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Saturday, November 18, 2017

To Tech or Not to Tech: Reflecting on Blended Learning for Young Students

The world of education is quickly becoming a digitized place, and for some, this can be unsettling. Parents, community members, teachers and even students sometimes lament the shift away from past instructional tools; recently, a high school freshman wrote an opinion piece titled "Public education should be less dependent on technology." At the end, she quips, "Technology may fail, but pencils and pens always work."

The debate is important to have for all grades, but in K-3 classrooms, this argument becomes nearly an emotional one. For our youngest students, the choice can seem agonizing. Do you fully engage them by recognizing their “real” life outside of school is constantly filtered through a digital lens, and an online workforce is their present and future?  Or do you make your classroom an analog haven where traditional materials -- actual books with paper pages, physical math manipulatives, Elmer’s Glue -- give the students a digital reprieve from hours of at-home screen time?

While I won't pretend that I can definitively solve this conundrum, I offer three steps to determine a way forward.

The first asks for hard reflection. You must consider how much bang for the buck you are currently getting for your traditional “this is the way I’ve always done it” approach.  Pencils and pens may never fail, but clearly across the United States, students do. Are your math and reading scores rising every year, or have they become stagnant or even declined?  On any given day, are students fully engaged and actively learning, or more distracted than ever and only passively receiving content?  If your current state tends toward the latter in both of those questions, recognize your present instruction is not having your expected impact, and change is necessary; you need to at least consider a different approach to teaching with additional or different (possibly digital) tools.

This is a good segue into the second step: analyze not how much you are using technology, but how you are using it. Just like any effective pedagogical tool, technology should enable students to be collaborative, creative, and critical thinkers. Two recent tweets (both of which reference TeachThought) shared to me by my colleague Lora Shields sum this point up nicely. The first uses side by side columns to show the difference between mere usage and intentional integration:

The second tweet looks at Bloom's Taxonomy verbs from a digital perspective. What are students doing with the tech? Clearly, the higher up the scale, the higher order the thinking:
The third step is to reject the either/or false dilemma nature of the question of "to tech or not to tech."  A modern classroom will likely have both digital and analog tools side by side, where technology usage is not seen as a “reward” or for a special hour on Friday.  It requires balance and moderation -- in short, a blended learning approach.  This can take time, a growth mindset, and patience.  It also requires moving the blended learning classroom from a "substitution" model -- where the pinnacle of achievement is merely digital flashcards and online dictionaries -- to a “redefinition” model where teaching is truly transformed and recentered . . . a place where students are exploring creativity, impacting their environment, and active reflectors of their own learning.

If you need to see a blended learning model, look no further than Jodie Collins and her kindergarten classroom at Wright Elementary. Ms. Collins (like all Shelby K students) has a 1:1 class set of iPads. After a recent visit, I knew she would be a great person to interview about the challenges and successes of integrating technology with our youngest students.
Ms. Collins, welcome to Edtech Elixirs!  Share your story. 
I began teaching in 2000. I taught Head Start. I finished my BA in Early Childhood Education in 2003 and continued with Head Start at Wright. In 2005 I began teaching Kindergarten here. I went to Georgetown and obtained my Masters in the Teacher Leader Program in Instructional Technology. Technology has always been a love of mine. I have always loved being innovative in my teaching. I started just by using technology in my classroom. I used to hear, “Oh, kindergarten students can’t use technology to learn.” Yes they can and they do! I do a lot of blog reading of other teachers and technology. Technology in primary is powerful and necessary considering the world our kiddos are growing up in!

How have you used your class set of iPads to create a blended learning environment in your classroom? My students use iPads for different avenues of their learning. The basic one is apps. We use apps for educational games. They also use iPads as a listening center. They scan QR codes and listen and watch stories being read to them. We have math stations during the week and students will use an iPad to access the video I make to show them how to work in their math station. They access this through a QR code I create to connect them to the video. The video helps them see and hear the rules for the station but also different ways to play the games and the learning targets they will be working on while in that station! [Editor's note: if you don't have a mobile device, you can scan QR codes with the webcam of a laptop or Chromebook using The QR Code Generator website.] I also use iPads for personalized learning in Kindergarten.

Personalized learning in kindergarten?  How do you do that?  
Yes, you heard me right! My students are on an app called Boom Learning (Boom Cards is the name in the app store). I created my free account and added my students. I am able to assign task cards to my students based on their individual needs in the areas of Math, ELA, Science and Social Studies. I can create task cards, but the website has a ton of free task cards in their store or I can purchase decks through Boom Learning and on Teachers Pay Teachers. My students are able to work on skills they need and on their level. Not only does this help the students but Boom Learning keeps reports for me to access how my students are performing on each skill. I see their accuracy, the number of times the deck was attempted, and I can even see the rate at which the student is answering or performing the skill. This helps me see if they lingering on a certain problem for a long time, and I can check in with them and pinpoint where they may be struggling and intervene to help!

Some stakeholders are concerned if we are using too much technology, especially with primary students.  What is your opinion on integrating digital tools for K-3 students?  How do you balance and manage digital tools with more traditional, analog approaches to learning? 
I think we are doing our students a disservice if we do not use technology in our classrooms. That is the nature of the beast and the world around us is filled with technology. We want our students able to use technology appropriately and efficiently. Yes, I use a lot of technology in my classroom, but I also use pencil and paper and crayons and markers. My students are well balanced in learning from both technology and traditional tools in Kindergarten. We write daily, we color daily, and we are learning to type too!

What are some of your favorite iOS apps or iPad-friendly web tools?  
Definitely Boom Learning! I love how I can differentiate with it. I have students working on addition through 20 already even though we are not to addition in our Core Content instruction yet! I found Boom Learning to be more beneficial having the iPads and also because of the reports I get from it. I also like Splash Math, ABCya, Sand Draw, Rainbow Draw, Glo Draw.  With an app called Sticky, students practice typing words. We have just started working with a few apps on coding!

