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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)