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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!

Friday, December 2, 2016

PPBBL: Personalized Project-Based Blended Learning

Greetings, readers!  I never meant to take two months off, but we've been a busy county.  Our elementary rollout is complete, and we are now a 1:1 device district (iPads for Kindergarteners, Chromebooks for the rest).    I am spending a goodly amount of embedded time at our elementary schools to support our staff as they continue the transformation into digital classrooms.  Lately, as part of that work, I've been reflecting quite a bit on three educational strands that are strong on the radar of Shelby County and are current hot topics across the world: blended learning, project-based learning, and personalized learning.  This musing has lead to some questions of how and when these models are applied in classrooms.   (Note that these questions are not meant to imply critiques of Shelby classrooms specifically.  Instead, they are "thinkalouds" of how and when blended, PBL and personalized learning are generally utilized.)

BLENDED LEARNING:  As I discussed in a previous post, I'm a fan of Michael B. Horn and Heather Straker's definition as given in their book Blended"Blended learning is any formal education program in which a student learns at least in part through online learning, with some element of student control over time, place, path and/or pace.”  One of the reasons I like this definition is that the end of it dovetails nicely into personalized learning itself (which if done in the absence of technology would be very difficult).  But it's important to not forget what is actually being blended: online digital tools with human interaction and instruction, usually in a brick and mortar school.  Both components, in a good balance, is necessary.  Content may be delivered digitally in an innovative way, but it is the teachers' roles in nurturing, nudging, and knowing where their students academically stand that make them an integral face-to-face resource.

Do we sometimes concentrate too much on the digital tool and not on the analog teacher or desired outcomes?

PERSONALIZED LEARNING:  This school year, one of Shelby's grass-roots and teacher-led efforts of innovation (encouraged and supported by John Leeper) is happening at several of our elementary and both high schools: 3PT classroom cadres.  Pilot groups of students in each building are exerting control over the path, place, pace and/or time of their personalized learning.  Ideally, your passions and your post-school plans should affect your educational journey and give you options.  Digital tools certainly make it easier to access content, assess mastery, and track progress; with a laptop and wifi, you can do your reading in a school's bean bag chair just as easily as your kitchen table at night.  To that end, I have been heavily involved in supporting tool integration to help the program hum along, such as Edgenuity (which contains coursework monitored and customized by teachers to deliver content) and Schoology (a learning management system that contains teacher and district curriculum, folders of links and resources, and assessment tools).  In 3PT, bell schedules and even chronological age differences fade away from the real focus: learning that is flexibly paced and about mastery, not compliance or seat-time.   (To see pictures and follow tweets about our district's 3PT stories, see #3PTSC; there is some awesome work going on out there.)   It should be noted that unlike differentiation or individualization, only personalization is student-centered.   However, we again must be vigilant for balance.  We risk impersonalized learning if this model leads to teenage cubicle drones, pecking in isolation at their laptops. Students should have a chance for discourse with their peers; teacher conferences and whole/small group instruction still needs to be a vital part of student learning.

How often do we concentrate on content delivery over student dialogue and groupwork?  Does technology enable an increase in both the quantity and the quality of teachers conferring face-to-face with students?

PROJECT-BASED LEARNING:  Since participating in PD on PBL in the summer of 2015, I have been excited about the ways it can combine personal student interest with relevant work that seeks to elevate or solve real-world problems, publishing or presenting to authentic audiences.   It is often collaborative and done by groups of students. The danger is that PBL could be seen as "one more thing" instead of a model that can integrate seamlessly with both personalized and blended learning.

How can PBL be brought more systematically into a personalized, blended learning environment?

Why I won't claim to have solutions to all of these questions, a few resources on the internet might point us in the right direction.

This resource and graphic from The Learning Accelerator is perhaps my favorite visual on blended learning.   What I appreciate is how it goes beyond a definition and concentrates on what blended learning can help you enable and accomplish.  Most importantly, blended learning should empower educators to make sure every graduate "attains the skills and mindset needed to succeed in college and life (academics + habits/character)."

Note: this graphic is part of a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Lately, educators are buzzing about Summit Learning, who recently has released a free digital learning platform, which includes a core content curriculum for personalized learning.   While the tool itself is fascinating, I am more intrigued by their school philosophy: content delivery should be only as important as the application of cognitive skills in the form of PBL work.  In a recent introductory webinar (visit their site for upcoming events), they shared the following example of a Summit school week:

Screen captured from an archived webinar, linked here.

Look how many slots are appropriated to PBL, in comparison to content acquisition time!  In addition, mentor time is scheduled and guaranteed at least every Friday.   While this may not be the perfect model, it does reveal how important authentic application of knowledge is to the Summit vision of learning, and shows how blended, personalized and PBL can weave together like a well-made rope.

Like any well-woven rope in education (he says with a tongue placed firmly in his cheek), an acronym is necessary for naming.  The significance of calling this balanced system PPBBL is even built into the order of the letters.  Personalization is the first priority and therefore the first letter; leading by student needs and interests quite naturally segues into project-based work; blended is the way to make it all work effectively and engagingly.  And learning should be the last word -- the point, purpose and result of these transformative models of education.

So we will keep pushing ourselves with our questions -- reflecting, refining, reinventing what it means to be in a classroom, or to be a student, or to be a teacher.   

[Note:  part of the inspiration for this entry came from my work with one of our district Instructional Coaches, Melba Bradley.  As we recently planned a PD session on blended learning for a teacher personalized learning day, we discussed how PBL needed to be a stronger component of a blended learning classroom, and the first version of this entry's mashup acronym was born.]