What’s a new tool or digital approach you are wanting to try out for the first time?
I want to incorporate Google Classroom but we are not there yet!  Google Classroom may work better for iPads a little later in the year. I am definitely interested in coding and teaching them how to code. I am looking into some LEGO kits that do just that for the classroom!

Any advice you would like to share with other K-3 teachers wanting to integrate edtech? 
TRY IT! Yes, it can be scary and yes you are going to STRUGGLE but as [our principal] Mr. Green reminds us, it is all about the struggle! We learn when we struggle! Do not give up and be creative.  Make it work for you and your kiddos!

Thank you Ms. Collins for taking the time to interview!

In closing, here are some additional resources for blended learning and tools for elementary students:

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Legends of Learning

Greetings, all!  Sorry for the hiatus, as this fall as been busy.  As I prepare to go to my first regional ECET2 conference in Hebron, Kentucky this weekend, I thought I would take the time to blog.

The focus of this entry,  Legends of Learning, is something I've been excited about since I first heard of it several months ago.  I have talked about it in interviews, and shared it in professional development sessions.  In short, Legends of Learning (hereby shortened to LoL) takes two of my passions in learning -- personalization and games -- and combines them in a unique and compelling way.

While the content is currently limited to middle school science, LoL has stated they will expand their offerings to other contents as well as to elementary and high school levels.

How does it work?  As a teacher,you first need to register with an email and a password, along with your school information.  (Students simply need their teacher's code to join his/her "class," give their first and last name, and create a username.  Conversely, teachers can also create student accounts and rosters/groups when at the "playlist" dashboard.)

Once in as a teacher, you can explore and play any of the games offered.  First, you can browse by three science topics: earth, life, and physical.  You'll then see learning objectives listed (by standards).   Finally, you can look at individual games.  Once you find ones you like, you can begin creating "playlists" by dragging and dropping them onto the playlist bar in the order you like.  (Bonus: an indicator gives you a feel for how long it might take to complete all of the playlist games.)  When you are ready, you can launch the playlist.  With some built-in assessment questions (unfortunately, you cannot customize or add to them), you can get a feel on how well students are comprehending the material as well as how far and fast they are proceeding in the games, all in a real time teacher dashboard in a very easy to follow user interface.

It should be noted that teachers begin with so many free "coins."  Each time one student plays one game, it costs one coin.  While there are ways to get more coins without spending money (see "Downsides?" below), at some point you will likely have to consider a one year license purchase (available for quote request but not listed on the LoL site).

There are several useful, even innovative, features built into Legends of Learning:

Managing Students, Freeplay, and Pause/Stop

The dots representing the students march across the playlist as they complete their games and assessments.  You can click on any of them to see which student they are, and how accurately they are answering multiple choice questions in real time.

If any student dot turns red, that means they have opened up a new tab and are no longer interacting with a game.  This is by far one of my most favorite aspects of Legends of Learning!  What an easy way to manage students to stay on task!

If a student completes all of their assigned games and there is still time remaining, a student can do "freeplay" -- that is, play any of the games available in the assigned science objective.   An instant answer to the student who asks, "What do I do when I'm done?"

Last but not least, you can pause a playlist at any time to do a "catch and release," or stop it entirely.

Quick Comprehension Overviews

As assessment questions are answered by at least one student, the question "opens up" in a growing column on the right side of the dashboard.  With the green and red indicators, you can quickly determine if certain questions are not going well (like the "male peacocks" and"bird mating calls" questions in the above image).  Might be time to pause the playlist and do a catch and release!

Post-play Data Reporting

Once the playlist is over, you can click on the orange "Question Data" button in the bottom right to see how students performed.  You can view this inside the LoL dashboard, but you can also export this data as a CSV file.

One final positive about LoL is the depth of its onsite resources and research information around game based education.  If one is looking for why and how gaming improves learning, or looking for other educational games to use, LoL's site is a solid place to start.

How could you use it?  Since you are not limited in how many playlists you create, you could make them for differentiating to a group of students or even down to personalizing for one student.  It could be a different way of "flipped learning" by delivering content or building schema as games for homework, then use classtime to apply student knowledge.  And what better way to slip in direct instruction of content during project based learning science units at the student's choice of time, place and pace?

Downsides?   You always hope for free tools, so the inevitable cost of students playing the games is a bit of a bummer.   However, you can share a referral code to colleagues which, if it results in a sign up, will get more coins for you!  You can also earn coins by giving critical feedback on the games themselves. However, your opportunity to try it at no charge should give you enough evaluation time to see if it makes a difference for instruction and learning before paying anything.  As already mentioned at the beginning, the current limitation of only middle school science content hinders larger amounts of classrooms being able to use the material, but I believe patience will pay off in expanded offerings in the future.

Have you tried Legends of Learning?  If not, what are some other educational game websites you feel make an impact on student learning?   Respond in the Comments below.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The $100,000 Glove: Reflections on Object Based Learning

It was March of this year, and as I was walking down the hall of East Middle School, I passed the  library.  A guest speaker caught my eye.  I slid in as unobtrusively as possible, but I could have marched in with clanging cymbals and it wouldn't have mattered; Daryl Woods was keeping middle school students silent and rapt with attention.

Mr. Woods, a manager at NASA who works on programs for the International Space Station, was discussing the final frontier.  I saw an object, a bit frayed and worn, being passed among the students.  As it reached the back of the room, the last student took pity on my curiosity and gave it to me.  It was an astronaut suit glove.  Just as some middle schoolers had done, I automatically slid my hand inside.  A nearby teacher came over to whisper, "That glove has been in space.  It costs $100,000!"

I marveled and made a one-tenth of a million dollar thumbs up.

