Friday, March 17, 2017


One of the struggles with a Chromebook is recording video. In terms of "out of the box," you can only use the webcam for taking still pictures.  While this is useful, recording videos is a needed functionality for students to better demonstrate their understanding, or create engaging presentations.   However, you can't install programs on a Chromebook, and some sites require a Java plug in that won't run on the device.  For example: for most laptops, my favorite screencasting program is Screencast-o-matic. It can be installed on your desktop (my recommendation) or ran inside of the web browser. The final video makes a glowing holo around the mouse cursor to help track its movements and, if used intentionally while recording, can help bring attention to a particular word, phrase or part of a picture.  Lastly, the video can be easily exported to your desktop or uploaded to your YouTube channel or Schoology Course.  (It's free for exported videos fifteen minutes long or less.)   However, Screencast-o-matic won't work even within the browser of a Chromebook because of that elusive Java applet, and again, you can't install the program.  So if not Screencast-o-matic, what are your options for video recording?

There are several Chrome apps and extensions that will do the job, but from anecdotes, reviews and personal experience, I recommend the Screencastify extension.  The Lite version is free, yet fairly generous: your videos can be up to 10 minutes long, and you can record up to 50 videos a month.  While you can do traditional screencasting with the app, you can also choose the "Cam" option to only record via the Chromebook's camera.

I recommend checkmarking the "Show Preview Window" option to make recording easier.

Best of all, any videos made will automatically be saved to your Google Drive. The first time you record, a "Screencastify" folder is created in your Drive, making it always easy to find clips later.

The directions for installing and running the extension are pretty straightforward.  Therefore, instead of instructions, I want to share some tips for using and installing Screencastify:

  • When installing Screencastify and using it for the first time, be aware of all the various permissions it requires: to access your Drive, to access your webcam, etc.  Make sure to okay all of these so it will work properly.
  • Screencasting can be a performance hog, especially on a Chromebook.  I recommend closing out as many tabs as possible while recording.
  • It will take a few minutes to render the video so it can be played from Google Drive.  If it's the maximum length of ten minutes, that might mean 15 minutes or more to finish rendering.  If in-class time is limited when using Screencastify, plan accordingly.  Once finished, the file can be renamed and shared just like any other Google file.
  • Screencastify, like many screencasting tools, is simple for  "one take jake" recordings.  Don't expect fancy editing tools or ways to cut clips together.  (You may want to consider WeVideo as a cloud based editing option.)  However...
  • Finished videos on your Drive can now be easily inserted into Google Slides.  (In the past, you could only insert YouTube clips.) Once inserted, you can right click the video for some limited ability to trim the video; you can tell it when to start or stop. This might be helpful if doing a presentation and you only need to share part of the video.
  • Last but not least, Screencastify will ask the person installing the extension what their role is; make sure they say "student"!  Next, it will ask if they are 13 and older, or under 13.  I wanted to clarify what the implications of that choice meant, so I emailed Screencastify's support and got this response:
"Under 13 students have the ability to use Screencastify. We have numerous classrooms of all ages using Screencastify. However, students choosing under 13 does a couple things:

1. It removes them from receiving any unsolicited emails from Screencastify. The students can still reach us for help though.
2. It removes them from any Google Analytic tracking."
My advice?  It may be best for students to say "under 13" to better protect their data, but regardless, students should honestly answer the question; under 13 can still use the extension.

I hope your students use Screencastify to bring their presentations and exhibitions to the next level, as well as provide teachers with another way to assess learning.

Do you use Screencastify, or another Chrome screencasting app/extension?  Share your experience in the Comments below.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Post-KySTE 2017 Reflection and Upcoming PD Opportunities

Last week was the biggest edtech annual conference in our region, KySTE 2017.  I presented on the SAMR model as well as game-based learning, and participated in the demo slam.  But I wasn't the only Shelby County staff member to attend and present!
  • Sloan Burroughs presented on how her students videotape and share their ukelele performances through a Schoology Group.
  • James Wampler discussed various strategies for using tech to engage with students.
  • Caytie Burgin talked about being an instructor via Shelby County's Virtual Learning Academy.
While my own presentations created scheduling conflicts and I couldn't see everyone, I know from others and from Twitter that they did great:  

One example of an attendee coming back and being a leader in her building is Amy Frederick-Cooper, a science teacher at East Middle School.  During yesterday's faculty's learning time, Amy used a tool she just discovered, Classkick, to share some edtech tools she discovered at KySTE.  It was a wonderful "meta" and inquiry-based way for her fellow teachers to explore edtech and gain from her experience.

It was, as always, great to talk at KySTE with my non-Shelby colleagues that I unfortunately see much more often in Twitter chats and Google Hangout rather than in person.  And . . . as always . . . I brought home intriguing and useful tidbits, tools, strategies and information.


The Edtech Share Fair is rapidly approaching next week on Wednesday, March 22!  If you haven't gotten your FREE tickets, be sure to visit our Eventbrite site to get yours.   More information on the Share Fair and its presenters below.  Remember, the event is open to Shelby parents and community members, as well as educators outside our district.


