Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Doctopus to Manage Students' Google Docs

This past weekend, educators from across California (and beyond!) gathered for FallCUE 2013 at American Canyon High School near Napa, California.  We had the opportunity to present a session on blogging and were pleased to meet so many teachers interested in both professional and classroom blogging.

We had the opportunity to attend the sessions of other educators, and picked up a number of effective strategies in integrating technology in the classroom.  One tool I heard glowing reports about was Doctopus – a solution designed to manage the workflow of students’ Google documents and presentations.

Doctopus is a Google script that allows teachers to pre-generate and share template documents.  They can then manage grading and provide feedback to individual students or groups via email.  Teachers simply use a Google Spreadsheet to upload the student information, connect to the Doctopus script and set up the sharing.

Here is a great video by teacher Katie Grassel on how to use Doctopus.


Doctopus seems like a viable alternative to Hapara. Doctopus is free (Hapara is currently $4 per student), and although it may not have all the capabilities of Hapara, those who use it claim they can’t live without it!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Quick Key for Exit Tickets and Formative Assessments

In a prior post we examined quality tech tools that can be used as a means of formative assessment.  I found another one – Quick Key.

Quick Key uses your smartphone to grade simple multiple choice and true/false assessments.  Using a provided bubble answer sheet, students take the quiz, and the teacher uses a scan function on the app to capture the answers and score the quiz.  The teacher then downloads a spreadsheet with the scores to input into the gradebook.  It’s very cool!

I tried Quick Key this week, and am generally happy with it.  After scanning, the display quickly notified me of the student name (through an ID number), the number of answers correct, and if there were any questions no responses, before allowing me to scan the next quiz. 

This notification was especially important, as it allowed me to double-check names; and on a couple, pull out and manually score, as they indicated blanks where none actually existed.  Some students used ink and crossed out answers, which required me to manually score too.  Better instructions next time will eliminate that problem.

Quick Key took little time to set up, and adding quizzes is very easy.  The app is free, but only available on iOS at this time.  They are working to develop the Android app.  Check out their video below, then give it a try!

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Best Thing Since Shakespeare!

Having struggled with reading in my youth, facing the works of Shakespeare was a daunting experience.  Reading and re-reading got me through it, but there was limited understanding and hardly a grasp of subtle context.  Unfortunately, I never developed a love of Shakespeare as a younger reader.

Now, there are apps that help students engage with Shakespeare in a more interactive way.  Check out Shakespeare in Bits, an app for iOS.  It is a multi-media approach to learning Shakespeare.  

SIB offers the reader a number of tools that bring five of the Bard’s plays to life.  The in-line translator substitutes common terminology for those hard-to-understand phrases.  There is analysis, plot summaries, and notes.  Most helpful is the biographies of the main characters.  My favorite feature is the family/relationship tree. 

This app offers the perfect opportunity for flipped learning. Classroom discussions and more transformative strategies that reach for deeper learning can take place when students have the comprehension piece nailed down.  This app will take care of that to a high degree.  Please note that the app is free, but each play purchase is $14.99.

The unabridged text is enhanced with images and audio.  Plays currently available include Romeo & Juliet, Macbeth, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hamlet, and Julius Caesar.  This app is great for both the student and the recreational reader.  And yes, I have already started Romeo & Juliet!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

iGoogle's demise is 11/1/13... igHome: a good replacement

iGoogle's 'end of life' is coming up on 11/1/13. Been getting some good responses to this little YouTube video tutorial I created a while back, and thought it was worth re-posting here.

igHome seems to be a fitting replacement for iGoogle, with similar functions and look and feel. The transition, explained in the 4 minute video below, is fairly easy.

One question that comes up is "Who are these guys?" While the site does not directly answer that (unfortunately) with an About page (more than a few people have requested that get added, via igHome's support page), here is a link to their privacy policy, which, in my opinion, looks ok. On that page is also a link to send email if you want to pursue who they are in more depth...

If you use iGoogle as your start page, or as an RSS feed reader, igHome is a good replacement to consider. Don't wait - iGoogle's demise is planned 11/1/13!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

What’s the Point? Using Essential Questions in the Classroom

We used to think the purpose of posting essential questions in lesson plans and whiteboards was to keep teachers on task throughout a particular lesson.  At a more fundamental level, essential questions set the stage for further questioning, critical thinking and problem solving.

Essential questions should make a connection to major issues, concerns, interests, or themes relevant to students’ lives. They are open-ended, non-judgmental, and meaningful.  They invite an exploration of ideas and encourage collaboration.  And, surprise, they integrate technology to support the learning process!

Onhand School’s Essential Questions Guide identifies five specific features of a quality essential question.  They should be:
  • Core-focused: The learning objective poses the question.  It is the essence of what students should examine and know in a course of study. The same question can be re-asked throughout a main subject (for example, Math), but with increasing levels of sophistication.
  • Inquiry-based: The question is open-ended and resists an obvious simple or single right answer.  It precludes a creative choice that transforms the search for knowledge.
  • Reinforce Thinking Skills:  Requires students to draw upon content knowledge, personal experience, and other information they have gathered to construct their own answers.  It causes students to search for an answer using critical thinking (ultimately using Bloom’s higher order thinking).
  • Interdisciplinary: They usually lend themselves to multidisciplinary investigations, requiring for example, that students apply the skills and perspectives of math and language arts to social studies or science.
  • Engaging: Should be created to provoke and sustain student interest. Engaging questions are thought provoking, likely to produce interesting student questions, and take into consideration diverse interests and learning styles.
After reading through the information on what makes a quality essential question, a teacher realizes it’s more that identifying the day’s learning objective.  The question pulls the students into the lesson even before the lesson begins.  It sparks interest, makes a connection, stirs debate. Definitely worth the time to consider and post.  Refer to the guide to see samples of effective essential questions.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Eureka Math - Math Maps

This weekend our schoolyard has been transformed into a venerable math problem.  How do you lay out a large carnival with rides, food and game booths, and a stage in a yard that is now consumed by a major building project?  Geometry, physics, measurement, estimation, ratios – what we have going on is ripe with math and science opportunities.  Real life application of skills is one of the highest levels of learning.  How often do we take our students away from the textbooks and have them apply what they learn to real situations?  What tools are out there to help you create those opportunities, especially in STEM areas?

One solution is Eureka Math.  If you are a fan of's language arts curriculum maps (The Wheatley Portfolio), take a look at their math maps, Eureka Math. 
Eureka Math provides a complete map curriculum for grades PK to 12, including lessons, videos and scaffolding. Created for the teachers in New York, these comprehensive math plans are aligned to the Common Core and can supplement whatever math curriculum your school has currently adopted.

You can review units for grades 3, 6 and 9 online, but regular access is a very inexpensive ($30/year per grade level group). 

We know our readers enjoy great math resources.  Please share what you like with us!