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

My One Hundredth Blog Entry!

A little over two years ago, I started a journey into the unknown at Shelby County Public Schools.  I left teaching in a high school classroom in order to pursue a passion of mine -- educational technology -- and for a leadership opportunity to positively affect a large number of students and teachers on a scale I couldn't imagine previously, in a position that was brand new to the district.  Not counting some false starts before, it was also the first time I seriously attempted to professionally blog.  In my first entry for Edtech Elixirs (dated August 1, 2014), I wrote that I was "committed to making meaningful and ongoing posts, but most importantly, making my blog a useful resource for others."

Others will have to judge if my posts are useful or meaningful.   However, as I write this entry -- the one hundredth post since I started Edtech Elixirs -- I can at least affirm that the posts have been "ongoing" in ways that I couldn't imagine in 2014.  My output has slowed down this school year, but my overall average is nearly a blog entry a week.  And I was worried I would run out of things to share and say!

Let's stop this entry cold so I can recognize and thank you, the readers.  Numbers aren't everything, but they certainly point out that many of you stop by my various social media sites.  Back in June of 2015, I wrote an entry summarizing the reach of Edtech Elixirs to that point.  At that time, I had cleared 10,000 total views when the blog was not quite a year old, much to my astonishment.  As of this writing, I am a few clicks shy of clearing 37,000.   In the same blog entry, I discussed my social media stats, and again, it's hard to believe what a difference nearly 16 months makes.  I'll just point out two examples.  I had nearly 800 Followers on Twitter and over 3,300 tweets in June 2015.  I now have 1,466 Followers and 5,119 tweets.  On my Watsonedtech YouTube channel in June 2015, I had just over 6,000 views, the highest number going to Adjusting your Lenovo Yoga Microphone (1709) and How to Use Plickers (Part One) (2364).  Sixteen months later, the channel has 55,489 total views with 18,238 views on the "Adjusting..." video and 22,292 views for "Plickers."

But back to the blog.  Here are my top 10 most popular entries of all time (ranked by number of individual direct views as of today).

  1. Lenovo Yoga: Fixing your Audio for HDMI Connection (2/5/15, with 5257 views).  Back in June 2015, this was only the third most popular entry with 417 views.  Now it is by far the most clicked.  Apparently, between this and my entry on adjusting the microphone, many people are Googling for help on their Lenovo Yoga.
  2. The Power of Positive Social Media #StartsWithUs (10/16/14, with 1040 views).  Started with a hashtag and clothespins in a St. Louis school, I shared this powerful story of how social media can be utilized to make a positive difference.  One of my favorite entries.
  3. Rose/Bud/Thorn and Design Thinking (4/29/15, with 976 views).  A great reflective strategy for students that I found and shared, along with a short overview of what Design Thinking is.
  4. Why Chromebooks? (8/22/15, with 685 views).  Probably popular if found when people Google "Why Should I Buy a Chromebook?"  I lay out some reasons why a Chromebook is a solid device, and how it fits with our district's philosophy and overall academic plan.
  5. How I Spent My Summer Vacation 2015 (8/7/15 with 683 views).  Only a few clicks shy of fourth place,  I am perplexed how this made the top 5, much less the top 20 or 50.  Perhaps because I talked about EdcampKY, Mooresville (NC) and our own district personalized PD in one entry?  Maybe it's a Google-able mother lode.
  6. Flubaroo, Doctopus and Goobric (5/27/15 with 566 views).   Three highly useful Google tools you can creatively integrate into student assessment and learning.
  7. Game-Based Learning and Classcraft (1/12/15 with 534 views).  A primer on game-based learning and gamification in the classroom, an overview of Classcraft, and an interview with Collins High School teacher Tim Oltman.  A bit overstuffed, but like #5, its popularity may come from showing up in different types of Google searches.
  8. PBL and Eusessments (7/1/15 with 467 views).  Is "assessment" a bad word? How does PBL work, and can lead to "good products" that truly demonstrate student understanding?
  9. Makerspaces (12/1/15 with 419 views).  Besides an explanation of what a makerspace is, it contains a link to a Google Doc occasionally updated by myself and our district librarians; it is full of various makerspace resources.  In addition, the entry has an interview with Heidi Nelt, who recently was named the 2016 KASL School Librarian of the Year!
  10. Garlic Necklace, Not a Silver Bullet (5/14/15 with 381 views).   There is no such thing as one device that fits all needs...and that's a good thing.  I discuss a possible alternative way of thinking about and integrating technology in a classroom, school or district.
I want to again thank Shelby County for giving me this opportunity to help teachers and students, and for every reader that has ever clicked on one of my blog entries, tweets or videos!

Tuesday, September 13, 2016


The ultimate goal of technology in the classroom should be making teaching and learning happen in ways that you never thought possible.  One of those areas transformed by edtech is formative assessment. Nowadays,  there are many tools at a teacher's disposal where you can check a student's understanding quickly and in an engaging way.    But what if you want to expand past gathering multiple choice and short text answers?   What if a tool could capture understanding beyond the typical literacy demonstration of written words?

A few years ago, I discovered and wrote about Flipgrid, a student video response system.  Teachers could pose a question in a "grid," and students (via a webcam) could record a response within the website.  It was as easy as going to the URL and clicking a plus button.  In the time since, Flipgrid has improved the tool -- for example, you can now respond directly to someone else's response, creating a thread of digital discourse -- but there were a few downsides. (There were also numerous browser conflicts where Flipgrid didn't work, but in the two years since I originally reviewed it, I'm assuming those are now fixed.) 

