What am I doing?

No matter how many times we explain the expectations, there's always a student who needs clarification. Imagine a classroom in which the expectation is for students to be able to communicate what they are doing.

Make it routine that they come in and spend time observing and thinking about what it will take to complete a learning task before they ask clarifying questions. Another expectation that can support this one is to have students state one part that they understand about the task before asking a clarifying question. 

2. What am I learning by doing it?

It's too much to ask learners to complete tasks if they don't know what knowledge they should take from the experiences. Again, like all of these questions, teachers are doing their jobs when students can respond confidently and accurately to these questions.

If the teacher is sitting behind his desk, all of the students can answer these questions, and there's a way to collect evidence of learning, the teacher, in my opinion, is doing his job. Whoever said that teachers need to be up and moving all the time was pushing what works for them on the profession – not exactly differentiation, huh? 

3. How will I know when I'm successful?

This is often what kids are wondering when they ask about what they got on a test, right? Okay, probably a little too idealistic for most students. It's possible, however, that a classroom culture can value specific feedback in lieu of a number or letter that will point to nothing but perhaps a fleeting elation or a detrimental deflation of confidence.

Aside from training students to be able to reflect on this question, rubrics and clear expectations are a great place to start. The goal is to be able to answer this question before the work is turned in. 

4. How can I apply what I am learning?

Once students know what they are doing, understand the purpose, and feel confident that they can succeed, it's time for a life lesson. It may seem like there isn't enough time to take curriculum to the world beyond a math textbook, for example, but it's in the transfer of a concept from one context to another that the true value of education is realized. 

I will work hard to ensure my students can answer these four questions. I will also reflect on the results to make adjustments in instruction to increase achievement. I hope my daughter's teachers do the same. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

10 Ways Google Drive Supports Learning

I still remember the first time we used Google Docs to write an essay. After my students figured out how to share files, I was sold on the ability to provide feedback without halting the learning process.


That year, I tried several digital tools to communicate with students and provide them access to learning materials. It became frustrating for all of us when it seemed like every tool fell a little short of the efficiency we needed.

I learned that the most important question to ask when choosing instructional technology is about how it supports learning. When it comes to web-based platforms and apps, we need to ask the same. In particular, we need to know how many of the learning activities it can support.

What can we learn by using Google Drive?


1. Write

Docs offers tools to research and define words – supporting the writing process without have to leave the writing space. Other apps in the drive suite have these tools, as well.

2. Comment

The ability to make comments on student work is one of the most important things a teacher can do. Providing feedback without the learner losing possession of the document for much time (if at all) is priceless. Comments can receive replies and a history is kept for future access.

3. Share

Sharing learning materials is much easier with the release of Classroom. Without it, files could still be shared via link or direct share to an account. I still link files from Drive to my websites because I can edit the document in Drive without having to update the website link – all of which can be done with my phone

4. Present

Google Slides is one of my favorite tools. With Drive's useful features and the basic format of PowerPoint, it's as commonplace in a 21st century classroom as a whiteboard. And don't think it's all about projecting the lesson on a screen. It supports collaboration and creativity among our students. Here are 10 activities with Google Slides.


5. Make Images

Drawing is my go-to for editing photos and making images for sites, lessons, and this blog. Whether it's the cropping and shapes tools or the file formats for download, Drawing seems to provide the most efficient set of essential tools. It's not Adobe, but it's free, in the cloud, and supports collaboration. Check out these interactive maps my students make.

6. Organize 

In general, Drive is the best place to store and organize files because it's accessible wherever you have Internet access.

One of my favorite organizational features on Drive is the ability to share an entire folder via link. My classes use folder links as a drop box for instructional activities.

My other favorite feature is the folder color option. I color code my classes for ease of use. For example, Modern World History is red, so the Drive folder is red, the background image on Classroom is red, and the Sheets tabs at the bottom are red. 

7. Map 

Making maps is not just for social studies. Literature, math, and science – to name a few – deserve the opportunity to gain a spatial context for the works they study. If your GAFE account does not have My Maps as an option, type "mymaps.google.com" into the omnibox to access the tool.

Here are some resources for My Maps – getting started, reasons to use My Maps.


8. Survey

Whether you're polling the class for general information or administering a summative assessment, Forms is a versatile way to assess student knowledge and needs. Use add-ons like Flubaroo for automatic grading, and the time is once again saved for more student-teacher interaction. 

9. Connect 

I've said it several times in the previous list items. Drive supports collaboration. It easily allows us to connect our ideas on one document or share separate documents for feedback or compilation. I couldn't imagine doing projects efficiently without Drive. Most importantly, files can be shared with the world via link.

10. Search

The search tool allows you to research without leaving a Drive app. This is particular important when students are in the flow of writing and just need to check a fact quickly. Keeping them in the same work space reduces the urge to give in to distraction. 

Check out "6 Classroom Routines to Search Like a Ninja." 




Thanks for reading, and please share about how you use Drive for learning in the comments below.