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.      

One-to-World

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 (https://goo.gl/vEUX0Y, 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 https://www-drv.com 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 bit.ly or goo.gl 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.




Thursday, November 10, 2016

7 Chrome Extensions Teachers Should Try

When teachers ask me for help with a Google App and I see that they are not using Chrome, I start to feel bad for how much they are missing. Some have told me that their technology support has told them not to use Chrome – that it's slow.


I admit that Chrome has several user settings that need to be addressed before enjoying the facility. But I assure non-Chrome users that once they commit to a browser that can be customized, they will never go back to they way they once worked.

My favorite customization is using extensions, which are tools that can be added to a browser. These tools range from link shortening to more complex tools that allow you to do screencasts or make GIFFs.

Chrome extensions can make a teacher's work, especially in a 1:1 environment, rather effortless when it comes to basic routines or packaging the materials for learning.

Need a QR code generator or a webclipper? Chrome extensions for those needs and many more are available in the Chrome Store.

Here are five of my most-used extensions. I wouldn't want to teach without them.

1. Google Classroom

The Classroom extension does three important functions. (1) Share to Classroom; (2) Push to Students; (3) Push to Teacher. 

Let's say you've found a webpage that you want your students to access for an assignment. While on the page, click the extension and share the page to Classroom. It's that easy. 

Pushing pages is great. It's like passing be out papers to every student at once with a couple clicks. I especially like pushing pages when something unplanned comes up during instruction.

Explore the teachable moment by pushing the resource right away. 

2. Google Cast

Casting a screen is different than pushing a page. When a student's screen (or browser tab) is cast to a teacher's, the student can still control what's displayed on the teacher's screen. 

The teacher display is best operated via the Google Cast for Education App. Once installed, this app can sync the student accounts in the Google Classroom rosters. Students click the extension, choose the device, and await approval. It's a great way to facilitate student presentations. 

Google cast also works with apps like Airserver. The downside is that Airserver doesn't require permission to cast, which is why I prefer Google Cast for Education.

3. DocentEdu

This is my new favorite tool – mostly because it's a major time saver. The DecentEdu extension allows users to add questions to webpages or published Google Docs. Multiple-choice questions are scored automatically, and all questions are collected and accessible on the teacher's DocentEdu dashboard. 

Here's a recent post about DocentEdu. Try it. You'll love it. 

4. Poll Everywhere

Want to add questions to a slide presentation? The Poll Everywhere extension allows you to add questions from your Poll Everywhere account without leaving Google Slides. 

Check out this post for more about this app smash.

5. Screencastify 

Sometimes the easiest way to explain something is to show it with a video. Students like videos because they can pause and rewind. It's harder to do that with a teacher explaining something to a class full of peers. 

Screencastify saves videos to a folder in Goigle Drive and is easy to set up and start recording. I still like using Snaggit for GIFFs and other clippings from the Web, but when it comes to video, I haven't found an easier approach than Screencastify.

6. Print Friendly and PDF

Websites are great for teaching, but sometimes I don't want my students to be distracted by ads or other features on the site. That's why I use Print Friendly and PDF. It's easy to use and takes away all the clutter. My ELLs and students with learning differences especially benefit from the simplified formatting.

7. Google Keep

With all of our lives happening so much more in the virtual world, it's easy to lose sight, literally, of what's important. Don't lose it, keep it with Google Keep.

To me, it's more than a note-taker. Keep reminders allow me to work important routines into my days, weeks, and months. Plus, the ability to color code, add images, and tag notes for easy filing are lifesavers.

The Keep extension allows you to save a webpage and add a tag to stay organized. The best part is that you don't have to leave the page. Keep it, and proceed with your work.

Do you have a favorite extension? Share with us in the comments. 

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

5 Reasons Good Teaching is Like Coaching Football

I'm not a football fan, but I like the game. I'll watch football with certain people, and I will certainly enjoy watching my home team, the New England Patriots. But I don't seek information on players or other teams, even though I enjoy hearing football fans talk about it. I respect the hard work and strategy involved.


