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.