[Update 5/3/17: Flipgrid now offers a limited free single grid option for teachers, Flipgrid One.]

 Several of our Shelby teachers used Flipgrid and gave it praise. For a time, in the nascent assortment of student video response tools out there, Flipgrid had few competitors.

Until now.

Thanks to a recent Google+ post by Christy Cate, I have found another tool that is just as easy to use, will work across multiple devices (including Chromebooks and via Android and iOS apps), and best of all, it is free!  Folks, welcome to Recap, brought to you by the same people behind Swivl.

How does it work?  Register using your email or Google account.  (It's important that you choose "teacher" during initial registration, even if you play the student to other people's recaps in the future.)  Your account will come with a demo class to give you an opportunity to play with Recap's features, but adding a new class is easy.  Once you do, you are faced with two options for students to log in for your class: via a class pin directly, or via their email/Google account.  The pin might be best for younger students, as the graphic below explains:

Note that the login setup is permanent for that particular class.  If you choose the direct class pin option, you can add students manually, but you must do so individually.

Next, you can create a recap.  One of Recap's helpful features is that you can make one assignment/recap around a certain theme or topic, but you can have up to 10 questions per recap.

Once students are in the class, they can choose to answer a recap.  Recap will then stop and prompt the student at each question, recording their answer before moving on to the next question.   At the end of the process, the student can also let the teacher know whether "They Got It," "Partially Got It," or "Didn't Get It."  Students can also view other students' responses. Although the teacher can give some text feedback to individual responses, students cannot leave feedback for each other, nor can they respond in video form to another student response.

The teacher's dashboard allows them to see all the student's responses individually, as well as a graphical representation of the "got it" reflections.  A final intriguing feature is the "Daily Review Reel," where randomly picked responses from some (but not all) of the students are edited together with some nice framing graphics.  This video can be shared with others, outside of the Recap website.

The teacher dashboard from the demo class.

This video gives a quick overview of Recap in less than a minute:

One thing that is very impressive about Recap is its simplicity of use, from setup to teacher management to student response creation.  I can imagine it used at multiple grade levels and for multiple contents.

How could you use it?  Reflections on a completed project or test can be done quickly: What was hardest? What was easiest?  Did you feel you were overprepared, underprepared, or studied/worked just enough?   Summative assessments themselves might have an alternative in Recap, especially for ECE students with compositional difficulties or ELL students who may speak more proficiently than they write.  An exit or entrance slip via some Recap questions could give a teacher a much more rich and nuanced appreciation of what students know and understand. The "Daily Review Reel" would be a fantastic way to share your classroom work with parents or staff; as of now, it is automated, but fuller control of which responders/responses are included is coming soon (see below).

Downsides?  It would be nice to have the capability to quantitatively assess a student via a grade or a mastery of standards (as of now, the only "grading" is a student's self reflection on whether they "got it" or not, and the ability for a teacher to give written feedback), but that might also be too heavy for Recap's intended streamlined purpose.  I was pleased to see several improvements coming soon, such as a student being able to resubmit/redo a response.  If they ever are able to have students respond to each other (like they can in Flipgrid), this free tool will corner the market.

It's reassuring to see that developers intend to improve their tool; hopefully that means the site will stick around and mature.

Do you use Recap?  Flipgrid?  Another student video response system?  Post your thoughts in the Comments below.

Update 4/26/17:  A new feature of Recap that can help create inquiry and personalize learning is about to launch: Recap Discover, part of Recap 2.0.  Learn more here.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

"Opening" a Microsoft File in Google Drive

One of the best things about Google Drive is the ability to create various kinds of files in an online environment.  We should not forget, however, that Google Drive is also very convenient cloud-based storage (especially Google Apps for Education, which has nearly unlimited space).

Usually, first time Google Drive / GAFE teachers take advantage of this storage aspect first by uploading tons of their old files, particularly Microsoft ones. At face value, this is not a bad idea.  Once uploaded, so long as you are able to connect to the Internet, you are able to view, print or download them, even via an app on your smartphone.  The problem is how that leads to one of the most common misconceptions of Google users: the perceived ability to edit a Microsoft file inside of your Google Drive.

In short, you cannot edit a Microsoft Word (or any other MS file) inside of Google Drive.  Only a MS program can do that.  There is no way to connect Word or any other MS program directly to your Google Drive / Google Apps for Education.

When you click on a Microsoft document in your Google Drive, you will get an interface like this:

Note that unlike a typical Google document, you see this "viewer" window when you click on a MS file.
The blacked out left and right margin let you know you are not in a typical Google file interface.  Instead, this viewer window gives you several options, including sharing, downloading, and printing the file.  (Note also that the right side X gets you out of this viewer function.  If you choose the browser's back arrow button, you will actually go back one level in your Drive.)

The trouble begins when you choose the drop down "Open With" option:

You should always see a "Google equivalent" program first, followed by other possible apps that can open the file.

For example, suppose you click on a MS Word file.  If you "Open with Google Docs," you are not editing the original MS file, as many people mistakenly believe. What you are actually doing is essentially asking Google Drive to make a clone version of the MS file in the appropriate Google app; in this example, create a Google Doc version based on the Word file.  The original Word file is and will always be the same as when you uploaded it.  But now you have a "translated" Google Doc version that preserves much of the same formatting.  This new Google Doc could be what you use from that point forward to share and collaborate with colleagues.  However, every time you think you are “opening” the initial Word file online, you are actually making yet another Google Doc clone, and this could continue ad infinitum causing a lot of confusion.