Teachers can learn a lot from successful team sports coaches or performing arts directors – the way they break the whole game or production into manageable chunks to master. More importantly, effective coaches focus on helping players understand and access their "inner game" (see Inner Game of Tennis).

I've been thinking about these ideas for many years, but it was the following Tweet from Brad Currie and the recent MassCUE16 conference at Gillette stadium that inspired this post.


Here's what I came up with to develop this idea.

1. Target the Practice
Football coaches study film to identify tendencies and tricks that worked. They use this information to make drills and prepare for games.

My band directors did a very similar thing during each performance. They would make notes and discuss the rehearsal agendas for the coming week. When issues persisted, they implemented rewrites to the music or adjusted the regular warmups to isolate the issue and dedicate time to specific improvement.

Teachers call this formative assessment. It comes in different shapes and sizes and can be the work that makes the difference.

2. Run Drills
Whether its to increase speed, agility, or learn the playbook, football teams don't play the whole game in practice. 
It's not necessary to write a five-paragraph essay for every assignment if the goal is to write five-paragraph essays. The skills have been targeted, so it's time to run drills.

One-sentence summaries are powerful ways to check for understanding before students walk out the door. It allows them to focus on one sentence, not taking a single word or phrase for granted. Like a football game becomes a series of plays that win the game, essays are a series of sentences that convey an argument.

3. Constant Encouragement
Coaches are constantly yelling at players. Okay, they're yelling because of the crowd noise, but they are giving them encouragement to keep giving it their all. 
Great coaches give players specific praise about what they are doing in the moment and how the team needs more of it. In these moments, the expectations are often clear. This establishes the conditions in which people can thrive.

The conversation over praise vs. encouragement takes me back to Carol Dweck's work from before she wrote Mindset (2006). Dweck cautioned praising students without being specific. She said the labels, such as "smart" or "gifted," are damaging if they are not connected to specific moments and achievements (1999).

In other words, good teachers don't hand out gold stars. They provide actionable feedback pointing to the strengths and weaknesses of the work. Most importantly, they provide support, not answers. Good teachers are the "guide on the side," not the "sage on the stage," as Alison King puts it (1993).

4. Freedom to Make Mistakes
Players need to have the confidence to make decisions. This cannot happen if they are always worried about what the coach will think. The feedback or correction from the coach is important, but it should be a positive impact on the player and the game. 
I can still here my music teacher say, "If you're going to make a mistake, make it big." The logic behind this expectation was to ensure that we are always confident. Plus, it's easier to make a correction when it's obvious.

Teaching should be the same way. I don't want my students hiding behind anxiety-laden smiles. I want them to fall hard (not literally) and get up so we can talk about what happened before trying again. That's learning. It's messy. It's playful. It's natural. It's not supposed to be about grades and worry of failure.

5. Discourage Giving Up
Great teams persist and improve regardless of the score, and it takes a strong coach to ensure that persistence and effort are a part of the culture.
The best lessons are often not learned from our successes. This is all contingent upon how we reflect on the losing performance and what we do with it moving forward.

Are the reflections honest? Are they specific? Do they inform our agendas? Can we prioritize the issues? These are all questions that successful people use to set goals (see SMART goals).

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Formative Assessment With Google Slides and Poll Everywhere

It seems like a few times during every school year I find myself re-purposing old materials to meet the needs of my students. As I've moved away from textbook-driven assignments and lecture-based lessons, I've been careful to not "throw the baby out with the bathwater," as a former coworker put it.



This time it was a slide presentation that I thought was already a good lesson. Not settling for "good enough," I decided to use Poll Everywhere to add some question slides. The Poll Everywhere Chrome extension allows users to access polls without leaving Google Slides. It's one of my favorite time-saving tools.

Then, the light bulb went off. Most of the slides were excerpts from primary sources that were either of the Federalist or Anti-Federalist point of view. I made a copy of the presentation, deleted all of the explanation slides, and added two choices to the top of each slide – Federalist and Anti-Federalist. This was all in preparation to make clickable image response questions with Poll Everywhere.

