Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Drop Everything and go check out Blendspace

I mean it. Drop whatever you're doing and go check out right now.  (Formerly known as EdCanvas, so don't be confused if you see EdCanvas branding in the videos!)

Blendspace is a free web tool for teachers to collect resources in one place to form a bundled, interactive lesson for students or colleagues. When you create a Blendspace lesson, you can pull in videos from YouTube, websites, pictures, EduCreations lessons (check out my previous post about EduCreations for more info on that!) Flickr images, or links and images from Google. You can import from Gooru, OpenEd, Dropbox, or Google Drive. AND you can always upload your own files, like PowerPoints or resources housed on your own computer. Pretty much any resource you can imagine or that you would pull together to share can be embedded into a Blendspace lesson. But that's not all! (Note: video above is a quick overview!)

Blendspace also gives you the ability to add in multiple choice quizzes into your lessons so that your lessons are more than just sharing info - it helps you assess students on what they're learning right alongside the content. When you create a quiz, select the correct answer (if applicable), and then Blendspace can even autograde your assessments for you, too. I see flipped classroom teachers flipping over the ability to put in websites or video clips and immediately follow up with questions before moving on to the next piece. And while the quiz feature of Blendspace is limited to a multiple choice question format, don't forget that since you can pull from Google Drive, that means you COULD create a Google Form with deeper, more open-ended questions and include that in your lesson as well.


If you're just curating resources for students to use, you can share the lesson with anyone using the lesson's unique URL. (Click the blue share button above the lesson!) But to get the most out of Blendspace, you'll want to create a class and add your students. When you set up kids in a classroom on Blendspace, students get a unique access code so that they can register for an account and automatically be connected to you. Keeping Terms of Service and COPPA in mind, my elementary (and some middle school) teachers will be happy to hear that Blendspace can be used by students under 13, as long as you are creating their accounts for them, and you obtain parental consent first. Blendspace requires you to share their Terms of Service and Privacy Policy with parents when requesting permission. You can read more in the third paragraph of section 2 on Privacy in the Blendspace Terms.

Some of the best features of Blendspace - assessing students and tracking their progress - requires kids to have an account as part of your classroom. You'll always have data on who has accessed your lessons, how they've done on your built-in assessments, and who needs help and how students feel about your lessons. If students are logged in to their account when they interact with your Blendspace lesson, they can also comment alongside the resource. For example if you embed a YouTube video, there's a place to the right of the video for comments and real-time interaction. You could provide a prompt or question that students are to complete there, to supplement the multiple-choice quiz questions and show deeper thinking and understanding. Students can even ask for help or tag portions of your lesson that they need more help with, and YOU as the teacher get detailed statistics from your entire class. Access this information by hovering on a lesson and under the More menu, select Track.

Another perk of students having a Blendspace account is that students can then create Blendspace "lessons" of their own. How cool would it be for students to use Blendspace to share what they've learned as a final project instead of a boring old poster or written report? Talk about authentic assessment! Let students curate and create resources to teach a topic or show their learning in a more more meaningful and engaging way with you and their peers.

I can also see myself making Blendspace lessons for fellow colleagues for professional development purposes. Just yesterday I shared a quick Blendspace I put together of resources for creating and using QR codes in the classroom for a fellow teacher who was interested in learning more about how he could use QR codes in his math class. It was a great way to play with Blendspace AND share both Blendspace as a resource and all of my QR code resources with this teacher. I've already received an email from him this morning that he's jumping right in with Blendspace AND QR codes. Hooray!

Want to see what other teachers have made in Blendspace? Check out the Gallery, accessible from your Home screen, and search lessons put together by other teachers that they have made publicly available. To share your lessons in the gallery, hover over a lesson you've created and click the Share button, then select the Privacy tab to change the visibility settings. If another teacher has shared a lesson with the gallery and allowed it, you may potentially be able to save a copy of their lesson for your own use (and edit your copy to make tweaks for your own classroom needs) if they've chosen to make that functionality available to the public. You can do this, too, to allow other teachers to benefit from your lessons. Sharing is cool, huh?

Blendspace helps you truly blend your classroom. Collect and organize resources in one place and share them with a single link. Measure student understanding with built-in quizzes along the way, and track student progress in a way that lets you be responsive to every student's needs. Best of all, Blendspace lessons are available anywhere with a browser! This supports our BYOD model, and means that students can access your content anytime, anywhere with internet access, no matter what kind of device they're using. It just doesn't get much better than that.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

LearnZillion Can Help Keep Students on Track Over Winter Break
You all know how much I love LearnZillion. Its (free!) database of Common Core aligned video lessons for ELA and Math grades 2-12 are outstanding, especially when teachers take advantage of LearnZillion's features to assign and monitor student progress through targeted lessons that support differentiation.

I got an email from LearnZillion this week with some tips and tricks on how its service can help keep kids on track during the holiday break, and the ideas are too good not to share again, especially with the upcoming break almost upon us.

First, if you're not already using the Assign function in LearnZillion to assign video lessons to your students, I highly recommend doing so! It only takes a few minutes to add your classes/students. Then you can assign targeted video lessons to specific students based on their individual needs, whether they need reinforcement or a challenge on a particular concept. If you want to see how quickly you can add students (really!), check out my LearnZillion Video Tour starting around the 2:13 mark. Then watch this quick tutorial on assigning lessons from LearnZillion.

Prevent Winter Break Brain Drain! 
Tips and tricks from LearnZillion

ELA: Assign one fiction and one non-fiction reading set for winter break, or create a list of possible reading lesson sets with a minimum of one from each genre so students can choose. Always give students the option to do more if they want!

Math: Let students preview what's coming in the new year by assigning lesson sets for standards you'll be teaching in January. If a student needs targeted help, assign him or her a lesson or lesson set from the standard they're working toward.

While students may be sliding down snow-covered hills over winter break, at least you'll be confident knowing they won't also be sliding in reading and math, thanks to these tips straight from

Looking for more ideas on how to use this tool effectively? I love the LearnZillion Blog, where the Dream Team posts tips and tricks like these all the time. For example, the most recent post, Three Tips for Approaching Close Reading, is excellent!