So should you not upload your MS files into your Drive?   If you never did, you would waste the wonderful online storage space that Google gives you.  Instead, I recommend putting all of your old MS files into a separate archive folder away from your brand new Google Docs, Slides, etc.  If there is ever a time you need to do something beside viewing one of the MS files, you can make a Google version ONCE, then move the new Google file out of the archive folder to a new spot in your Drive so you don’t create confusion.  And of course, from this point forward . . . when you want to make a new document, presentation, or spreadsheet . . . start clean and begin with a fresh Google file!

One last point of clarification.  By default, your uploaded MS files will stay in their original format.  However, in your Drive settings (the gear icon on the right side below your profile icon), you can checkmark a box where uploaded MS files will automatically be converted into their Google equivalents.  While this may be handy if you want to mass convert much of what you're uploading, I recommend the default setting where this is turned off.  That way, you can decide which (if any) of your MS file should be converted, and for the sake of archiving, your uploads will remain in their original state, especially if you want to download them "as is" later.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Organizing your Class: Schoology versus Google Drive

As our school year began, Glenda Price from East Middle School asked me a question.  Which is better to organize and distribute materials to students: Schoology or Google Drive?

I don't want to create a false dilemma here.  You can and should likely use both tools in your classroom.  It's really more of a question of determining your purpose and being intentional in your instructional choices.

That said, there are advantages and disadvantages for both tools.  This blog entry will break down how each tool could be used and the pros/cons.

(Note that although Google Classroom is a tool available for Google Apps for Education users, I am simplifying the discussion by omitting it here, mainly because the use of the enterprise edition of Schoology is what our district supports and encourages.)

If all students create Google folders and then share with all of their teachers, they will be likely have a very full email inbox with “shared with me” requests.  That said, there are several advantages: the students are the actual owners of their own class folders, teachers can organize these student folders as they like (by dragging and dropping them from "Shared with Me" to a preferred space in their Drive), and the teacher can save time from actually creating individual student folders.

Another option would be for students to create shared links with editing rights to their folders, and give teachers those links through a Google Form.  (Ask for their name, collect email addresses, and have a short answer question where they could paste in the URL.)  That way, a teacher has a Google Sheet with all the hyperlinks one click away. They could have a Form and Sheet for each class.  Bonus:  no “shared with me” notifications AND no dragging and dropping of folders.

You could have teachers create Folders (one per student), then share them with students.  That would be easier to MANAGE from the teacher side (teachers are obviously organizing as they create them), but it’s very time consuming….that’s a lot of folders to make!

Don’t forget how aspects of Schoology can make sharing and submission of work easier.  Do I really need shared Google folders I have to constantly check, or do I only need their Google Doc (or Slides or whatever) one assignment at a time?  If so, use Schoology Assignments.  Again, have students create a share link to the file, paste it in the “Create” tab when submitting the assignment, and voila — you can access each of them easily, and again, without all of the “Shared with Me’ notifications.

Distribute any Google documents using Schoology.  Paste the link in an Update, Assignment, or as part of a Schoology folder. If you need to distribute a “template” for them to edit and make their own, create a shared URL and use the copy trick…change the end of the link (everything after the last forward slash) to “copy.”  When they click the link, they automatically have to make their own copy.

Last but not least, don't forget that as part of your Materials in Schoology, you can "Add Media Album."   This is the only way to create a place in your Course where -- if enabled in the advanced settings -- you can have both students and teachers contribute media to a shared space.  For more directions and information, visit this Schoology support page.

Do you have other ways to electronically share or distribute material?  Post your thoughts in the Comments below.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Welcome to the 2016-2017 School Year!

It's hard to believe, but today our Shelby County students and teachers begin a new school year!  And whether you are an educator just starting, already started, or start next week, I wish you the best and most productive and joyous 36 weeks ahead.

Did you have a good summer?  Did you travel and rejuvenate yourself?  On the personal side, my family and I visited friends in Ontario, Canada, not far from Toronto and Niagara Falls.  Among our stops was the Waterloo Region Museum.  Although the museum itself had interesting exhibits, it was its Doon Heritage Village that truly was a memorable experience.  Strolling through a replica of a 1914 Waterloo town, complete with curators in period costumes who share what life was like a century ago, made me realize the power of immersive educational experiences in real time and in real spaces.

That's not to be too dismissive of the virtual educational possibilities of Pokemon Go, Google Expeditions or the new VR Nearpod "field trips," but authentic role playing is hard to beat!

On the professional side, I was fortunate to once again be a part of the planning and organizing of EdCampKY in July.  We had three firsts:

  • We held it at an elementary school.
  • Shelby County was the host -- or more specifically, Southside Elementary.
  • We had a theme: Star Wars!
The EdCampKY went wonderfully, as always because of the attendees.  Special thanks to the 501st Legion, who put in an appearance that helped raise money for charity and gave me the opportunity to take a picture with a stormtrooper!  (One item can now be crossed off my bucket list.)

Last but not is very exciting to see how nearby districts are launching their own Chromebook and GAFE initiatives.  In the last few weeks, I was fortunate and flattered to be asked to facilitate some start of school PD with Scott and Trimble Counties.  We at Shelby consider it opportunities to become learning partners with other districts and grow together in the digital conversion of classrooms to come.