Watch the video to see how I did it.

BONUS: If you're having a day with too much screen time, the slide presentation design facilitates a total-body response. I explain it all at the end of the video.

Thanks for watching!

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Vlog Ep 1: Finding Missing Voice

I started a vlog.

After blogging consistently for about two and a half years, I wanted to do more. I wanted to share more. The goal with this vlog is to be a bit vulnerable in the sense that it is not scripted and I will likely share more stories that inspire me than the ins and outs of integrating technology.

In the first episode, I introduce this project and get right into my experience at MassCUE16. The story that I tell is about making adjustments on the fly to my presentation because of the conference scheduling conflicts that I did not foresee.

More importantly, Episode 1 highlights the fact that reflecting on the process reveals some of the most important lessons. The lesson I learned was from a story that came to mind while presenting at the conference. It pours out my struggle during my earliest awareness of student voice, especially the missing ones that literally kept me up at night.

The title of the first episode is appropriate in more ways than one, for I've found a voice in this vlog.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Automate Your Reflections With Google Forms And Keep

It's hard make new routines. In college, I used to type new ideas and print them in 60-point font before taping them to the wall. Looking at the large fonts everyday caught my attention until I successfully made the "post" part of my routine.


These days, I use Google Keep to jot down what I think are good ideas. This seemed like it had a lot of potential, but it wasn't as good as the paper posts on the wall of my college apartment. Something was missing. The messages weren't in my face like the paper posts.

The solution hit me when my wife, who preferred her paper calendar to the Google calendar, asked me what she could do to make the digital calendar more routine. I suggested setting reminders in Keep.

That's when the Keep reminder light bulb went off in my head. Why didn't I think of that before? Like the paper posts that I took down after the idea became routine, I delete the reminder when I can see the Keep post in my routine. It's often the simplest solution that changes our lives.

Here's what I did to remind myself to reflect on what happens every week. Classroom or not, this is a great way to work any learning routine into your work flow. 

1. Make a Form (or a link to whatever you use).

My students use a Google Doc to write weekly reflections, but I chose a form for myself because I wanted the time stamp collected automatically. Plus, I wanted to try something new to see if it works better.


2. Paste the form link into the note.

What's great about pasting the form link into the Keep note is that the reminder appears as a notification on my phone and reflecting is just two quick touches away.


3. Set the reminder to repeat as frequent as you want.

The reminder can be set for a specific time, and the frequency can be daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, or custom. I set the time for the end of the week when the ideas are fresh. The best time for me is 4:00 because it's usually a time when no one needs me for anything else. 


BONUS Reminder Idea

Upload photos from your phone to a Google Drive folder (include the folder link). I should probably do this monthly, maybe on a Sunday.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

5 Reasons Textbooks Will Not Survive

I have nothing against books, even textbooks. In fact, I am convinced that it's plausible for a teacher to set up a course to follow a textbook and prepare kids for the 21st Century. But that is no small task with a class full of kids wired for a connected world, and there are very few teachers up for it.


Once upon a time, pen and paper were the way we recorded everything. Business ledgers, journals, work schedules, and gradebooks, to name a few, were all done with paper. It was a different time. Some say it was better. The fact of the matter is that we are never going back to that. Like it or not, we will always be moving in the direction digital technology takes us.

Textbooks will not survive the 21st Century. I don't even think they'll survive the next five years. And the attempt that textbook companies are making in the direction of online resources is deplorable. I know teachers who have made better sites in their free time.

From my perspective, the end of textbooks is quite clear. To reflect on why this will happen, I've made a list of reasons.

1. Cost

Textbooks cost too much money, especially when everything you'll find in a textbook can be found online for free. And don't start with me about how untrustworthy Wikipedia can be – it's more accurate than Britannica and larger than the Yongle encyclopedia. 

Plus, there are so many free resources created by experts for the purpose of providing information to the average person. In many cases, these sites are designed with students and teachers in mind. Why not use them?  