Happy holidays! See you in 2014.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Padlet in the Classroom

I'm always looking for cool tools that can serve lots of purposes in the classroom. Tools that make life easier for teachers AND are more engaging for students in meaningful, educational ways are sure winners, and Padlet is currently one of my favorites. It's a great tool for formative assessment that also doubles as a collaborative way for students (or teachers) to connect with each other, too! Students collaborate on a shared wall space and YOU get all of the evidence you need to see if students "get it" or not. It's pretty magical! is a free web 2.0 tool for teachers. With an account, a teacher can create unlimited shared wall spaces that are great for collaboration between students or colleagues. Create a wall and share it with students; they don't need to have an account to collaborate on the wall.

When you make a Padlet wall, you as the owner have control over how it looks and functions. Set the background, give it a title and description (the perfect space for instructions) and even give it a personalized URL. All walls have their own unique URL, which is how you share it with others.You can even password protect your wall, so you'll be confident linking to your collaborative wall on your classroom webpage for students; just be sure they know the password to access the wall. And because it's web-based, this means it can be accessed from anywhere with internet access. (A great tool for flipped classroom setups.)

To add to the wall, simply double click (or double tap, as it works perfectly in the browser of any personal device, too!) and you'll create a new post-it note. You're able to add a heading or title to your note (a great place for students to type their names to help distinguish and identify their notes from others) and text in the body of the note. Notes are re-sizable and the owner of a note can move it around on the wall. The best part? You're not limited to just text on a note; you can also attach other things to your notes: add a URL to other websites or videos, upload a file (hello, assignment turn-in!) or take a photo using your computer's webcam.

I love using Padlet for exit slips. For example, I presented BYOD to our secondary admin at a meeting. At the end, I directed them to a Padlet wall I had created where I wanted them to add a note and tell me what kind of support they wanted for their building, so that I knew how to follow up with them and set up future trainings. Of course, with the nature of posting "notes" to a wall, the notes were all over the wall in no particular order by the end. This is the beauty of Padlet - I collected the data from "students" and then as the owner of the wall, I can go back to it later and rearrange the notes in a meaningful way for ME so that I can analyze the data. I arranged the notes by building so that I could see what each building's needs were, and then I added a note myself underneath each building's cluster of notes to remind myself how and when I contacted those admin to arrange the follow up supports they wanted. Even 3 months later, I can go back and tell you on what date and how I followed up with those administrators.

For a practical classroom example, let's say you asked your kindergarten class to add a post-it to your wall with a word that has a long "A" sound in it. Whether students are 1:1, BYOD, or you have a "station" with the wall up on a classroom computer and students rotate through and add a post-it sometime during the day, at the end of the day YOU have a wall of notes, one per student, and now you can arrange the notes in a meaningful way to analyze who gets it and who doesn't. Over here are all the kids who got it, over here are all the ones who didn't. Now you know who needs more work with the long "A" sound. Change up the question depending on the topic, grade level, etc.

This tool isn't just for students: you can use Padlet to collaborate with your colleagues or collect resources and images for an upcoming project with your department or grade level team all in one place together. 

I worked with a secondary art teacher who wanted to take her class on a walking field trip through the building with their devices. Students were to use their device to take pictures of various elements of art that they had been learning about - texture, space, line, etc. Her dilemma was then how to have all of those images shared back with her so she knew if they understood the concepts or not. Solution? She created a Padlet wall and shared it with the class. When students were done with the activity, they were able to access the wall right in the browser of their devices, and using the Upload File option, attach pictures right from their camera rolls onto their post-it. So Joe adds a note with his name on it and types, "This is my example of texture" and attaches the picture he took representing texture to the note. Bam. All students do it, and now all students can see each others' photos and more importantly, the teacher can tell who gets it and who doesn't. Or perhaps students can analyze the results and weigh in on whether or not they make sense. All in one place.

Padlet is great for "parking lot" or "check in to check out" activities. Imagine a gym class where the teacher asks students to share how they beat their personal best this week, or a music class where students add a post-it to the wall to share what imagery came to mind as they listened to a specific piece of music.

Students can cite evidence from text in a close reading activity using a Padlet wall. I worked with a teacher who asked students whether they had free speech or not. After accessing various articles on what free speech is, students were then asked to support their opinion on the Padlet wall, citing evidence from the text that they read. This kind of activity spans all grade levels; citing evidence and supporting your opinion is a key skill at any age.

 What about a KWL chart? By using a different background on your Padlet wall, (or uploading your own) and adding headings yourself ahead of time to define the K-W-L spaces on the wall, students can then add post-its and place them under the proper category to share what they Know, what they Want to know, or what they Learned. And speaking of using Padlet to categorize notes, you could also use it as a space to collaborate on a schedule or have students organize their responses in a certain way. It's important to note that the teacher is the only one with a Padlet account; and the owner of the account/wall is the only one who has control to move ALL of the notes around. Students connected to the wall can only modify, edit, or move THEIR own notes around, but not the notes put up by others. Keeping Padlet's Terms of Use in mind, accounts can only be created by those 13 and older, so in the elementary realm this would be the teacher only, but secondary students could make their own Padlet accounts and set up their own walls so that they have a collaborative space to work with peers on group projects. (To achieve a collaborative space for group projects in the elementary, the teacher could make all of the walls and share the different wall URLs with teammates.) Speaking of TOU, don't forget that teachers of students under 13 should notify parents and seek permission for students to use the service to post notes on your wall(s) before continuing. You can access that information here: Padlet's Terms of Service

Here's another cool idea - you as the teacher set up a wall and link to a video news article online. Your instructions are for students to watch the video, and then post a note in response to the video on the wall. What I love is that you achieve this by inserting the URL to a YouTube video, for example, and students can watch the video embedded right on the wall instead of clicking off to another page or window. Then they can post their response right away, next to the video clip. This also works by linking to a specific news article or website; students access the link to the article or website and read it, then come back to the wall and post in response to a question you pose about what they read.

Another unique way to use a Padlet wall is as a communication tool for parents and students on your classroom webpage. Think of it as a forum; set up your Padlet wall so that notes post in a column layout, (this means anytime someone adds a post-it note, it goes in a column stream on the wall instead of anywhere randomly on the page) and you'll be able to see the latest notes posted at the bottom. Students could post a note ask for homework help, and anyone from class - you or another classmate - can add a note to respond and help. You can also share information with parents by posting a note, and attach any relevant files, images, or URLs they may need. This turns the Padlet wall into a stream of interactive conversation. If you password protect your wall, it only becomes accessible to your students and parents. (Just don't forget to share the password with them!)