In all the theoretical, abstract talk about air pressure and solar radiation and the fragility of human life in the merciless vacuum of space that I have read or seen in documentaries, I was never moved as much as I was when wearing that glove.  Someone before me had worn this and touched the cosmos.  And a pair of these cost more than my house.  Space travel was suddenly not as mundane or as easy or as dismissible as our present near-apathy would have you believe.  It was concrete; it was now.  Interacting directly with the object had sparked something in me -- wonder, and whimsy.

And that is what object based learning (OBL) is all about.  It is, as defined by David Smith, a "student-centered learning approach that uses objects to facilitate learning" where students are "interrogating physical artefacts" that become "multi-sensory 'thinking tools'" (per his excellent article "What is Object Based Learning?").    Another powerful OBL definition in under 140 characters:

As the source of the tweet suggests, the idea of "object based learning" could easily go back to the best museum experiences, where the intimacy of literally touching history, or peering at something as close as the end of your nose, invites questions and inquiry.  However, usually a museum suggests the need for a field trip that entails leaving your school.  Or does it?

The public school district in Grand Rapids, Michigan was in steady decline for two decades.   Families fled as the academic performance of the schools sank.  When Teresa Weatherall Neal took over as superintendent, she needed to shake the system up quickly.  In the fall of 2015, one of her boldest moves was placing a secondary school inside of the Grand Rapids Public Museum.   As Beth Hawkins details in her article "When Your School is a Museum," the innovative Grand Rapids Public Museum School earned the district a multi-million dollar grant.  With students interacting directly with the museum's vast collection, it's a perfect example of hands-on OBL.  In a way, it's a "flipped field trip," as the day to day learning occurs inside a museum and home is where they ponder how to next interact with the curated materials or synthesize their schema.  (More on their curriculum and different approach to schooling is available here.) The Grand Rapids Public Museum School continues to add to its roster and it is on track to be a grade 6-12 school by 2022.

Housing a new school inside a museum might be a difficult proposition, especially if you are in a suburban or rural environment with limited large scale facilities.  And yet, many small towns at least have a historical society or a small local museum.  What if a teacher or a school partnered with them?  When inside such a place, what could students learn from their collected objects?  What unique learning would they experience?  And what projects could the students accomplish that will enlarge and enliven the goals of such a museum or historical society for the twenty-first century?


The collections inside a museum create OBL opportunities, but when seen as a whole, the museum invites the idea of place based learning, where the museum itself is the centerpoint of learning on multiple topics.  (Other examples could be learning about the life cycle of trees from being inside an actual forest, or discussing Gettysburg while walking the battlefield.) But OBL could be seen as the heart of several pedagogical overlapping circles. OBL is often a close kin to experiential learning, as the exposure to an object creates a desire to do and apply in order to gain knowledge.  OBL and project based learning also have a relationship, in that both depend on authenticity and impact in the real world.  Certainly one or more of these learning strategies could include OBL.  So how could OBL alone function as an overarching principle in a class?

Here is where the popular idea of "100 Objects" gets traction.  Imagine grounding a class conceptually by teaching history, art, sports, literature (perhaps find metaphorical objects that tie into the text's theme!), math and science through approximately three objects a week.  Try searching "100 objects" in your favorite online bookstore and you can see the depth and variety of subjects that apply this idea.  It has even affected pop culture, as the below Whovian volume I recently found at a used book store indicates:

In a perfect world, you could pass objects of historical significance around, but there are other options:
  • Have students interact with digital representations of actual artifacts, manipulating them in three dimensions.   Smithsonian X 3D has a growing digital repository based on their own enormous collections.  Many of these have built in "tours" that give context and prompt questions about the object.
  • Use a 3D printer to create and print out objects.  In fact, the Smithsonian X 3D site above offers STL and OBJ files you can download and print your own "copies" of artifacts.
  • Use high resolution imagery.   For example,  much art has been captured and can be scrutinized in ways that would be impossible to do in person; macrophotography can be great lead-ins to talking about everyday materials from a different perspective.

We come full circle back to middle school.

A few weeks ago, as I was drafting this entry, my eighth grade daughter had a mock schedule where I traveled through her classes.  Her social studies teacher demonstrated how he shares, about once a week, an historical "artifact."  It may just be a slide on the screen, but the mysterious objects shown without context or explanation spark questions and creative analysis.  What is it?  How is it used?  How would the use and invention of the object be influenced by the time it was made in? His goal is to get students to think like historians.  OBL, practically in my backyard!

If object based learning, with its "multi-sensory" authenticity, creates nothing else but a shift in the pedagogical purpose of a class -- from, say, learning history to being historians -- it has important value.  For that alone, it deserves a thumbs up.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

EdCampKY 2017

When I attended the first ever EdCampKY in October 2014 at Thomas Nelson High School, I was instantly inspired -- some might say smitten, as I definitely fell in love with the "unconference" idea of professional development.  Besides deepening my friendships with several educators, I began new ones that continue to this day.  A few months later, I was asked to join the EdCampKY planning committee, which was extremely flattering.  One of the highlights in the years since was being able to host EdCampKY in Shelby County . . . complete with stormtroopers.

Last Saturday was the fifth EdCampKY, held at Bardstown Middle School, relatively close to the location of the first.  (Thanks to Mike Paul for setting up the location at his home school!) It was another great day of educators sharing and networking:  

As my Instagram pic shows, the next EdCampKY will be held for the first time in Jefferson County on July 7, 2018!  Put it on your calendar!

Two tools from the EdCamp made an impression on me and are worth a mention: Recap and ClassroomQ.   (Full disclosure: both of these were also sponsors this year.)