So wherever you are in your edtech journey, remember: take risks, fail forward with purpose, and dare to transform your teaching this year!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016


The last month of this school year has been a blur of busy-ness. As we prepare to complete our 1:1 initiative in August for our K-5 students, our first school year of Chromebooks for middle and high school students has just completed. It has changed what learning means for Shelby County.  Also in the busy-ness mix: in the last few weeks I have presented at Fayette County's Innovations for Learning and KDE's Persistence to Graduation Summit.  This was my second year at IFL (what a great regional and FREE annual conference!) and my first for PtG; I hope to return to both next year.

For my last blog entry of the 2015-2016 school year, I want to highlight a new formative assessment tool -- Quizalize.  To me, it is the next natural evolution of the gamified online tools such as Kahoot and Quizizz, which builds on their strengths and finds new ways of being useful for educators.

How does it work?  First, register your free teacher account.  (There are some premium features available; more on that below.)    You will land on a page with several options at the top:

Note the URL public link (on the right), making it easy to share your Quizalize profile online.
"Start Here" is definitely recommended as your first stop.  Here you can access a printable guide, watch a short overview video, and play a demo quiz; you can also make a quiz as well as search Quizalize's "marketplace" for quizzes shared publicly by others.  (Some of these public quizzes are free, and some cost.)

The other top buttons on your landing page are fairly straightforward.  Under "Your Quizzes" you can see quizzes you have already made or create new ones.  One helpful aspect is that you can organize quizzes into "collections," making it easier to navigate through them.  You can view or create classes under "Your Classes."  This is also where you can assign a quiz to a class, or see data from quizzes your students have taken.  "Marketplace" takes you to the same searchable database mentioned above.  By clicking your name, you can edit your profile and settings.

Creating a quiz is easy; simply create your questions and then assign the quiz to a class.  One of the more powerful aspects of Quizalize is the ability to tag questions with objectives or topics, which will greatly enhance its reporting features.  Also, Quizalize quizzes can easily be taken asynchronously.   You can assign them as homework with a start/end date of completion.  (Of course, you could ask students to take it simultaneously during class as well.)  Unlike Kahoot, students can take the quiz without a projector displaying questions and answer choices; all of the necessary information is right on their own screen.  When assigning a quiz, you have several options such as scrambling the order of questions so students side by side will have a different experience.   The teacher is given a unique access code to the quiz; this code and the site are all the information a student needs to take it.

Creating a class is also easy.  You give it a name, and decide whether you will make students have to create an email/password to sign in.  Unfortunately, for those that want to upload a roster, you do not have that as an option.  However, the tradeoff is an easy interface for students to access and take your quizzes (similar to Kahoot and Quizizz, a student can take a quiz without registration). With the code and site, a student can jump into a quiz within seconds.   One of the interesting features of Quizalize is that a list of student names from previous takers will show up; students should look for their name first and click on it, but they can type it if their name is not shown.   I recommend making this clear in your instructions to students, in order to make data for the same student consistent over time.

One of my favorite aspects of Quizalize is the visually clear way student answer data is presented, both as whole class and on an individual basis.  Student performance is broken down as "strong," "almost there," and "needs help." If you use the subtopics tagging feature, you can also quickly see overall areas of struggle and proficiency.  Here is where the premium aspect of Quizalize adds value; if a teacher wants to pay $69 a year, he/she would have access to a spreadsheet view of performance as well as the ability to export the data.

Here is a video I made that shows an overview of Quizalize's assessment analysis features:

One last thing to mention is that Quizalize has partnered with Zzish, which allows the ability to assign multiple activities from other online platforms.   When you log in as a teacher, you can "Add Activity" from sites such as Kahoot and Socrative.  However, although a student can see these outside assignments once they log in to Quizalize, it is not a direct link or embedded activity.   For example, you could copy the Kahoot game PIN and put that in the activity description for the student to see for their "assignment," but the student would still have to log into Kahoot from a new tab to play the Kahoot game.

How could you use it?  As bellringers or exit slips, Quizalize can give you quick, vital information on student performance. With the link and a code, quizzes could easily be imbedded in Schoology Updates or non-submission Assignments.  Coupled with a content-related video or text reading, Quizalize could be used for more engaging homework or as part of a flipped activity.  Last but not least, Quizalize could be another digital tool for gamifying your classroom.

Downsides? Fans of Quizizz will miss the lack of funny memes for wrong answers in Quizalize.  Both Quizizz and Kahoot have a rich reporting structure available for free, whereas you need a premium account in Quizalize to export similar Excel spreadsheets.  Lastly, although Quizalize has a leaderboard of sorts when running live games, Quizizz and Kahoot may be more effective in feeding the competitive nature of students.   However, its ease of use, coupled with the power of "subtopics" and quick visual representation of results, make Quizalize a compelling alternative.

Are you a user of Quizalize?  Talk about it in the Comments below.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016


In my high school English classroom teachers years, true differentiation was always an elusive goal.  I never disagreed with its need, but always found it difficult to do with consistency, depth, and fidelity.  This was especially true with reading materials.  Like most, I faced students who ranged a huge range of low to high reading levels.   However, I highly valued having students be able to have discourse over the same text.  Often, especially with non-fiction text, I would be lucky to find a "on grade," "above grade," and "high grade" version of the same topic without making it obvious the disparity between the "kiddie version" and the others.

But now we have tech tools that can narrow the gap.  What if students could all read the exact same article, yet the Lexile level be automatically shifted up or down?   Newsela was the first and only site I knew that did this well, but another online resource has recently surfaced: TweenTribune, backed by the Smithsonian.

How does it work?   You can browse and search non-fiction articles in various subjects, or click on a band of reading levels determined by grade level (K-4, 5-6, etc.; this is one advantage over Newsela, which doesn't have grade level bands of articles).  Once you click on an article of interest, you can quickly adjust the Lexile reading level of the article by clicking on a higher or lower number.  Each Lexile version of an article has an unique URL, which makes copying and sharing the URL at a certain reading level very easy.