Whew! There are tons of ways that Padlet could be used effectively in the educational space, and the list keeps growing. Padlet even has a gallery of ways people use it that you can check out. How would YOU use Padlet in the classroom? Contribute your ideas to this public Padlet wall!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

My Biggest EdTech Pet Peeve

Technology in education is constantly evolving; new digital tools and services are coming out more rapidly than we can keep up! Every time you turn around, there's another new "cool site" out there promising to be the end-all-be-all in education. The digital shift has allowed for the teacher/student roles to shift significantly: teachers are no longer the keeper of all the information, and students are encouraged and empowered to consume information on just about anything they could ever imagine at an extraordinary rate, and in an unlimited variety of self-driven ways. It's awesome!

I follow a lot of edtech bloggers, magazines, and online new sources, and attend a handful edtech conferences both physically and virtually each year. One trend that I keep seeing over and over again in all of these professional places is my biggest edtech pet peeve: those who recommend online tools and services for use with students without looking at or knowing about the site's Terms of Use (TOU) and whether a site complies with federal guidelines or can even be used with students at all. A lot of times I hear a presenter speak about a cool new web tool and have examples of how an elementary classroom used it, completely ignoring that xyz service explicitly states that children under 13 cannot use it. I don't feel like that models best practices very well, and now an entire room of other educators run off to use xyz with their students without even a thought to Terms of Use.

I know it sounds like a small thing, but I am shocked at how often professionals I follow, or those who present at big educational conferences on behalf of a professional organization, blatantly ignore TOU and requirements under the U.S. federal law called COPPA - the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act. It makes me crazy to see sites that have GREAT educational services and tools for kids and who advertise themselves to teachers and the education space and yet their TOU are not friendly for kids under 13. And let's face it - "children under 13" applies to a whole lot of kids in the K-12 world. I love the enthusiasm of a tech savvy teacher or colleague who finds a neat site and wants to dive right in with their students... but cringe when they've started using the site with kids under 13 without being aware of the site's legal requirements (and their requirements) when being used with students first.

In a nutshell, COPPA is a United States federal law that protects the confidentiality, security, and privacy of children under the age of 13 online. Commercial websites and online services directed at children (i.e. all educational web 2.0 tools!) are not allowed to collect personally identifiable information from children under 13 without disclosing their privacy policy to parents and obtaining parental consent to do so. And while this is a United States federal law, its jurisdiction applies to foreign websites that are directed or accessible by U.S. children as well.

COPPA originally went into effect in April of 2000, but a new update that went into effect this year - on July 1, 2013 - has further stipulations on website owners and includes additional requirements for parental notice and consent, and some of the amended obligations are even more strict than they were previously.

While the exact verbiage of a site's full Terms of Use can vary from site to site, the basics (have to be) the same at the bare minimum with COPPA compliance in mind. (And just because a site doesn't comply with COPPA doesn't make it okay, either!) Some sites do a better job than others outlining exactly what those under 13 who want to use their services must do, and sometimes it's harder to find the verbiage as it may not be addressed specifically in the TOU, but instead on the site's Privacy Policy page. Or instead of stating anything about COPPA or "13 and under" explicitly, some sites will more vaguely blanket statement that you must be of legal age to form a binding contract or that the service is not for someone "barred from receiving services under the laws of the United States or other applicable jurisdiction." Yes, it can be tricky! Beware that some sites don't want to deal with the red tape that goes along with complying and proving compliance with COPPA, so they don't allow children under 13 to use their services under any circumstances just to avoid the whole situation. You may need to look at both the site's Terms as well as Privacy Policy to get the full scoop.

(One example is Twitter. See how in their TOU they use a generic blanket statement but then address children specifically in their own section of Twitter's Privacy Policy? By the way, children under 13 cannot sign up or use Twitter services. Period.)

Excerpt from Twitter's TOU

Excerpt from Twitter's Privacy Policy

So now you're thinking... WHAT DO I DO?!

Think of it this way: if an online site, service, or tool has a sign-up requirement, children 13 and under can't use it, or at least won't be able to use it right out of the box. You'll have to see if it's allowed at all under the site's terms, or if there's a way to use it if you seek parental notice and collect consent prior to use. A red flag is the requirement of an email address during the registration process, since an email address is an indicator that personal information will be collected.  And just because a site doesn't ask for an email address during sign-up doesn't mean it's automatically okay for children under 13, though, either... you still always have to look at the Terms. Even if you teach kids over 13, many sites still require all minors (18 and under) to obtain parental consent before use. It all depends on how much red tape the website operator wants to deal with and be responsible for, so your mileage may vary.

Bottom line? There's a federal law in place for children under 13, which will affect whether those students can use certain sites and services or not. Always read the Terms of Use for every site and service you want to use with kids first. Chances are it will be possible, but will require some leg work ahead of time to ensure the privacy and safety of your students. But it also may not be possible at all. (Like in Twitter's case, as an example.) Remember that even in situations where you are setting up the accounts for your students - most services still have stipulations due to COPPA that involves you notifying parents of the terms and privacy policy and collecting their consent first, as your account is responsible for student accounts complying, and by signing up, you imply that you've already sought parent consent. (So you want to make sure you actually have!)

The excuse that technology moves so fast that we as educators don't have time to check the TOU of every single site or service just doesn't cut it anymore. Especially when you teach the younger crowd that is directly affected by this federal law. It has always been a teacher's professional responsibility to keep kids safe, we all know that. Before the digital shift, this seemed very black and white, but since most classrooms have some kind of online component or access these days, that responsibility has to extend to the online space as well. With a new frontier comes new rules and practices and it sure feels like a whole lot of grey area right now. The best we can do is educate ourselves and try our best to keep up with the rapidly moving pace of technology AND keep kids safe at the same time.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Using for Formative Assessment

I enjoy opening a PD session with a quick poll that I made at I often use polls as an anticipatory guide to let me gauge where my audience is before we start, or to get them excited and thinking about the upcoming lesson. The quick data that I can collect with an interactive poll helps me adjust my teaching to fit my audience's needs.