I have blogged about Recap in a previous entry, but in the time since, they have made major changes in how the platform works.  What was once basically just a free student video response tool has expanded into a structured space for deeper discourse, which Recap calls "Queues."  Students can still make video responses if the teacher allows it, but text responses are also possible; with the ability to respond to other responses, or have a question lead to a sub-level thread of conversations, the conversation can get very detailed and dense!  Last but not least, you can create a "Journey," complete with a short self-cam intro, step by step instructions, and external links.  A Journey would be useful to kick off the Queue (perhaps by building schema before the conversation begins), or as a way to set up students for their own inquiry-based learning.  You can set up a Queue where you can join with just a PIN, which means anyone can start responding in seconds without creating student accounts or rosters.

I discussed Recap in one of my sessions as a useful personalized learning and PBL tool (for example, you could set up a Queue with your PBL unit's driving questions and need-to-know's), but I also used it as a place to capture the reflections of my session's attendees; here's a viewable example.  (You have the option of "opening" your Queue as view only for the public to see without being able to post responses.)

And speaking of "queues" . . . another tool that is extremely simple yet could be extremely helpful was ClassroomQ.  You can create an account for free (more on premium options in a moment).   Next, start a session.  This gives you a class code you can share with others.  Students log in only with their name and the session's class code.  This, quite literally, gives them a giant red button to press if they have a question; they can also add comments.   From the teacher's dashboard, you can see student's requests for help in the order they requested it.  It digitizes the process of "hand raising" to make the teacher's attempt to rotate around the room and assist students much more fair and effective.

The video below gives a demo of the product:

The free version does have limitations; for example, the number of students that can be queued up is only 5.  However, the annual fee is modest, and the Pro version gives you perks like being able to export a log of your session.  (See the chart below for more details.)

And while on the topic of EdCamps and unconferences, one final topic to end this entry.

Shelby County Public Schools will have its own first annual ThinkBIGGER EdCamp on Saturday, October 7!  The awesome and wonderful Heather Warrell will be providing opening remarks.  Tickets are, of course, FREE and we welcome visitors from outside our district to attend.  Come and become our learning partners as we deepen our understanding of what it takes to help our students reach our brand new "Profile of a Graduate."

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Thank you for 100,000 views!

Earlier this month, Edtech Elixirs turned three years old.  (There is still some birthday cake if you want to come by.)  When I published my first entry, I had no idea how many entries I would write, and frankly whether people would actually read them.  In October 2016, I wrote about publishing my hundredth blog entry.   I was shocked when I reviewed the then-current readership of Edtech Elixirs and my social media reach at the time. 37,000 blog views. Over 1400 followers on Twitter. 55,000 views on my YouTube Channel.

I am always flattered when my tweeting or blogging garners attention. Since that October blog entry, I was asked by Classcraft to do a guest blog on gaming in the classroom, and I was the first subject to be interviewed for a series on edtech leaders.  Earlier this year I launched my Edtech Elixirs Facebook Page, to cross-promote this blog as well as "micro-blog" or Facebook Live on educational and technology topics I find interesting; the Likes and Follow I receive there are always pleasant surprises.

And now to the present. I noticed earlier this week that Edtech Elixirs cleared 100,000 views.  That means in just the last ten months the blog's total views have nearly tripled.  And yes, my social media numbers has bumped up as well in Twitter (currently just shy of 1700 followers) and YouTube (now over 77,000 views and 86 subscribers).

The numbers and the milestone viewership crossing is incredibly empowering.  You hope, especially when education is in your blood, that you make a difference.  While viewership numbers and followers aren't definitive in and of itself, it affirms for me that SOMEONE is out there reading my words.  I certainly hope I've given an insight or two. Or at least a chuckle.

To everyone that has ever read a blog entry or tweet, or watched one of my videos, THANK YOU.  If you ever retweeted, or shared a blog entry or video, I thank you double.  You have no idea how full of gratitude my heart feels for every eyeball and eardrum out there.

Ironically, my "100th Entry" blog entry got its own popular share of views, and I think one of the reasons is the "top ten views" list I compiled.  So I'll end with my top ten most popular Edtech Elixir blog entries as of today.  (It is interesting comparing this list to the top ten in my October 2016 entry. Ten months ago, only two of my entries had cleared 1000 views.  Now, almost three dozen blog entries are honored by that distinction.)

  1. Lenovo Yoga: Fixing your Audio for HDMI Connection (2/5/15, with 7738 views).  In October 2016 this was by far the most popular entry, and it still easily holds the number one spot.  As I said last time: "Apparently, between this and my entry on adjusting the microphone, many people are Googling for help on their Lenovo Yoga."
  2. Recap (9/13/16 with 2054 views).   A formative tool that has rapidly evolved since when I did my original entry; while students making video responses are still part of its functionality, "Recap 2.0" is now re-engineered to be more focused on fostering question making and engaging student discussion. Recap's frequent tweets about my blog entry definitely helped increase its views. 
  3. Makerspaces (12/1/15 with 1959 views).  Rocketing up from #9 on last year's list, I suspect the combination of sage makerspace advice, a link to a Google Doc with helpful resources, and a enlightening interview with Heidi Nelt (the 2016 KASL School Librarian of the Year) has contributed to its popularity.
  4. Wizer (2/4/16 with 1850 views).  This "blended worksheet" tool can be a very useful way to formatively assess.  A link on their website to Edtech Elixirs has probably added to the entry's hits.
  5. Middle School Chromebooks and the Surprise of Schoology (1/20/16 with 1784 views).   This was published in the middle of Shelby's 1:1 rollout, where I took stock of the positive impact of Chromebooks and Schoology (the impact being a "surprise" so early into our implementation). I appreciate third grade teacher Nick Cottrell's video on how Schoology was improving his classroom, even before Shelby's elementary schools were fully 1:1.  I imagine "Chromebooks," "Schoology" and "1:1" hit several different search engine inquiries that may have led them to my entry.
  6. Quizalize (6/21/16 with 1780 views).  Another formative tool with some game-based aspects, but I like the way you can assign "subtopics" to questions in order to determine student strengths and weaknesses.  I've mentioned this tool several times when doing presentations on game-based learning, which likely drove some eyes to the entry.
  7. Why Chromebooks? (8/22/15, with 1778 views).  Previously #4, but still an often clicked entry.  As I said before: "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."
  8. How I Spent My Summer Vacation 2015 (8/7/15 with 1751 views).  Previously #5.  Why is it still popular?  From October 2016: "Perhaps because I talked about EdcampKYMooresville (NC) and our own district personalized PD in one entry?" 
  9. Hour of Code 2015 (12/10/15 with 1670 views).  Although I've done a more recent entry on our district's Hour of Code, this one has perhaps lived longer and therefore gotten more clicks.
  10. Edtech Share Fair 2016 (3/29/16 with 1629 views).  2017 was particularly exciting for our Edtech Share Fair; not only did we have students present for the first time, but KSBA did two articles for its Kentucky School Advocate magazine (here and here).  Nevertheless, like the entry above, the entry on Edtech Share Fair 2016 has likely just been around longer and gathered more views.
Once again, THANK YOU!  I appreciate everyone that stops by Edtech Elixirs, and hope to continue offering valuable information and insights.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017