2. Environmental

Chromebooks require electricity and will one day end up in an waste recycling facility – if not off the West coast of Africa. But if you add up the carbon footprint of learning with paper versus digital devices connected to the Internet, you'll find that the paper has a higher environmental cost. Remember, recycling requires lots of fossil fuels, and copiers use energy. I could keep going with factors, but I think you get it. 

Think about the fact that a textbook is only one book. A device connected to the Internet is so much more than even a library of books. The World Wide Web is so vast that the most popular search engine was named Google. Can't remember what a google is? Google it! The amount of books needed to keep pace with the Internet is unfathomable and certainly bad for the environment.  

3. Relevance

We do not access information in the same ways anymore. Sure, while you read through this list, someone is sitting at a table in a library with a book. But most of the connected world will search the Web for information when a question comes to mind.

The days of the mother's myth are gone. Kids can find information on their own, which is exactly why educational institutions need to support them. Speaking of myth's, kids are not tech savvy. They don't know this stuff. They don't know what SQL, https, or HTML5 stand for. Most search engine users don't even know how to conduct an effective search.

4. Proximity 

Too many clicks. My students hate it when a resource isn't just a few clicks away, never mind having to go to a library or carry books to school. 

I try to make it so my students are no more than two clicks to content. Online textbooks, however, are a mess. Most of the online textbooks are three to four clicks to content, and the newer platforms are not trustworthy when it comes to digital assignments. 

We have Google Drive and many amazing LMS platforms, so there's no need for online textbook assignments with software made by a book company struggling to survive the last days of its existence.

5. Makers

Matt Miller wrote Ditch That Textbook. I loved idea when I first started perusing his website, which is full of solutions for classrooms. For example, Matt shares links to Google Drawing templates among other things. I particularly like his ideas about how to use Google Slides in different ways. The vibe is very much about promoting student-created materials versus completing a worksheet.

We like to make stuff. With all of the online word, image, and information processing tools in the Google Apps Suite, why would we use textbooks? We can make our own books with classrooms across the hall, or even the World.

After all, we are trying to prepare the youth for a world that doesn't exist. They'll need the skills to make things – solutions to problems placed before them or, better yet, problems they found on their own. 

Bottom line: Why would we set up conditions for learning that do not relate much to ways people learn and work outside educational institutions? Textbooks do too little, too late for this issue.

I've tried to continue to find value in textbooks, but it's a tougher and tougher argument to sell. So I'm done. 

Monday, October 3, 2016

10 Reasons Teachers Will Love DocentEdu

It seems that every school year brings updates to the tools we already use and new ones that grab our attention for one reason or another. For me, this year's new tool is DocentEdu.


I'm a firm believer in technology that saves teachers time and facilitates the learning process. Here's some of the ways DocentEdu does all of the above.

1. Quizzes

After all the excitement of a new tool wears off, the real integration takes shape. It often points to effective learning strategies, such as checking for understanding. At it's core, DocentEdu has made a tool for guided reading that allows teachers to spend time writing good questions, not fumbling over technology by over managing digital resources.

Better yet, the multiple choice questions are scored automatically and allow students to try again for partial credit. I wouldn't use this for a summative grade, but it's great for instant feedback.


2. Discussion

Some of the best learning happens through discussion. Let's say you find a website that presents problems with many plausible solutions. Why not insert a discussion and keep a record of student participation and evidence of mastery?

3. Embed Video

This is how I found DocentEdu – I wanted to embed a video in a Google Doc. As it turns out, you can make a docent out of a published doc and embed videos into them or almost any webpage. I haven't found a site in which it hasn't worked.


4. Feedback

Although I'm told that specific feedback is on the future features list, I still like the ability to easily adjust the point values of questions. What's more, the multiple-choice questions grade automatically. This means students know how they did on their assignment right away. For the few homework assignments that I require, immediate feedback is crucial – kids these days are used to getting answers right away.

5. Download CSV

I like having the ability to look for patterns in student performance. By providing a CSV file of the student scores, teachers are free to convert the file to whatever software they use. 