Note under the title that the current Lexile reading level number is in gold. Some options, such as taking a quiz or leaving a comment, are available if you are logged into your account.  Registration is free, and student usernames and passwords must be generated by a teacher who creates a class.
Another positive compared to Newsela:  while Newsela only lets you see five articles before making you register (for free), you can access all the articles of TweenTribune and share their multi-level URLs without teachers or students ever creating an account.

One thing that is interesting as you click across the grade levels is that the name of the site actually changes even as the URL still starts ""   K-4 is TT Junior, and 9-12 is TeenTribune.

There are a collection of separate Spanish articles under its own category, but the Lexile level cannot be adjusted, nor do the English articles have a "Spanish button" to convert them.

If you are interested in taking a comprehension quiz or leaving a comment on the article, you have to be logged in.  Teachers can register for free, create classes and student usernames/passwords, and assign certain articles to their classes.  (Note that a student cannot create their own sign in -- they have to get that from a teacher.)  If students take a quiz, teachers can access those results.

The teacher interface to create classrooms and student accounts is straight forward and simple.

How could you use it?   You can create authentic and engaging pair, group, or whole class discussions by having students read the same article differentiated to their needs.   In discussion, it would be nearly impossible for one student to know what Lexile level the other student read, making the equity seamless and invisible.  With an LMS, sharing URLs to specific reading levels of an article would be easy; for example, in Schoology, you could even create differentiated Assignments to different student groups, each with a different TweenTribune Lexile reading level of the same text.

Downsides?  I would like a way that you could have the various Lexile levels of a specific article be translated to Spanish with one button push.  That would make differentiation extend easily to ELL student needs.

I'm thankful that the Smithsonian is helping educators differentiate with ease...and for free!

Do you use Newsela or TweenTribune?  Discuss it in the Comments below.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Using the Camera of a Chromebook

A teacher today at East Middle began an interesting discussion with me.  She has students that are more comfortable with handwritten notes.  What would be an easy way to capture them and save them to their Google Drive?  We first briefly began with an "old school" way of doing so, and likely the best way for resolution and image quality -- find a desktop computer, use a scanner to scan the notes, then take the resulting file and get it into their Google Drive via email, a thumb drive, etc.  However, this would not only be time and resource consuming, but is a great example of letting "perfect be the enemy of good."  Because of our 1:1 Chromebooks for middle and high school, a student has a more than adequate way of capturing these notes right at their fingertips.  It also encourages blended learning - a mix of the analog and the digital.

In order to take a picture with the Chromebook, go to the magnifying glass icon in lower left, click “All Apps,” and find Camera.  (If you want, you can drag and pin the icon to the bottom tray for a short cut in the future.)

Take your picture with the webcam. You can add filters if you like, set a timer, or take multishots in a row.  You might want to turn the mirroring off, especially if taking a picture of text.

If you want to find and use the picture afterward, access the gallery by going to Camera and click on the stacked photo icon on the right.  Choose the picture you want to use, then “Save to Disk” option in lower right.  Name it and put it in your Drive.

When you want to take a snapshot while in the middle of a Google Doc, go to Insert > Image > Take a Snapshot.  The first time you do this, you will need to give permissions for the Chromebook to access your webcam and built in microphone.  The snapshot can now be taken and instantly inserted.  (Note: this can be done not only on a Chromebook, but any laptop/desktop computer with a webcam.)

There are other ways the Chromebook's camera could be utilized.  Here's some examples:

  • Younger students who are pre-literate could still capture and share their work, such as drawings.
  • Math students of all ages can "show their work" as both proof of their effort as well as a window into their critical thinking, so that it may be assessed by their teacher.
  • Students can preserve proof of analog projects (such as a diorama) for digital portfolios.
  • On non-traditional instructional days or homework, students could be asked to take a selfie along with a code word (given by the teacher at the appropriate time) written on a piece of paper.  This will serve as a "check in" that students followed directions and were truly present for their work.
  • Thanks to websites like QR Code Generator, you can scan QR codes without using a phone or installing a program.

How are you using the Chromebook's camera?   Tell us in the Comments below.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Edtech Share Fair 2016

Last Wednesday, we had our second annual Edtech Share Fair.  In terms of sheer numbers, we were successful: nearly double the presenters and attendees.  We also had a large contingent of people outside of our district visit; educators from six different districts got tickets, and we even had a U of L professor bring his entire class of students!

Ashley Sutter from our local newspaper the Sentinel News did a story on the Share Fair, which you can read here.

Last but not least, I did a Storify which contains a select sample of the tweets using hashtag #SCsharefair:

Special thanks to all of our presenters and helpers, as well as all those that attended!

Monday, March 21, 2016


Before I get into today's tool, I want to say what an educational and inspirational time I had at KySTE 2016 a few weeks ago!  Not only because the sessions were good as always, but it is always great to see my other educational technology peeps.  Special congratulations to Marty Park for his "Making IT Happen" award and Heidi Neltner for being recognized as this year's "Outstanding Teacher." (Is it a coincidence that I interviewed her mere months before Heidi won? Did her brilliant words tip the judges in her favor?  We will have to open an X File and investigate; the truth is out there.)