For example, if I'm holding a training session on Google Docs, I may have a poll up as people are arriving to ask them their comfort level with Google Docs at that moment, before the training. I can look at the results quickly before I start and tune my training accordingly based on the data; if most people have zero experience with Google Docs, I would teach differently than I would if I had a large group of people with experience. And if I have some that identify as intermediate or expert, I have some more challenging "take it to the next level" activities in my back pocket for them. Though this data is anonymous and depicts the group as a whole, it still helps me differentiate and support the full spectrum of needs thanks to a quick poll with instant, live results I can use right away.

PollEverywhere is a great formative assessment tool.You can sign up for a free account at There is the option to upgrade to a paid, premium account (which gives you the ability to enable student registration and grading), but I'm happy with the capabilities of the free account for my needs. Remember - I am just looking for quick, instant feedback to help drive my next lesson or gauge my audience on the fly.

There are two types of questions that you can create: multiple choice or open-ended.

Multiple Choice Poll Questions
When creating a multiple choice question in PollEverywhere, you can give options as text or use images to represent poll choices instead. I love using images as poll options for the primary grades! Multiple choice questions give you the ability to find out if students know or remember something you've previously shared. You can start the day with a multiple choice poll to see if students remember the take-away from the previous day's lesson. You could also ask students a question to gauge their understanding before beginning a new lesson to see how many may already know the answer. I also like using multiple choice poll questions as a "digital fist to five" as I mentioned previously, where students can tell me on a scale what their comfort level or understanding is before or after a lesson.

I also like asking a question at the start of a lesson, and then asking the same question (in a separate poll) at the end of a lesson, to see how responses may have changed after gaining new knowledge during the lesson, or to show student growth as a result of the lesson. As a real life example, students in a 4th grade classroom were asked at the start of a lesson whether or not they had free speech as a student. Their options were Yes or No. We displayed the results to show them what everyone thought before the lesson. Then we did a variety of close reading activities and had curated some interesting age-appropriate articles that students read and jigsawed collaboratively, and at the end of the lesson, we posed the same question - do you have free speech as a student? Based on the resources they'd read to learn more about what free speech is and real life examples that they could relate to, they voted again, Yes or No. Because we did this in two separate polls using the same question, we were able to analyze the before and after results. Imagine how powerful this could be! It's one thing to ask kids to raise their hand or do a thumbs-up, thumbs-down, but when you record results in a poll, you can take the responses to the next level and let the students analyze the visual results, too.

Analyzing results: Before (left) and After (right)

Open-Ended Poll Questions
Open-ended polls let you ask an open-ended question that could require a phrase or varied response as opposed to a set multiple choice answer. For example I could ask, "What is one thing you already know about volcanoes?" and students could share their varying responses similar to how you might use a traditional KWL chart. (Of course I could then follow up with an open-ended poll question to ask what they want to know, and later on to have students tell me at least one thing they learned, too!)

A real life example of using an open-ended poll question involves asking students to use the first word that comes to mind to describe a character in a book you've just read, or one you're currently reading. If I asked 2nd graders to describe Amelia Bedelia as an open-ended poll and chose the output method to be word cloud, then their results would appear on screen in a word cloud, meaning words that are used by lots of students will be larger so you can see the words that were used the most often to describe the character. To make this more meaningful at higher levels, if the character in a book goes through some significant character development during the story, you may want to pause and do this activity in the beginning, and then again at the end, to see how the word clouds for the characters have changed.

Supporting BYOD and Technology Integration is a web-based tool that can be used to support BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) models or 1:1. You're not limited to just texting in a response to a poll, though that is certainly an option I've used with adults before, but responders can use the web response form (located at in the browser of any device - laptop, smartphone, tablet, desktop computer, etc. - to answer poll questions. In the free speech example above, students in the classroom had a combination of laptops they borrowed from the school and their own devices that they brought in. I LOVE browser based tools that support technology integration regardless of tech model. If you have a limited number of devices to use, you can always have students group up and collaborate on the question, coming to a consensus and then voting as a group. You could also use the device as a "station" - by refreshing the web response page at after submitting your response, you're free to submit another response. So one student could respond, hit refresh, and another student could then respond as well.

The possibilities seem endless, and it's such a quick way to gather informal data that you can turn around and act upon immediately. Head on over to and make an account today!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Explain Everything!

If you enjoyed my last post about EduCreations, a great free whiteboard app for iOS that lets you record whiteboard lessons that you can share with students, then you'll really love Explain Everything. Especially if you flip your classroom or are experimenting with the idea of flipping some lessons.

Explain Everything 2.0 from MorrisCooke on Vimeo.

Like EduCreations, Explain Everything is a whiteboard app. Use it to record yourself teaching a whiteboard lesson. Draw, write, annotate, and narrate your way through tough concepts and share your recorded lesson with students. These recordings are great for students who missed a day of class, who need remediation or a memory refresher before a big test to reinforce big class concepts.

I explained all of this as part of my EduCreations post, though. So how is Explain Everything different and why am I spending time with it? Explain Everything is the next level of whiteboard lesson creation. Don't get me wrong - I love EduCreations. It's simple, free, and sometimes that's all you need. However, I found myself wishing I could embed video clips, pull websites into my whiteboard lessons, or go back and edit parts of my previous recording and this wasn't possible... until I discovered Explain Everything.

With Explain Everything, your basic functionality is there, of course - different pen colors for annotating, the ability to record yourself as you work through as many slides as you need to teach a concept, inputting text from your device's keyboard, pulling in images, etc. But Explain Everything lets me pull images, VIDEOS and FILES from Dropbox, Google Drive (which is great for our teachers, who all have Google Apps for Edu) Evernote, WebDAV, iTunes, box, or your camera roll. You can even pull in a webpage - type in the web address and the site appears, so you can record yourself going through actions on a website, or even annotate on the website. Super slick!

A few other little added features to Explain Everything that are nice to have when you're recording a whiteboard lesson include the insert shapes feature. There are only a couple of shapes - an arrow, a star, a line, a circle, and a square - but having those to draw attention to key pieces of your lesson are handy. Speaking of drawing attention to something, I also love the various cursor types available. When recording a whiteboard lesson, your gestures aren't always obvious, so having a laser pointer cursor or even the recognizable hand or arrow icon used on most computer operating systems to help you point something out is useful.