Last, but not least, I have previously tweeted about Innovations for Learning, another great local learning conference in Lexington I have attended and presented at for the last few years.  It's free and open to all.  The conference itself is on June 1, and registration will begin next month for those who want to attend; however, the window is currently open for presentation proposals.   I highly encourage both my Shelby peeps and other readers of my blog to consider submitting your presentation ideas.   The deadline is April 18.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017


As our district begins to explore deeper ways for students to apply their knowledge and demonstrate understanding (such as exhibitions and capstone projects), there is a greater need for presentation tools besides Google Slides and MS PowerPoints.  One of the newest ones I've discovered is CheckThis.  They use the term "social poster" to describe their published product, but it's really just a simple website creator.  It's free, extremely easy even for younger users, and students/teachers can log in with their Google account (Twitter and Facebook are also options) to quickly register on the site.

How does it work?   You can access CheckThis via a web tool or an iOS app.  Once you register your account and create your post, you can start by editing the title, subtitle and beginning text.   By hitting the green "plus" button, you can add more multimedia: text, images (uploaded from your computer or URLs from the web), video (YouTube and Vimeo URLs), website links (Google Maps, online sound files [SoundCloud, BandCamp], tweets, or any other site URL), and built-in CheckThis apps such as a poll.

When you are ready, you can publish your "social poster" and share the URL via Twitter and other social media.  One of the interesting functions of CheckThis is that not only can you see how many views the social poster receives, but you can also receive "likes" and comments.

I found this helpful video of a user making a social poster.  I like it because it effectively demonstrates how easy it is to click and add media:

It should be noted that CheckThis will allow you to publish a social poster without logging in, but there are many benefits to creating an account, not least of which is the problem of students putting work into publishing without an account and later not being able to find the URL to edit it further or share.

An example social poster I made about "Ideas for Nearpod" is linked here.

Note the embedded YouTube video at the top, the website linked at the bottom, and the commentary column on the right side.

How could you use it?   As I already mentioned, CheckThis could be a basic website page creation tool to go with digital presentations, especially for projects that wouldn't need the complexity of options that something like Google Sites or Weebly might offer.  It could also be a way of creating online multimedia personal notes, since you could easily switch from text to pertinent links, images and videos.  Lastly, the commenting feature might create an opportunity to have digital discourse, as students give each other feedback and perhaps have a running dialogue.

Downsides?  When I first tried CheckThis and created the social poster linked above, you had another option for creating an account by using an email and password.  Recently, however, they removed that option, which leaves my account in limbo because I can no longer log in via my email.  That's a personal problem, but I had to share, as I have tweeted CheckThis and not heard yet how to successfully merge my "email" account with another option.  Of course, if you are brand new to CheckThis, you won't have this issue.

It should be noted that comments cannot be turned off.  Since these social posters are completely public and cannot be moderated, monitoring of commentary (especially with younger students) may be a necessary burden for the teacher.

Do you already use CheckThis or see other ways it could be utilized?  Please share in the Comments below!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Free Tickets for Edtech Share Fair 2017!

Our third annual Edtech Share Fair is fast approaching!  Mark your calendar now for March 22, 2017, from 4:15 to 5:45 on the Southside Elementary campus.  Tickets are FREE but you do need to order them via our Eventbrite page.  We enthusiastically welcome educators outside of the Shelby school district to come.  In fact, we also welcome parents and other community members to see the innovative tools that students are integrating into their learning.

We may also have some Facebook postings on the Share Fair courtesy of my new Edtech Elixirs Facebook page.  (Hint, hint.  Follow and Like, my FB Friends.  End of hinting.)

Since our first Share Fair in 2015, the event has steadily grown and expanded. We have a few highlights to celebrate this year:
  • We have our first student-led panel discussing a web-based math learning tool, facilitated by East Middle School's Rachel Kinsey.
  • We have two library media specialists presenting!  (We had one present in 2015 and none last year.)
Already a third of the tickets are gone, so hurry and reserve yours today!

Here is our Smore flyer for the event:

And here is a widget where you can order the tickets directly:

Be sure to tweet and let others know you are coming by using the hashtag #SCShareFair!

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Guest Blogger on Classcraft! (Creating an RPG adventure for your classroom)

I have been a fan of Classcraft ever since Tim Oltman introduced me to it in his Collins classroom.   A few months ago, on the behest of some of our Shelby elementary teachers, I even created an online "primer" on how to get started on Classcraft.   Of course, Classcraft resonates strongly alongside my interest of gamification and game-based learning in the classroom.

Knowing this interest, Stephanie Carmichael (the head blogger for Classcraft) reached out and asked if I would be interested doing a guest blog entry for their site.   I was flattered, but what would be something new I could talk about?

Then, it hit me.  Roleplaying games in education.