Spiral is an online tool that has remained stuck in my head since I first encountered it several months ago.   It seems here to stay and continues to grow and improve.  Spiral is a remarkably robust "classroom learning platform" that is free** (with some premium features coming down the pike soon).   If it did only one of its main apps well,  I'd be impressed.  However, it does several things well in one online a user-friendly way...with the capacity to supercharge learning.  The teacher's dashboard optimizes real-time analysis of student interaction in an uncluttered view.  Last but not least, a student-centered approach is clearly part of Spiral's DNA.

Spiral consists of four apps:
  • Quickfire.   You can create "quizzes" in advance or simply do verbal prompts on the fly for students to answer.
  • Discuss.  You can import a PowerPoint or Google Slides (or make slides from scratch).  A running chat room allows discourse throughout your presentation while you push out slides, and you can add discussion questions at certain points.   The mechanics are such that students are encouraged to see each other's comments and respond to each other -- a much more student-centered experience than typical direct instruction.  (In some ways this is like Nearpod, but Discuss is much more about creating conversation among students.)
  • Team Up.  An opportunity for students to collaborate and create a presentation to share with the rest of the class.  While Google Slides offers a stronger collaborative tool for a more formal presentation, I like how easy this makes it for a teacher to group students together (randomly or intentionally), create roles, and assign activity objectives and/or group sub-objectives.
  • Clip.  Take a YouTube video and insert multiple choice, open response, or class discussion questions at certain points in the timeline; the video stops and prompts the student to answer before continuing to play. EDpuzzle and PlayPosit do similar functions with more depth and options, but Clip gives up complexity for a simple, streamlined tool that would likely meet the assessment needs for most teachers.
The teacher's dashboard easily allows you to see student responses in real time.  If you are connected to a projector, you have options of highlighting and sharing responses on the screen (with or without student names).  All of the student answer data generated from each activity is always saved, and found in the teacher interface under "Timeline."   They are visual and easy to review, but the data from each session is also available as an Excel export.

One of the best things about Spiral is the simple but effective nature of its teacher feedback system.   For most of the apps, you either give a student response a checkmark for "correct" or push it back to the student to edit and improve their answer.  Considering that most of Spiral works best in a real-time synchronous environment, this is the most effective method for a teacher truly facilitating the student-centered learning environment. If it's meant to be essays or formal products that need rubrics or more detailed feedback, consider a different tool.

How does it work? Teachers can create a free account via their email or choose to log in with an existing account; currently, the options are Google, Facebook, Twitter, Clever or Edmodo.  (Note that Google Classroom integration is also possible in Spiral.)

You then can create multiple classes, each one with a unique code.  This code is how students will join your particular class.  (Note that launching an activity from a certain class has this same class code; this consistency is similar to Socrative, where your room code is always the same.)

When students first create an account, they are first asked the class code, but then have a choice; they could just put their name and jump into a launched activity immediately, or use the same options as a teacher in order to join with an existing account.   Also worth noting: students will either use the standard Spiral website and click on student login at the top, OR they can go to to join a launched activity.

The way a teacher can create an activity to launch is quick and intuitive.  Here are some short video overviews of each app:

Quickfire video (3:11)

Discuss video (4:55)

Team Up video (4:11)

Clip video (5:02)

There are several small but significant aspects of Spiral that I appreciate.  I like how in Quickfire, you can choose for students to either answer in text or via a drawing mini-whiteboard.   A timer can be added for Quickfire, Discuss and Team Up activities.  "Shuffle" in Discuss randomly makes a student have to comment on another student's reply, ensuring all are engaged. Last but not least, Spiral seems very mobile friendly if you have BYOD in your classroom.

How could you use it?  Clip would be perfect for flipping instruction with an instructional video.  By asking a few questions, you not only can track participation but get a pre-class assessment on where student comprehension is.   Team Up can give a more structured approach to collaborating and sharing knowledge, especially when you just need an informal end-of-lesson sharing.  I'd love to use Team Up as a digital jigsaw activity.  Discuss would be great for a workshop whole-group direct instruction anchor activity while still keeping engagement high by having discourse. Quickfire is rapid enough for "pulse of the room" assessment and exit tickets, even if you have not prepared in advance and you are using verbal prompts.  Lastly, Quickfire's drawing response feature allows more of a "show your work" approach, especially useful for younger students in math.

Again, the beauty of Spiral is that you can do all of these apps from one location and login, without having students jump around to different sites (for example, from Nearpod to EDpuzzle).