One really great feature of Explain Everything is the ability to go back and edit your recorded lesson's timeline. It's simplistic, but so helpful. Say you just messed up part of your recording. Pause the recording, press the Timeline Scrubber to go into playback mode, and go back to a point in your recording before your mistake. Then just press the Record button and you can record over and replace the existing recording piece where you messed up. This was something I really wanted from EduCreations, so I'm glad to see it in Explain Everything.

Once your whiteboard lesson, with all of its added bells and whistles, is finished, it's time to share with students. Just like you have a wide variety of choices when pulling in media to your lesson, you can also share your finished lesson in several ways. You can save it as an image, or as a video file for playback by students later. Save it to your camera roll, upload the movie to YouTube, Dropbox, Evernote, Vimeo, or Google Drive. Our teachers have access to a YouTube account through our Apps for Education Google accounts, which includes Google Drive. If uploaded to YouTube or Google Drive, teachers then have access to a URL to their video they can share with students, or they can Share in Google Drive with just the specific people that need to see the video lesson.

A few technical notes - Explain Everything isn't free, but its $2.99 price tag isn't bad, either. Definitely worth it for the added features it has over EduCreations if you need or like the extra bells and whistles that Explain Everything provides. Both EduCreations and Explain Everything are currently iOS only, HOWEVER, much to my excitement, Explain Everything is also available for Android, too. This will make my BYOD teachers that have Android devices very happy!

The possibilities seem almost endless with Explain Everything, and I definitely think it's a fabulous tool. Check it out!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Flipping Your Classroom with EduCreations

Screenshot from the web version of the tool.
Don't mind my poor handwriting with a mouse!
A lot of our teachers have recently begun experimenting with a flipped classroom approach. While the basics of flipping at its simplest level involves lesson content being watched by students outside of the classroom (i.e. online) while follow up & class discussion about the lesson then happens in person, teachers eager to get started with such a model aren't always sure HOW to get going. What tools can help a teacher get their lessons online? Where do you post them?

There's no one right way to flip, and flipping can look different from classroom to classroom. Some teachers post video lessons they curate from other sources, while some record their own. (Check out Kathy Schrock's awesome guide and resources for screencasting!) There are 100% flipped classrooms where EVERY LESSON is online, but most teachers I work with who are flipping are just doing so some of the time, for very specific lessons or student needs. For example, one teacher I know will do quick recap videos of big science topics (i.e. the water cycle) and make it available for students who missed class or who want to use the video to help them study for the upcoming test.

Whether you plan to truly flip lessons or just make content available to students online for remediation, one tool that I really enjoy is EduCreations. EduCreations is a whiteboard web tool and app that allows you to record whiteboard lessons and share with students. It's also 100% free!

Create a lesson via the web or create on the iOS app.
Lessons created on the app will appear on the web dashboard, too.
Teachers first register for an EduCreations account. To keep it simple, they can leave it at that, and just start recording some whiteboard lessons. To take it to the next level, they can set up virtual classroom spaces on the website and invite students with an access code to be members of their classroom.

Share options on your finished lessons.
When a teacher creates a whiteboard lesson (either via the web tool when they're logged in or the iOS app on their device) they have a few ways to share it with kids. The most simple way is to just grab the URL for the lesson and link to it on their own classroom website, BUT if the teacher has set up a class space for students on EduCreations, they can instantly share the lesson with the class that way, too. There's even embed options if your class website or blog supports embedding HTML code. It's pretty simple!

Here is a quick demo "lesson" I made of EduCreations' tools and features that I have embedded into my blog:

On my "wish list" for EduCreations is a way to go back in and edit the whiteboard video or narration if you make mistakes. A lot of times you're probably just recording small snippets of concepts, but if you're recording a long lesson and mess up, you pretty much have to start over. Also, unless you're REALLY good with your handwriting using a mouse, or you have a digital pen/tablet set up on your computer, you'll find creating whiteboard lessons to be a bit easier on the app vs. the web tool. I also noticed that the web tool doesn't seem to have a keyboard input option for text like the app does. You can only write with the mouse. (The app lets you use your iOS device's keyboard to type in text on the screen.) Overall, though, things I can totally let slip for the luxury of being able to narrate and illustrate your way through a lesson and so easily make available for students... plus you can't beat the (FREE) price tag, right?

If teachers are just getting started with the idea of flipping their classroom or just want to make their own video lessons for students to help reinforce things they learn in class, EduCreations is a great tool to try and is very user-friendly. The URL of your lesson can be linked on your homework page or even emailed out to parents to help keep them in the loop, too.  I definitely recommend giving it a try. You'll be hooked!

Friday, August 2, 2013

Reflection on a Summer of eLearning

The SAMR Model I created as part of my RUP
Wow, I feel like I just wrote the post that I was starting an online eLearning summer course, and here I am writing up a reflection on how it went. The summer went by way too fast!

My biggest takeaway from the eLearning coursework this summer is the SAMR Model. Having a framework to see where I am and where I need to go when it comes to technology integration was really eye-opening. I think it's just what I need to use with my colleagues to help THEM see what meaningful technology integration looks like, too. I plan to weave this in to the things I do and the professional development I provide this upcoming school year.

Because I want to introduce the SAMR Model to my colleagues this year, my Really Useful Project was a screencast I made of myself going through an introduction of the SAMR Model, and at each level, illustrating how Google Docs relates to the framework. We use Google Docs district-wide, and most staff are at least familiar with it, and many are using it or planning on using it. I thought using Google Docs to show what each level of the SAMR Model looks like would help them better visualize how to move up towards more transformational learning opportunities for students.

[Want to watch this on YouTube? Click the link here!] What's neat about the SAMR Model to me is that I realized other aspects from the course this summer, like discussions about student engagement and motivation, really goes hand-in-hand with this framework. While it may seem like a lot of work to transform the way you integrate technology and reach the higher levels of the SAMR Model, once there you're actually doing yourself a favor and making your life easier, because when students are working that that transformational level, they're engaged AND motivated, and the teacher is no longer holding their hands every step of the way in their learning. Students are driving their own learning and are getting a better idea of what the real world is like.