Today's tool came out of a need requested by teachers with our Chromebooks.  The ability to do annotation is important to help students take ownership of text, as well as capturing and sharing their thinking.  The trouble is finding a cloud based tool that does this, since you can't download programs on a Chromebook.  A few teachers mentioned Kami, and once I played around with it, I was very pleased. It is free, fairly easy to use, and because you can save annotated files to your Google Drive, sharing your annotations or reviewing your previous notes is a cinch.  (Side note: Kami was formerly known as Notable, if you are a previous user of the tool.)

How does it work?  You first must register.  Thankfully (especially for students!), you can use your existing Google account to log in.  There is also a Chrome browser App and Extension available to install if you like, which would allow you to annotate offline!

As noted previously, Kami is free, but by paying an upgrade fee you can get some premium features, starting with removing ads and autosaving to your Drive.  The custom pricing available for schools allows for the inserting of shapes, audio annotations, collaboration among users, and text to speech capabilities.  As a free user I can't attest to these bonus features, but I can definitely see their value.

Once logged in, you can import several different types of files from various locations, including straight from your Google Drive, Box, or Dropbox accounts.

Once you bring in a file (like a Google Doc or a PDF), your annotation tools will appear in a sidebar to the left.  Two of the buttons (shapes and document signatures) are part of the Premium upgrades.

Various Kami tools in action.  "Wow!" in red shows the drawing tool. "This is text" in purple is the text tool.  The orange dot is part of the comment tool (linked to box on the right).  Strikethrough, highlight and underline are also shown.
After you make your annotations, you click on the download icon in the upper right and choose how to Export the file.  Note that you can export to your computer, or directly into your Google Drive.

Exporting as a "PDF With Annotations" is probably your best bet.

And that's it!  Once you get used to navigating the site, Kami can become a very versatile annotation tool for students.

How could you use it?   Annotation, obviously.  But if the exported PDFs are put in a shared folder with the teacher and/or other students, the ability for quick feedback (from teachers and peers) would make Kami invaluable.

Downsides?  The drawing tool is awkward with a mouse or trackpad; with a touchscreen and a stylus, it would be better.  That said, the drawing tool has no adjustment of line thickness, so text notes would be better for longer annotations.   I wish some of the premium features were freely available for education accounts, but it's hard to complain when most of Kami is free in the first place.

I've yet to come across a cloud based annotation tool that's free and this easy to use with Chromebooks.  Give it a try with your students!

Have you and your students used Kami?  What did you think?  Leave a Comment below.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Avoiding the distractors of YouTube

YouTube is full of incredible videos for education.  In its native page, however, it is also full of distractions: ads before the video starts, suggested videos along the right side, and comments below.  Potentially, all of these may have inappropriate material, especially when considering elementary students.

Here are two main ways to get around this: using embedded codes, or using an alternative site that shows a "clean" version of the video.

Embedded Codes

When you go to a video on YouTube, go below and click on the Share tab.  By default, the first tab (also labelled Share) is shown first, which has a URL.   For most instances, copying and pasting this is fine, but the URL will bring you to the "official" YouTube page in all its glory...and distractions.

Instead, click Share and then click Embed:

Copy and paste this code.  If you use Schoology, the same place you would paste the URL for the video will also accept this embed code.  The difference for the student is that the video will play inside of Schoology and not launch to a new page or tab outside of it.  Also, no ad will play at the beginning, and since you are only seeing the video, you will not see the comments or the videos alongside yours.

*If you want another level of control, you can also turn off the suggested videos at the end of playing the video.  (This means the only thing a students will see at the end is a chance to replay the video.)

In your "Embed" tab as shown above, click on "Show More":

Next, uncheckmark the first box for "Show suggested videos after the video finishes":

The embed code will now be altered to reflect this change.  Copy the embed code as before and paste it into Schoology.

Alternative Sites for Viewing

Another option for a "cleaner" interface is to copy the YouTube video's URL and paste it in another site.  There are multiple options on the Web where you can watch the YouTube video in the same way as above: no ads, no comments, no suggested videos.  Two that I would recommend is View Pure (and thanks to Donnie Piercey for his blog entry about it!) and Safeshare.TV.   Once you paste the original YouTube URL in these sites, a new URL is generated.  This View Pure or Safeshare link is the one you want to copy and paste into Schoology, your email, etc.  When a student clicks it, they will be taken to this clean interface version.

There is an important caveat for both of these options, however.  When either embedding or filtering, YouTube will not allow a site or system to block the YouTube logo in the lower right of the video frame.  If a student clicks on it, a new tab/page will open that is the video's original page on YouTube.

For a more detailed video on both of these options, please view below.

*Update 2/25/16: I added the directions for going to "Show More" and turning off the suggested videos at the end.  Thank you Yasmine Fleming for the tip!

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Edtech Share Fair 2016 Tickets on Sale!

Just a short post to announce that the FREE tickets to our second annual Edtech Share Fair are available now!  (You can read about Edtech Share Fair 2015 here.) The event is Wednesday, March 23, 4:00 to 5:30 pm EST, and is open to educators both inside and outside of our district.  The Edtech Share Fair will be held at Southside Elementary; we will start in the campus's Blair Center and move into the school itself for the presentations.

More information on the Smore flyer below.  To order tickets, you can go directly to the event's Eventbrite page.

Mark your calendar and we'll see you there!

Thursday, February 4, 2016


Worksheets are a nasty, nasty word in education.  Fair or not, they epitomize the "one size fits all" approach to mindlessly giving out the same photocopied work, year after year after year.  However, like other maligned educational words and phrases that have fallen out of fashion (like "direct instruction"), we must be careful not to throw out a good tool that has been used poorly in the past . . . especially if they get a twenty-first century upgrade.