Downsides?   It would be a nice option for teachers to be able to give detailed feedback or reply to student comments in Discuss or Quickfire, but I admire Spiral for keeping it student-centered and choosing rapidity over depth; as a formative tool, it is only meant to basically let students know "you are correct" or "explain more in detail."

Manually creating rosters doesn't seem to work well.  Students aren't able to pick their names off a list and save any time when you create a roster, although this may be a glitch Spiral is fixing; until then, you need to allow students to create their own accounts via an existing Google, Edmodo etc., integrate Spiral with Google Classroom, or simply allow students to enter on the fly by inputing their name for every new assessment (similar to how Kahoot works).  In the free version at least, you cannot see data across various assessments, so it's not a deal breaker if the student login is not consistent, but if you plan on using this often, I recommend a more uniform approach to how students choose to enter the platform.

Spiral Premium features include adding "steps" to QuickFire questions as well as student progress reports.

Do you already use Spiral?  Can you think of other creative ways you could use it in a classroom?  Please Comment below.

**I recently noticed that the Spiral pricing structure has changedIn particular, the free version of Spiral no longer includes the Discuss, Team Up or Clip tools. (updated 7/24/19)

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

New School Year, New Website, and Moorseville 2017

Welcome to a new school year!  Here at Shelby County, our students go back on August 2, so we are literally only a week away.  For our new and veteran staff, and for ALL educators headed back in August, I wish you a happy school year full of growth and empowered students.

Our district recently launched a new website (thanks to Blackboard...and we are the first in Kentucky to use their website service!).  While I'm helping with maintenance, content creation and training,  full credit must be given to Ryan Allan, our Public Relations Coordinator.  Not only did he narrow the field of web hosting services to arrive at Blackboard, but he's the true site webmaster.  We hope that our new site more effectively shares the stories of our schools. Be sure to check out our new Technology pages, including a revamped "Watson's World" and a page of recommended edtech.

Last week, I went with our IT Department to Moorseville, North Carolina for their annual Summer Connection.  Moorseville is a district with a national reputation for the organized and effective way it has integrated technology into their academic culture, as well as the improved student learning in the years since its 1:1 device initiative began.   This is actually my second Summer Connection; my first visit in 2015 was definitely memorable.  I was equally impressed this year.  Moorseville continues to grow and evolve, so it was fascinating to find out how they've changed in only a few years.

Besides strategies and logistics, I got inspired with a few new edtech tools to share:
  • For several months I have been using Calendly as a way for staff to make meetings with me.  By syncing with my Outlook calendar, people can see time slots when I don't have appointments yet.  It helps you avoid back and forth email, the need to share calendars, or the problem of my calendar tool being different than theirs.  When they choose a time slot, it automatically goes on my calendar and sends a confirmation email with an option to add the appointment to theirs.   However, the free version recently became significantly curtailed.  (For example, you now can only create one type of time length meeting, such as 30 minutes.) At Mooresville, I learned about the free YouCanBook.Me which does a similar function.  However, YCBM's free options are better than Calendly; to take two examples, you can add together multiple meeting durations in a row for a longer overall appointment and you can customize the look of your landing page.  If you are interested in the premium version, YCBM also offers an educator discount.  Outlook syncing is currently in beta but I've been using it this week and it's working great.  Definitely a recommend! See my YCBM page for an example.
  • Vocaroo is an easy and free way to record sound for up to two minutes.  As with most audio/video tools, you'll have to allow the site to use your laptop's microphone the first time you use it.  To record, it's as easy as clicking a red button. Once done, you get a URL for others to access and play it; you can get an embed code; you can download the file. A big help: you don't have to make an account to use it.  A big problem: close your browser without getting the URL, embed code or download and it's gone forever.  As it is, recordings won't last forever (likely only a few months) so plan accordingly. Teachers could use it for on the fly directions, anchor charts, instant feedback; students could explain their reasoning for an argument or a math problem.  Our Moorseville presenter mentioned that a teacher shared the site with parents and asked them to record a good luck message and email back the URLs; the teacher shared these individually with students right before state testing.
  • This last one is an analog tool to help with classroom management.  Get red, yellow and green colored clothespins to hand out to students. Have them use a clothespin on the corner of their laptop.  Green means no problems.  Yellow means they are struggling but no immediate help is needed.  Red means they need a question answered now.
In closing, I have to share how proud I was of our IT Department.  Not only did they represent our district well in Moorseville, but I was pleased how many of our schools and staff back home recognize their hard work.  You don't have to look any further than the post below.  Look at those retweets and Likes!

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Summer 2017 Professional Development PD Adventures

Greetings from the last month of the 2016-2017 school year!  As we near the end of one cycle and prepare to begin again in July, I have had the pleasure and privilege of recently attending and presenting at two professional development opportunities with one more major regional PD coming in August!

For the third year in a row, I attended the free Innovations for Learning conference in Lexington on June 1.  (For the first time, their registration numbers resulted in a "sell out"!)  In the morning, I partnered with the KDE KyGoDigital team to work with CIO's and TRT's about how Google apps and other key edtech can impact instruction.  In the afternoon, I presented a few sessions on game-based learning / gamification, as well as innovative presentation tools for teachers and students.  This last session was livestreamed via KDE's YouTube channel:

Note: CheckThis, the last web tool in the presentation above, just discontinued its service.

IFL is an incredible and generous opportunity from Fayette County to learn, share and network.  I highly recommend attending it next summer if you can, and follow the conference hashtag at #IFLLEX.

On June 7-9, Jefferson County Public Schools had its first Deeper Learning Symposium.  (Follow their hashtag #JCPSDL.)  Nearly two thousand JCPS educators descended on the Kentucky Exposition Center to expand their conceptualization of what learning needs to be.  As a person who had their presentation proposal accepted (once again on the topic of game-based learning), I was a fortunate non-JCPS attendee.  While several sessions were intriguing, one of the more inspiring sessions was a keynote screening of the documentary Beyond Measure, which happens to feature the journey of Kentucky's Trigg County Public Schools from traditional methods into a new mode of teaching and learning.  I was excited to see educators, many for the first time, talk about using Twitter, competency-based education, the power of PBL, and so much more!