I appreciated the tools section; and though I feel like I curate a lot of resources and had heard of a lot of the tools presented already, I still picked up a few new ones that I plan to look into further. Hearing how others use resources, even ones I had heard about before, was helpful. I found myself pulling from discussions and things I had learned in this summer course (especially about motivation and engagement) when I presented a BYOD workshop just this week for our staff who came in for some summer professional development. I feel like having this course under my belt helped to make me feel more confident about helping others see how important it is to embrace technology in the classroom.

I'm looking forward to applying what I've learned (and keeping some things in the back of my mind as I work with others) this upcoming school year! It's going to be a great year.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Social Media in the Classroom

I think social media in the classroom is a great way to keep kids connected in ways they are (most likely) already using. Facebook and Twitter can be useful tools when used in meaningful ways. Facebook allows teachers and students to stay connected in groups to share information, assignments, and resources. Its forum-like abilities means that students can engage in meaningful conversation and respond to each other. Twitter can help students get and share small bites of information and follow hashtags that help network them with others discussing the same topic all over the world, including following current news and world events in real time, as they unfold. 

Most students are already using Facebook and Twitter to stay up-to-date on everything else going on in their lives; having access to their classmates and teacher in an environment they're already comfortable using to continue the classroom conversation, get assignment reminders and ask questions 24/7 of other classroom members helps kids feel connected and means they are more likely to be involved and engaged in their learning. Those online conversations and interactions helps students to continue thinking about class topics even when they're not in class, and encourages them to participate anytime, anywhere. 

While there are a lot of pros to the idea of using social media in education, (with students 13 or older, the minimum age to create accounts on these networks) some groundwork needs to be laid in advance and expectations covered to address the "cons." Students need to be reminded that even when at home, they still must be respectful in these online spaces with their peers, as it is an extension of the classroom environment. (This can go hand-in-hand with digital citizenship lessons!) Teachers should create a separate, professional account to use in these situations as well, instead of friending students on their personal accounts. While some may think that students will use these networks inappropriately, or that allowing them to use Facebook and Twitter in class means they will spend class time using these networks for personal reasons, it's all about setting those expectations of access and use with students ahead of time, and outlining when and what is appropriate. When you integrate the use of these social networks in meaningful ways as part of their learning, you'll find that students WANT to engage in the assignments, because they're excited to be able to use the social networks they're already comfortable using in an educational way. Most students are already learning and exploring about world events and news from others through their social networks, so it'll be a natural extension that can encourage this desire to always keep exploring and learning. 

When used appropriately, social networks in the classroom can provide rich and meaningful experiences that students are comfortable with and can relate to, encouraging classroom participation and conversation even when they're not in the classroom.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Future Curation Tool to Explore: My Big Campus

Though I enjoy using Pinterest to curate resources, tools, professional development, and edtech articles, I have been fascinated by and interested in checking out My Big Campus for awhile now. I attended a workshop on it last fall, and am even more convinced after looking into further how bundles would be a great way for teachers to curate digital curriculum and create "digital textbooks" from a wide variety of online sources. Even better is that they can share those bundles with each other, helping to spread good sources and curriculum bundles not only across the district, but also with other teachers in the world who may be interested in what they have curated. I like that there are bundles already created, which are good starting points for a new teacher to My Big Campus. They can use those bundles as-is, or remix them and add/remove other resources to create their own bundles unique to their classroom needs. Bundles can easily be presented to students as resources to help facilitate their learning. I know that several teachers are using Edmodo at the high school, and I'm not sure what it would take to do a district-wide My Big Campus setup, but I love the idea of curating and bundling resources to share in a variety of ways.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The SAMR Model to Enhance Technology Integration

My summer of eLearning is moving right along, and this week we've been talking about authentic assessment and feedback. We know how important quality feedback is for students in order to push them to their furthest potential in the classroom, but this is true in an online environment, too. Walking hand-in-hand with this is authentic assessment. Online assessment must include more demonstrations of higher-level thinking to be truly authentic and meaningful. Online educators don't have the luxury of being in-person with students when they complete assessments, so multiple-choice assessments you may still see in the physical classroom won't work; are you assessing them on what they've learned, or if they've learned how to Google their answers? (Side note: authentic assessment and higher-level thinking should also be the goal in the physical classroom, too!)

I think this brings me to the topics that have hit the closest to home for me this summer. I really think the introduction of the SAMR model is going to be most beneficial for me to start with. We have a lot of teachers who are trying technology in the classroom, and/or who are eager to get started this next year now that we've introduced BYOD, but I think too many are under the impression that this simply means using technology for technology's sake or substituting paper worksheets for worksheets that can be filled out on a handheld device. We need to move away from the substitution level and progress up the SAMR model ladder to the redefinition level, and I think the SAMR model has given me the framework I can work from to help teachers not only see this progressive ladder, but also start to climb it.

Have you seen this pedagogy wheel by Allan Carrington? It's been updated recently to include the SAMR model around the outer band of the wheel, which is so awesome and helpful! Read more about the update that helps you integrate technology at Edudemic here.

I think as teachers begin to climb the SAMR model ladder towards more transformational integration of technology, they'll find it's a natural progression into more authentic forms of assessment AND make technology integration in their classroom more engaging for students. Right now, I think teachers feel like just having devices in the classroom and using them to do substitution level tasks is motivation enough and is engaging for students. And at the start, sure! Kids will be excited just because they're allowed to use their devices. But it's not enough. The use of technology in this way just isn't meaningful, and "using technology" in classrooms like that will get stale quickly, which will lead to frustration for both teachers and students. It's going to be hard to convince teachers to let go and let students have freedom of choice... but if they use the SAMR model as a framework to build on, they'll get there. Authentic assessment and true student engagement will naturally follow suit.

I feel like I may be rambling a bit, but I think what I've just realized is that the SAMR model is going to be the backbone of how I approach working with teachers this school year. It will help teachers who have been reluctant to take their first steps have a solid starting point, and those who are ready to transition further up the ladder will see how to take their integration to the next level. The hard parts, that is, effective (and ongoing!) student engagement and authentic assessment, will naturally fall in place as the teacher works their way up to using technology in a meaningful, redefined and transformational way, because at the redefinition level students have choice, which is motivating and engaging, and their choices will make way for teachers to authentically assess them.