Which brings us to the focus of this entry: Wizer! (That's pronounced like "wiser," as in "I hope to become wiser in integrated technology as the years go on.")  These self-described "blended worksheets" can become another powerful formative assessment for your digital classroom, despite the pedigree of the dreaded W word.

How does it work?  You need an account to either make or take Wizer worksheets, but registration is free and you can even use your Google account as a sign in.  (GAFE users, take note!)  Once logged in, look in the upper left of the page to access your previously created worksheets or to create a new one.

Once you choose to create a new worksheet, you must choose a theme.  (Like Google Forms in the beginning, there are a narrow amount of choices with some seasonal influences - I saw a Valentine related choice, for example - but you should be able to find enough variety.)  Next, you will see various ways of editing the worksheet at the top and right side.  At the top, you can indicate the grade level of the work or tag it with indicators.  Down the right side, you can save the worksheet as you go (there doesn't appear to be an auto-save), preview what it will look like to students, change the cover photo, and last but not least, edit the color and font of the worksheet's title.  The wording of the title itself is easy to click and edit, which will automatically give the worksheet its name when you look under "My Worksheets" in the top left.

In the body of the worksheet, you can choose various Tasks. Perhaps by design, the top row of choices are interactive, and the bottom row are more passive/informational.  So you can choose from interactive options such as matching, multiple choice, labeling a picture, and open response questions to more passive embedded material such as YouTube videos, pictures or links.  Another plus is how simple it is to edit Tasks and change the order of their appearance on the worksheet.

I'm particularly impressed with "Fill On An Image" and "Matching," which among online formative assessments are fairly unique choices.

For a video on how to create a Wizer worksheet, see below:

After the worksheet is completed, you go to the upper right to toggle the Publish button, and now you can "Assign to students."  From here, you can create multiple "classes" to assign the same worksheet for the sake of organization (and control turning on or off access class by class).  You can provide a link to the worksheet (in an email, a Schoology Assignment/Update Post, etc.) or directly integrate it with Google Classroom.

Note that you can choose to give or not give "Automatic feedback to students."

Once students complete the worksheet, you can go to your worksheet and click on "Assess Answers" in the upper right. Right/wrong answers (like multiple choice) will be automatically graded for you, and you can toggle through student submissions to manually grade Tasks such as open responses or override Wizer if it says a student was incorrect.  There is even a space for teacher comments. Once saved, all of this will be available to students when they next log in.

For a video on how to assign worksheets and assess student answers, see below:

Note that by default, all published worksheets are available in the public "gallery" on the home page of the site, which can be shared or copied to their own account by other users.  However, you can make your worksheets private by going under "My Worksheets," finding the worksheet you want to change, clicking the three dots button, and clicking on Make Private.

How could you use it?   The beauty of Wizer can be summed up in a sentence: it's a formative assessment that is easy to navigate with Tasks that could be used K-12.  If you are worried about the "one size fits all" of old school worksheets, why not make multiple versions and differentiate?  (You can copy one of your existing worksheets and edit it accordingly.)

Downsides?   Questions are automatically a point per answer; you cannot customize the values. There is no way to search public worksheets (currently, you can only browse the ones shown on the home page), but since worksheets can be tagged when created, I believe this is a feature likely to come down the pike.  While already packed with several Task features, I look forward to using other tools in the future such as drawing or audio.

Wizer is getting user input for which Task will be added next.

All in all, Wizer is a great new free online formative assessment that is already impressive.  If it continues to grow and improve, this could easily become a favorite in my toolbox.

Be sure to share a Comment below if you've used Wizer already or after you give it a try!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Middle School Chromebooks, and the Surprise of Schoology

As our area is enfolded into the first major snow event of winter 2016 and we have officially crossed into the second half of the school year, it's giving me a chance to take a breath and reflect on where our district is headed.

When the timetable was moved up on our initiative and we decided to get Chromebooks into the hands of our middle schoolers now instead of in August, there was definite joy in the air!  Last week, our deployment went even more smoothly than our high school deployment a few months prior.  Although we did it in two nights instead of three, there were few hiccups and we have grown into an efficient edtech delivery system.  (One of several lessons learned from the high school deployment: have an info sheet with a bar code prepped for every student to make checkout happen at laser zapping speed.)

It's true that I spent time last year prepping teachers for the 1:1 initiative, and our Digital Learning Team has worked with the middle school staffs in the weeks leading up to the deployment....but still, I was concerned.  Would the sped up deployment schedule rattle and dampen the middle school teachers' enthusiasm and tech integration?  In short, were they ready?

The short answer is: yes, they are ready...very much so!

The long answer is, teachers all over are jumping in with both feet.  Naturally, Google Apps are a popular tool and a powerful partner with Chromebooks.  But a pleasant surprise was how many teachers are already wading into Schoology -- learning as they go, learning from their students, and learning from each other.  At both East and West Middle Schools, educators are putting their feet on the accelerator and not looking back, whether it's in setting their norms, organizing their class, or applying physics knowledge with online simulations.  And this was barely 24 hours after deployment!

But Schoology extends beyond 6-12.  Our K-5 educators are also embracing it, even when they struggle with less than ideal 1:1 device penetration or tech consistency.  Third Grade teacher Nick Cottrell shares his story in the video below.  I love how his student surprised him with a feature he hadn't used himself yet!

Technology integration and digital classroom conversion is not for the timid.  Failing is likely, fumbling is typical.  But failing forward among the safety net of other enthusiastic practitioners of the teacher arts is the key.  I am so glad to be inspired by my colleagues and am invigorated to keep up with them.