As we look ahead, don't forget that EdCampKY will be at Bardstown Middle School on August 26, 2017.  Be sure to get your free tickets here!

Thursday, May 4, 2017

New Assessments Coming to Schoology

Schoology recently announced another major improvement coming this fall 2017.  What is currently called "Test/Quizzes" will now become "Assessments" (which better aligns with the way the tool can be fully used, in my opinion).  Yesterday, I watched a webinar on the new assessment tool.   While the existing question types will get improved for all users, only Enterprise users will have free access to the new "enhanced question" types, such as highlight hotspot, math short answer, number line, and "fill in the blank" (FITB) options.

The student will have more accessibility options, such as choosing a Spanish keyboard and changing the font size.
Other improvements include:
  • The student will see the elapsed time as they take the assessment. The total time will be part of the data a teacher will see once submitted.
  • You can now tie a specific rubric to a specific short answer question, and use it to grade and give feedback.  (Different questions can have different rubrics!)
  • For some questions, you can build in a partial credit option when automatically grading.
  • A survey can be created for the end of the assessment -- a great reflection tool for the student and a way the teacher can get direct feedback.
  • An improved user interface for both a teacher making the assessment and the student taking it.
The new teacher interface when adding and editing questions.

I should add that older Test/Quizzes and question banks will still work in Schoology with the updated assessment tool.

I highly recommend watching their archived webinar (39:06), especially to see the new enhanced questions in action!

Note: the images above are all captured from the webinar.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Google Team Drives

Update:  Note that "Team Drives" have now been renamed "Shared Drives."  As of 8/12/19, this entry still has valuable information, since the functionality described below remains the same.

Welcome to Derby Week!  Coordinating a trip to the track, or the right outfit and hat with your significant other's wardrobe, takes some collaborative effort.  So the timing of Team Drive arriving in our G Suite domain on such a week is fortuitous. Okay, maybe Team Drive can't really help with planning your infield festivities, but it can help colleagues with a better way of working together.

The video below gives a brief (4:47) and entertaining introduction to the tool (poor Jenny and her lunch!):

You're probably asking yourself, "Why use Team Drive?  Can't I already create folders and files to share?"  The short answer to the second question is yes.  However, Team Drive can help resolve or avoid some common problems I've seen and dealt with for our domain, and gives you more options for managing access to materials.

(Cue announcer voice:) "Has this ever happened to you?"

  • You share a folder with a colleague.  However, they put that folder in one of their shared folders, either resulting in unauthorized access or annoying requests sent to you for permission to access by people that don't need it.  (Keep in mind that sometimes just the name of the folder or file may reveal private information.)
  • A file or folder is inadvertently moved by a colleague completely out of its original spot or is deleted, so others lose access.
  • Subfolders grow and grow, which increases the risk that one or more people with access can view things they shouldn't or have access to materials they don't really need.
  • A department creates a shared folder, then another, then another.  Over time, all these folders clutters up your Drive (especially your "Shared With Me"), or they become difficult to find.  If only they were all in one easy to find, searchable location . . . 
  • A person creates a folder (or a whole tree of them), then leaves the organization.  When their Drive is shut down, the materials may get lost.

Team Drive can help us avoid these issues, mainly by minimizing the damage caused by overlapping nested shared folders that give full editing rights to more people than intended.  By creating unique Team Drives for ongoing projects / grade team levels / schools / building administrative needs / district programs, you can keep work distinctly and effectively outside of your personal Drive.  You can also minimize or eliminate movement or deletion of folders and files, especially if you micromanage the permission levels of the Team Drive members (which in my opinion seems easier in Team Drives):

Note the difference in Team Drive's "edit access": the user could edit a file or upload new ones to folders, but he/she can't move or delete files, unlike editing rights in personal Drives.

Team Drives can live outside of one person's account, so when a person leaves and has their Drive shut down, it won't be as catastrophic. You can better organize your Drive experience by having shared folder tree hierarchies become Team Drives instead of yet another folder sitting and cluttering up the top of your personal Drive. Lastly, keep in mind that students would have the same benefits from making a Team Drive around a collaborative effort (for example, around a unit's PBL work).

I've started to play with Team Drives, and here's a few findings.  While you can always change your Team Drive access levels (add or delete members, change a person's level), you don't have the same "file to file" ability to change permissions like you do in personal Drives.   For example, if I decide Bill has "view access" to a Team Drive, I am unable to make one of the Docs in the Team Drive editable for him.   Bill will have "view access" to everything -- unless, of course, I change his level.  So make sure to give each person the highest level you feel comfortable granting, and only allow full access to a bare minimum or just yourself.  Speaking of "full access,"  I like that only users with "full access" can move or delete files.  (In an individual Drive, a person with editing rights can inadvertently wreck havoc.)  Since permissions in Team Drives can only be established at the top, consider access for Team Drives as time savers for permissions you may have had to decide for every item and level.

The ability of your Google Admin to view and manage the Team Drives is also interesting, and perhaps one of the unique strengths of Team Drives versus personal folders/files.  What happens when the creator of the Team Drive leaves your G Suite domain?  The Team Drive continues and the members remain, although your Google Admin may need to designate someone with full rights so that it can be self-managed.  If all the members leave your domain, the Team Drive goes into limbo; however, your Google Admin can add members and manage their permission rights until passing the full rights baton to at least one of its members.

Last but not least: I highly recommend people create unique Team Drive names.  For example, from your district Google Admin console perspective, "4th Grade" could belong to any of your elementary schools, whereas "CCE 4th Grade" quickly helps an admin recognize it belongs to Clear Creek Elementary.