I'm looking forward to putting some of the things I've learned this summer into practice with staff in the fall. I can't wait to help teachers learn how to use technology in a meaningful way that will help produce students who are equipped with the skills they'll need to tackle the 21st century workplace.

Friday, June 21, 2013

The Technology Integration Matrix and Me

This week in our online and blended learning course we took a look at the Technology Integration Matrix. As I don't deliver content in the areas of LA, Math, Science, or Social Students to a classroom of students any longer, it's hard to pick a spot where I belong, because my job these days is working with teachers and helping them integrate technology into their own classrooms. So if I approach the matrix as a whole and look at each square's description and think about HOW I work with teachers and deliver professional development instead of focusing on a traditional teacher's subject areas, I find myself somewhere around the Adaptation column, wishing I was more into the Infusion section, but feeling like I'm working that direction. When I teach, I focus a lot on collaboration and the tools I like to use and share with teachers involves the ability to collaborate in a variety of ways or for a variety of purposes. When I read the intersection of Adaptation and Collaborative, for example, it says:

Students independently use technology tools in conventional ways for collaboration. Students are developing a conceptual understanding of the use of technology tools for working with others.
The teacher provides opportunities for students to use technology to work with others. The teacher selects and provides technology tools for students to use in collaborative ways, and encourages students to begin exploring the use of these tools.
Desks and workstations are arranged so that multiple students can access technology tools simultaneously.

In my training environment I'm often introducing a new tool or demonstrating how a tool works in context of what the group teaches, to give them some practical examples that they can actually go back and use right away. I'd like to think that the development of my professional development has evolved to this point, where there are bite-sized chunks of modeling, and then opportunities for my "students" to work with others. Because the training is on something specific, I'm often providing the tool and then encouraging them to explore them and apply them in their area.

I feel like when I started my position three years ago, I was definitely further left. More Entry. When I was a classroom teacher several years back the idea of 1:1 or BYOD was newish and not very mainstream or widespread, and we all used the computer lab as much as possible usually for research and typing papers for homework assignments. So yes, we were using computers, but that didn't mean it was more than just a substitutional use, when referring to the SAMR model. This makes me feel good, though, when I look at the Technology Integration Matrix, because I feel like I can see that I've come a long way. So has technology in the classroom, though! And seeing the Infusion and Transformation columns help me see where I want to be and where I need to go. I feel like I have a good grasp of these columns on paper and in my head, and I'd love to think that if I were back in a traditional classroom these days that I could say with certainty that I'd be Transformational all the time, but let's be honest... I also know that in my head and the reality of day-to-day are not always the same. But I'd sure be trying, and that's better than nothing.

Right now my focus is helping move other teachers who are more Entry or Substitution to move forward and progress with technology in a meaningful way. Heck, for some I'm still working on getting their feet wet. It's a daunting task some days, and I know that if it is for me, it definitely is for them, but as long as we're shifting our thinking towards embracing technology and shifting into the facilitator role and letting students drive the bus, we'll all get there eventually.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

A Summer of eLearning

eLearning Quizlet cards
My eLearning Quizlet Cards
This summer I'm excited to be taking a course on online and blended instruction. In my profession as an Instructional Technology Specialist, I work closely with teachers to help integrate the meaningful use of technology to support best practices, standards, and to promote the engagement of students. This summer I'm offering around 20 different sessions of professional development at our administration building to staff members who voluntarily want to come in and learn things like Google Docs, Excel, or our online CMS, Moodle. We're also hosting a BYOD training for the first time this summer, as we are trying to communicate our newly rolled-out BYOD access across the district.

As I continue to train this summer AND take this online course about blended and online instruction, I really wish that I was able to offer some of my professional development sessions online, too. I haven't decided whether the technology PD I provide would be better suited to a weekly module arrangement or perhaps just a live, accessible way for teachers to tune in to my classes from home. The idea that I could reach so many more staff members than the physical classroom capacity allows in the summertime (or anytime, really!) gets me so excited, and at the same time disappointed that I am not prepared for that this year. Yet. I am really hoping that I can learn from the course I'm taking to help pitch the idea and offer future professional development in SOME way online. I think I'd be able to cover more material, a wider range of material, and give teachers more time to play, explore, and practice their new skills.

While I feel like I don't really offer PD online yet, I do realize that a step in the right direction has been made with the way we offer documentation and video screen-casts online for teachers in our staff "tech tips" area. This staff-accessible-only database that we have built over the years is mostly of PDF step-by-step documentation on software and tools that have been tailored to a teacher's perspective and needs, and screen-casts I've recorded of me walking teachers through the steps of using a piece of software or tool. (One example is a recent virtual tour I recorded of myself to show off the features of a tool I'm showcasing at the BYOD workshop this summer!) This database of documentation does allow for some flexibility, as teachers can reference, read, or watch bite-sized instructional chunks on their own time from home or school, but I really love the idea that having teachers virtually attend my summer professional development sessions down the road will help take this to the next level. I'm really looking forward to more ways I can make what I do better and more meaningful, to in turn help our staff do the same. Here's to a summer of eLearning!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

A Video Tour of's Features

It's no secret based on my post a month ago, (Learn a Zillion Things at LearnZillion!) that I'm a big fan of

As I prepare for the professional development opportunities that I'm offering to our staff this summer, I'm including a plug for LearnZillion as part of a BYOD training. It's just one of several tools that I'll be highlighting in the context of bringing your own device. While developing my BYOD session, I wanted to "flip" the training and offer some quick video clips to introduce the variety of tools in rotating stations for teachers so that they could explore. While I like that LearnZillion has several short video snippets to help you navigate your new account once you're logged in, I decided to record my own quick intro video tour of's features to use in training, and to introduce others who may not have an account yet to the tool.

Maybe this feature tour will get you as excited about LearnZillion as I am, and inspire you to create your own (FREE) teacher account and get started! You'll be happy to know that if you need any help along the way once you're registered, that LearnZillion has got you covered with helpful tutorial clips every step of the way. And if you're wondering what the fuss is all about, you may want to check out my first LearnZillion post to get the additional scoop.