Whether it's Mocrsoft, Google, or uploading straight to a gradebook, a CSV file is a must have for looking at long term achievement – sans tedious data entry.

6. Classroom Integration

This was so easy. Want to add all of your students? If you use Google Classroom it's instantaneous. A few clicks and DocentEdu sets up access to all of your classes. 

Also, to assign a docent activity, the option to assign via Classroom is one click. You don't have to open Classroom to do it. And like I've said in the past, anything that saves me time is my friend. 



7. Embed Quizlet

You can embed all kinds of things. I like embedding Quizlet decks into a docent because it keeps my students on the same browser tab. That's huge for classroom management in the 21st Century. One activity. One link. 


8. Google Docs

If you publish a Google Doc, it will give you the opportunity to use the helpful tools of DcentEdu. Add a video from YouTube, a slide presentation, and some questions to a reading you are about to assign, and students won't have to go to four different places. 

9. Annotations 

Docent tools are also available for students. Just as teachers can add notes to an assigned docent, students can highlight text and leave notes, too. 

10. Insert URL

Keeping students within one resource is what I love about DocentEdu, but sometimes they need to go somewhere else. Add hyperlinks within the activity to ensure students go to the right site. This tool could be used for web quests, as well.

For info on DocentEdu, visit the site to explore the great resources created with teaching and learning in mind.




Thursday, September 29, 2016

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

What I'm Doing Differently With EdTech This Year

Every year brings new students and new challenges. For educators who reflect on their practices, the challenges often come from adjusting teaching and learning to better support their students. 

Since technology facilitates a lot of what I do, I find it important to summarize how I'm using tools in new ways, as well as tools that are new to me. It keeps my approaches organized and focused as to not become too distracted by the glitter of gadgets.

1. Classroom

I'm staying organized more so than ever before with the introduction of three features – post links, topics, and move to top. Topics is new this school year, I'm not sure when links was released, and move to top was definitely available last year.

Even in the first two weeks of school, I've established a set of topics (Weekly Agenda, Technology, [assignments by unit], Review, etc.). Email a student the post link, and there's little room for them to waste time looking for the information they need to be successful.


2. Google Forms

The new features on Forms are really cool, especially the ability to make quizzes with answer keys. The GIFF below shows the basic steps to get you started. 


3. Hyper Docs 

I've been making hyperdocs for years. This year, I'm teaching my students the efficiency of hyperdocs to expand their presentation and organization concepts.

My latest hyperdocs have including experimentation with slide links in Google Slides. Instead of making a slide presentation that moving linear, from slide to slide, why not embed links in a graphic organizer or map, to name a couple examples?


4. More Choices

One thing that new technology affords is choice. I love it when student ask if they can use a tool that they used in another class instead of the one I suggest. 

My approach is simple, now. I Teach through Google Apps for the first time through an activity and allow students choice on the second assignment. For example, if we are making maps, we use Google Drawing or Slides. If students want to use Mapmaker on the National Geographic site for the second one, that's fine with me. This way, it becomes about the content and skills, not the use of a specific tool.

5. New Tools

Smore is great for newsletters. I'm using it to communicate with parents about what we're doing at school. The selling point for me was the data collection. I could have done this with a free app, but I liked the design and amount of data.


Although word clouds and survey tools are not new to the bag of wizardry, Mentimeter is one of the easiest tools to use for crowdsourcing. It does not require audiences to make an account, which is great for quick activities. There are, of course, other ways to get the job done, but I appreciate the tools that are quick and reliable.


DocentEdu has changed my classroom routines more than anything since Google Classroom and 1:1 Chromebooks. I have so much to say about this one, so stay tuned for a post dedicated to this wonderful tool.

The image below shows a student view, allowing them to highlight a chunk of text and add a a note for close reading. The post that features DocentEdu will be more from the teacher's perspective.  



Monday, August 29, 2016

10 Projects Every Google Apps Classroom Should Try

It was my first year teaching when a parent asked me what projects the kids would be doing that year. I was embarrassed because I did not have an answer. Actually, in the back of my mind I was thinking that we don't have time for projects.