For more information on Team Drives, check out Google's online help and directions.   Happy collaborating, and may your Derby horse win all the roses!

Update 5/3/17: I added a picture of the Team Drive access levels (from the Google online help), more information on my "few findings," and some minor edits.

Update 6/12/17: I added some more details about what happens when the owner of the Team Drive leaves your domain, along with the short paragraph about making unique Team Drive names.  Special thanks to Chris Walsh for the information!

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Google Cast for Education

Since our 1:1 rollout, one of the most popular requests from teachers is a way for students to quickly share to a central display -- mainly, a projector screen.  There are various “sharetech” devices we have out in our district environment that help with this (AppleTV, Chromecast, Screenbeam), and the issues usually boil down to:
  • Two of these are not device agnostic (AppleTV only work with iOS devices, Screenbeam with WIndows).
  • This sharetech sometimes works inconsistently on school wifi, especially when students are on a different network than the teacher or the device itself.
  • The sharetech can be pricey, making a “per classroom” equitable solution costly.
  • Since many of our (older) projectors are VGA but these devices are HDMI, it requires adapters or special cables, costing even more money.
This year I discovered Google Cast for Education.  (Note: only people with G Suite for Education accounts can be “receivers,” but anyone with an updated Chrome browser can cast.)  It’s free, and works through the Internet, which means it doesn’t matter if people are on different networks.   Still, it sounded too good to be true.  Are you telling me that even on school networks, so long as the teacher is connected to his/her projector, a student could just share their screen with a click? Without buying any hardware?  For free??

After a request by Amy Dickenson (a fifth grade teacher at Painted Stone) for ways that students can share their screens, I took an investigative plunge.  As far as the answer to those three questions above, the short answer is: yes!  I next enlisted Ms. Dickenson and Dan Edelen (teacher at the 3PT program at Clear Creek) to try it out.  More on their findings below!

Here is a short (1:25) video overview of the tool from Google:

How does it work?  First, make sure your actual browser is logged into your G Suite for Education account.  Click on the little button in the top right of your browser that has your name.  Make sure the account shown is your G Suite — if not, log out and log in with the correct credentials.  

Next, the teacher should install the app.  Students do NOT have to add the app in order to cast to someone, so long as their Chrome browser is version 52 or higher.

Google has full directions for Google Cast online, but here’s an overview.

The first time you launch the app, it will ask to establish some settings.  
  • Choose a “Receiver Name” — that’s you!   (Something like “Mr. Watson’s Computer” is probably good enough.)
  • I would recommend checkmarking “Automatically full screen new presentation sessions” but leave the other two uncheckmarked.
  • You can always change the Settings later.
You are now ready to receive!   (You can close the app at any time and launch it when you like.  Remember, no one can cast to you unless you have the app running, and a student can never “hijack” your computer.)

In order for students to “find” you, teachers have to add student names to allow them to “see” your device.  Click the blue Share button while casting and add their Google account emails and the appropriate permission level.  (Can they present automatically as soon as you are casting, or have to request permission?)  This interface is very similar to how you would share a Google Doc with others.  Note that you only have to add the names once, not every casting session.  Also, Google Cast for Education automatically pairs up nicely with Google Classroom (you can set up permissions for an entire class instead of individual students).

Students can cast to the teacher’s device by:
  • clicking the Google Cast app icon in their Chrome browser and choosing the correct receiver name (if not installed, that’s ok…try the other two options)
  • right click inside their current Chrome tab screen, choose “Cast to…” and choosing the receiver
  • clicking on the Menu (three lines) or More (three dots) in the top right of browser, choose “Cast…” and choosing the receiver
You can choose to cast just the current Chrome tab or your entire desktop.

One last note: as a teacher, you could cast from one of your devices to another of your devices attached to the projector.  (For example, from your laptop to your desktop computer plugged up to the projector.)   Just follow the student instructions on your “mobile” computer to cast to the “fixed” computer, and follow the teacher directions on the receiving device.  You do NOT have to put yourself on the permission list.

An educator made a comprehensive video showing how to use Google Cast with shots of the teacher and student screens (5:34):

How could you use it?  Ms. Dickenson discussed how this makes student sharing so much easier.  For example, she has a student who will teach a seminar on how to turn Slides into a movie; the student presentation can be shared without plugging in and out of a projector.  It’s also faster casting versus sharing through Google Drive; with a click, the class can see the student tab/desktop.  With a “fixed” computer in place, others can easily be mobile and share (students AND co-teachers).  As Ms. Dickenson put it, “I like it, because it won’t always be my material on display -- it will be the students, too.  It gives them a voice, and help them believe what they create is important and they can change the minds of classmates, and even the world.”

Mr. Edelen was excited about the idea of creating stations around the classroom, centered around displays and Chromecasts.  (The ability to cast to a Chromecast as well as a receiver computer is built into the function and app.)   Sharing can occur at a rapid speed.  He also discussed experimenting with possibly casting a tab to one display while casting his desktop to another!

Downsides?  When I played with this on our network, I’ve noticed that when you set person for “Request permission,” there may be a long delay for the request to show up on the receiver device, or it may not show up at all.  You may need to play with permission access to get this to work; while “request access” is likely preferred, try “present automatically” if you have trouble.  (I should note that Ms. Dickenson and Mr. Edelen did not have any trouble.)  

If students install the Google Cast for Education app, they could cast on each other’s devices.   This could get troubling without the proper digital citizenship culture, but remember: you can only see a cast if the app is running, and casting can be controlled if the receiver makes sure they have to give permission first.  Also, you could argue that students can already share a Google file with “bad stuff” too.  

I hope that Google Cast for Education creates an easy and free way for students to share their presentations, exhibitions, and thinking in a whole class environment!  Be sure to share your stories and ways to use Google Cast below in the Comments.