You're still reading? What are you waiting for?! Get started with LearnZillion today.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Learn a Zillion Things at LearnZillion

Okay, maybe a "zillion" is exaggerating a bit, but you really can learn an awful lot at! (Updated 6-5-2013 with an introduction video to take you on a tour! See below)

LearnZillion is a database of over 2,000 high quality instructional videos for grades 3-9, all tied to and searchable by Common Core State Standards in math and language arts. Everything is 100% free for teachers, who make accounts and can search the database to find videos that support teaching the common core standards.

The videos are made by a huge "dream team" of qualified educators and all start with learning targets and have the same intro look and feel and high quality across the board, which I really like. Teachers can use the videos personally as inspiration to help them find new and different ways to approach teaching specific standards, OR they can take LearnZillion to the next level and assign video content to their students.

Say what?! Yup, a teacher can optionally go in and set up their class(es) in LearnZillion, too, by creating and managing student accounts for free. The beauty of this is that since the teacher is managing the account, no email address is required by students to sign-up; they simply use the unique access code generated by their teacher. LearnZillion has thorough parent letters that teachers can print and send home or link on their classroom website to help parents help their kids get connected. LearnZillion content bridges the gap between home and school - now the parents can be involved in what their child is learning and understand what's being taught in class by watching the videos with them at home. I know this would've helped soothe frustration on many nights back when I was in school and struggling with my math homework!

LearnZillion videos could be used whole group to supplement a lesson, or video content can be assigned to individual students or to support small group instruction or stations. Since you can pick and choose which videos to assign to which students, differentiation has never been easier. And every video is around 5 minutes or less, so they get to the point in perfect bite-sized chunks.

When you assign video content to a student in LearnZillion, practice activities and quizzes are available with each video that you can use to assess their understanding along the way. Students don't just watch a video and move on; they practice while they watch to reinforce the content that they're learning. And this data can be analyzed by student or by class from the teacher's dashboard in a variety of ways. Just when you thought it couldn't get any better, right?!

As an instructional specialist, one thing I appreciate about LearnZillion is how there's teacher support everywhere, on every screen, and alongside anything you do. You'll never feel lost or wonder how to do something. The dashboard has a series of help videos to get you going with your account and getting students set up, all at less than a minute each. And when you're previewing a video, you'll find additional valuable resources along the right side of the screen, like PowerPoint slides of the lesson, (with the narration from the video typed up in the notes section of each slide!) coach's commentary, guided practice, prinable assessments, note & discussion templates, and a parent letter. ELA content includes downloadable anchor texts, too. Below the video there's even step-by-step instructions to explain how to use the lesson and the available resources to get the most out of the content.

Oh, and did I mention there's an app for that? Just recently released, LearnZillion has a cross-platform app (free) for students. While LearnZillion works perfectly in any device's browser with internet access, the student app does make assigned content cleaner and even simpler for them to access with a single tap. Teachers will still need to use the website, though.

Update 6-5-2013: I recorded a quick screen capture of me taking you on a tour of LearnZillion and its features. Take a look!

Want to flip your classroom? LearnZillion can help. Want help figuring out how you're going to teach that tricky, abstract standard? LearnZillion can help. Want high quality content to help support and enrich differentiation in your classroom? LearnZillion can do that, too. Is there anything LearnZillion can't do? Well, currently there's no content yet for high school ELA, but I hear that's coming, as well as eventually including science and social studies content, too. I can't wait to see what LearnZillion comes up with next.

How would YOU use LearnZillion in your classroom?

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Use Guided Access to Enable "Kid Mode" on your iPad

Ever wished you could disable the Home button or other menu buttons in an app when your iPad is in younger hands?

I admit as a mom, the inspiration for this post came from my own personal experience of having a two year old and wanting him to start using my iPad more frequently. I had downloaded so many great educational apps for him, but let's be honest... most of his time on the iPad up until now was spent helping him get back into his app, because he kept accidentally (or curiously, over and over again as a two year old often does) hitting the menu button and exiting out. Not to mention I didn't really want him sending tweets or emails on my behalf then, by mistake. I wanted to hand him the iPad with confidence until he had a better idea of what he was doing, but I also didn't want to install 3rd party apps specifically designed for such a task. Isn't there something built in to my iPad OS?

It turns out there is, and it's called Guided Access. (Note: the following works on iOS 6+)

1. Tap to enter your Settings and select General. Find Accessibility.

2. Press to enter Accessibility and scroll down to the Learning section; tap on Guided Access

3. Flip the Guided Access switch ON, and tap Set Passcode to enter the passcode you want to use to exit out of Guided Access mode when in an app later. I recommend flipping the Enable Screen Sleep switch ON to help save battery life, too.

Now that you've configured Guided Access, you can exit Settings and open any app. To lock into the app, triple press the Home button to bring up the Guided Access menu for that app.

By default, you'll see that Touch capabilities and Motion capabilities are turned on. I like that you even have the ability to draw on the screen to optionally define other specific areas within the app you want to disable. For example, my son loves one of the puzzle apps I've downloaded. There's a home button to go back and pick a new puzzle, but there's another button on the screen that takes him to the app's credits. My two year old doesn't need to get stuck on the credits screen of the app, so while I'd leave the app's home menu button alone, I could draw a circle around the credits button to disable it from working while in Guided Access mode.

Now that you're ready to go, press the blue Start button to begin running the app in "Kid Mode." You're now locked in with the settings you defined.

To exit "Kid Mode," simply triple click the Home button again. You'll be required to enter the passcode you set above in step 3.

While the inspiration for this post was personal, it could have relevance in the classroom as well, especially for really young students just starting out who could use this support. Perhaps if you're using a specific app for content on a few iPads at centers in your classroom, having this trick up your sleeve will allow you to lock in to the specific app they should be using at the center so that you know they are on task during their small group rotation. It's definitely not something I'd want to use all the time, or with the more experienced student who doesn't need to be locked into an app, or a student on their own iPad, as the beauty of using a device like the iPad is having access to a wide variety of apps they may need or want to use to enhance their learning... but there may be a very specific time or two where you may be glad you knew you could do this. Even if it's just to disable a single button within the app that allows you to purchase something! (Ask me how I know.) :)