After teaching for a while, I know that we don't have time to not do projects. Here are some of the ideas that I've been developing over the last few years working with Google Apps.


1. Collaborative Notes

If the smartest person in the room is the room, then a collaborative set of notes is the way to go. Think about the processing the brain does when copying notes versus listening, reading, thinking, and comparing one another's contributions. It's far more powerful to learn socially than learners simply working on their own notes in isolation.

Use Google Docs – or other apps – to make a space that everyone can use to make great learning resources.

Tip: It's all about doing something with the notes. Have your students summarize the notes in a variety of ways throughout the year. My favorite is a three- to five-sentence paragraph on a Google Classroom question. It's easy to grade and provide timely feedback.


2. Selecting Slides

As Alan November puts it, "the world has enough PowerPoints." Do we really need to spend time making more?

Sometimes we need to make one that doesn't already exist, of course, but it doesn't have to be completely from scratch. Check Slideshare and even Google images. Since slideshow sites have provided ways to clip images, Google searches are include many of these clips. 

Alan November suggests having students find PPTs on the Web and piecing together the best slides. This provides teachable moments for content, digital citizenship, cooperative learning, and more.

Tip: Turn PPTs downloaded from the Web into Google Slides. Copy single slides by selecting them in the slide sorter on the left (or whatever that's called), and paste them into the final document.

3. Graphic Organizers

We have so many good tools that help us make graphic organizers. I especially like graphicorganizer.net because of the variety of samples and the ability to customize a GO and download it as a PDF. 

But learners need to make them from scratch. Better yet, they need to identify what type of GO they need without adults giving them so many patterns. 

Tip: Use Google Drawing to make interactive GO that can be embedded into a class website or eportfolio.

4. Inquiry-Based Forms

In this time of what seems to be extreme changes, we need to avoid throwing the baby out with the bath water. Questioning, for example, was used by Socrates and is still used in most classrooms. 

Collecting questions with Google Forms gives the class an opportunity to do something with everyone's work while learning a surveying concept that could help them in their post-secondary challenges.

Tip: If it's time for a break from the "glowing boxes" or students to collaborate more, give each student three slips of paper to write a single question each. Collect about 12 slips in each basket (or whatever) and give them to a random group of four. Have students decide which four or five questions are the best and have them submit them with a Google Form. 

5. YouTube Playlists

If we're going to teach decision-making, making playlists on music and video platforms are a fun place to practice.

Make playlists. Share them. Discuss. It's as easy as that.

6. Current Events

Google News is a great place to find news from a variety of sources and countries. Just add the top-level domain country code to news.google.___, and you'll take a closer look at what other countries are searching.


Make a map of the coverage of one event or issue from different countries. Students can summarize the reports and plot the locations. This can be done by making an interactive map or a Google My Map (see below).

Publish the resource to the Web, and the wastebasket work will be zero for this project.

7. Vlog Post

Make it a public, link only, or private video. YouTube is one of the greatest tools of our time, and it's getting easier and easier to record, upload, and edit videos.

Like a blog (short for Web log), a vlog is simply video instead of written words. For some students, this opportunity will enable them to grow their literacy and engage using a medium that compliments their learning style and preferred performance. They may find their element, as Sir Ken Robinson says.

Your students will greatly benefit from learning the power of making short, informative videos. Most importantly, they will get the chance to try it over and over until their performance is up to the standard they can accept.

8. Google My Maps

Here's a post from last year that explains My Maps and how it supports literacy in different subjects.


9. Interactive Review

I was starting to think that my students were feeling swamped with content and unmotivated to study for unit exams. That's when I split up the topics and used Forms and Sheets to make interactive reviews.

10. Photo Essay Reflection

This is one of my favorite activities in which almost every student participates. It's a simple crowdsourcing activity that uses Google images to reflect and relate new learning to prior knowledge.

Here are the steps using the Google Drive app.

Thanks for reading! Tell us about your projects in the comments below.