The first RPG I ever played was TSR’s Star Frontiers back in the mid-1980's, and from there my fate was sealed.  Soon I was tumbling polyhedron dice for Advanced Dungeons and Dragons and Marvel Super Heroes (TSR), James Bond 007 (Victory Games), Car Wars (Steve Jackson Games), Ghostbusters and Star Wars (West End Games) . . . the list of games rolled on and on, including customizing and making my own. In short, I'm a huge fan, although I lament that I have far less time to play nowadays.

So, I took the RPG lens to the classroom and wrote about several free edtech tools: Habitica, Lone Wolf Online, Inklewriter, and more. Please check out my entry on Classcraft's blog, and keep those dice tumbling!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

First SnoGo Days, and Eminence's EdHub

Welcome back from the holidays!  We had our first significant snow last week, so Thursday and Friday (January 5 and 6) became our first official and inaugural SnoGo days!

For the uninitiated, "SnoGo Days" are non-traditional instructional days, where students work at home on material prepared in advance by teachers.  It's the enactment of our philosophy that learning never stops and continues beyond the boundaries of a brick and mortar building. The teachers also remain in contact with students via email, phone, messages via Schoology, and more.  Speaking of Schoology, our LMS was a crucial tool to organize work and accept submissions during SnoGo . . . and students definitely used it.  Here's a way to compare just how much: during the week before winter break, our most active Schoology usage day inside our buildings was December 13 with 45,591 Schoology page views.  On January 5 and 6, we had 79,046 and 75,929 views, respectively.  I should point out that teachers certainly could give students a menu of optional offline work, and just as they would for an excused absence, students have a small window to make up work upon their return.  We don't want lack of Internet access at home to limit their SnoGo learning!

Our SnoGo caught the attention of two local newstations.  WHAS 11 discussed the non-traditional nature of the learning.   WAVE 3 talked to the Leonberger family, and got this great quote from eighth grader Jake: "I think it's really cool they gave us these Chromebooks and made SnoGo a thing. It makes it so kids can pace themselves at home."  (Add a path of learning and factor in the choice of when to do the work, and you have our 3PT program.)  Both stories include video with some helpful visuals of Schoology at work.

And learning didn't stop with students.  Lora Shields (our Shelby Staff Developer) and I created modules in -- what else? -- Schoology, in order for classified staff to have professional development online during SnoGo.

Several teachers, principals and students tweeted throughout our SnoGo, but this is probably my favorite:

On Day Two of SnoGo, I took an already scheduled trip over to a nearby neighboring school: Eminence.  I've been wanting to see their library expansion, named the EdHub, since it opened at the beginning of the school year.  Along with SCHS's librarian Julie Webb, we got the grand tour.   Here are some of my social media posts:

I particularly like the picture in the last tweet of the Scantron sheet and pencil, an archaic artifact of the past, enshrined in a museum case for future students to puzzle its ancient purpose and use.

We left with some great inspiration on how to better utilize our own libraries and increase our makerspace opportunities.  Thanks to the EdHub Director and secondary librarian James Allen for being a gracious host!

Monday, December 12, 2016

Hour of Code 2016

It's that time of year again!  Shelby County just experienced another week of #HourOfCode (Dec. 5 - 9).  Our previous years had memorable milestones, but one thing I could see differently this year was how many of our librarians took a lead in getting students excited about coding.   (For this, I have to give props to Sarah Price at Wright Elementary for setting a high bar last year.)

I asked for Shelby County librarians to share their 2016 coding stories via email.  Here are some of their responses (slightly edited):

Penny Bland, Heritage Elementary:

Renae Orange, East Middle: "I have a personalized learning class I teach.  We spent our time yesterday coding at  Some of my students are exploring how to take what they learned to build a robot and program it."

Vicki Stoltz, Clear Creek Elementary: "I am introducing a few unplugged lessons for my K-1 classes with 4 little Bee Bots and some floor mats [see the video below].  Dash has also been a big hit with the older kids.  Second through Fifth Grade students have been exploring bookmarked coding sites as well."


Jennifer Tinsley, Painted Stone Elementary:  "The prior week, we discussed coding vocabulary and did a little intro with Angry Birds from the website.   On Hour of Code week, we used mainly Angry Birds and Star Wars.  So far so good!  I've even heard from several students 'I want to do this at home'!"

Sarah Price, Wright Elementary: "Everybody is coding in the library all week long on activities found on (Star Wars, Minecraft, Angry Birds) as well as iPad apps such as Kodable with our kindergarteners.  I set up folders inside a Schoology Course with grade-appropriate choices to help them narrow down which program to click.  I have been using a few fifth grade volunteers to help with the K-1 classes, and that has been working very well.  Having the high school volunteers was nice last year, but I think it is even nicer to be using our own student leaders."

Of course, our teachers independently did their share of coding as well.  Tina Eden (East Middle) tweeted out:

What better way to end than to share a tweet from Matthew Watts from Collins High School:

That is our hope for Riley and others: that the coding we start at school becomes a passion they want to do at home and beyond.

Thanks to all who encourage their students and children to code, last week and every week!