Wednesday, December 17, 2014

How to Use Thinglink

What IS Thinglink? It's a super easy to use and powerful way to bring images to life. You simply find a background image, and add clickable links - basically, 'hotspots' - to the page.

Here's an example - much easier to look at a completed Thinglink than to explain it in words, to me...

Here's a short presentation I put together for my high school's faculty. We've started to use Thinglink for both student projects as well as teacher created works - one teacher has created a Math summary study guide that she's provided to her students to study for finals!

Finally, here's a short video that explains how to add content, once you have your account set up and have added a background image upon which you can place the links.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Mystery State Skype from Tracy Watanabe

All the steps to set up and run a Mystery State Skype can be found on Tracy Watanabe's blog found here.

Tracy says Mystery State Skype "isn't a new idea, it's basically taking learning geography and placing it in a game format like Twenty Questions via Skype, by asking questions to guess the location of the other classroom. Not only does this connect students from across the country (or globe), but it also gives a context for students to apply geography with critical reasoning, collaboration, communication, digital citizenship, and information fluency -- 21st century skills."

Please look at her post for the full scoop to successfully run a Mystery State Skype!

Skype in the Classroom

Thursday, November 6, 2014 - Easy to Use Browser Home Page

Still suffering from withdrawal with the loss of iGoogle? Rejoice! Thanks to a timely Twitter post, I discovered is my new browser home page, allowing quick access to general news and sports, my bookmarks and feeds, social media, local weather, Google calendar, gmail, and more.  There’s also a nifty little note-taking widget to jot down those brainstorms. offers ideas for classroom use.  Go to their education page for more information. Students can set up their own personal learning environment and learn the important life-long skill of managing their digital content.

Users can add pages to separate info.  It is very easy to set up and personalize, including numerous background images and layout.  You can use a template, or just start with a blank slate.  I started with a template, but pretty much deleted everything and just added widgets. makes importing Feedly feeds simple, be sure to peruse the support page to see how to do it and other migration tasks.  Dropping in gadgets with embed codes are easy too.  Somehow my page opens with each new tab (Chrome).  Not sure how that happened, but I’m ok with that.

If you have other great start page alternatives, please share!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Mobile Devices in the Classroom, Part 1, with Balefire Labs

This webinar features our friend Balefire Labs President Karen Mahon and the Center for Innovations in Learning's Janet Twyman. It is sponsored by the Center for Innovations in Learning (CIL) at Temple University. To learn more about CIL, visit their website:

Some very interesting thoughts about using mobile devices and how to uncover the power of using them to further student learning in the modern classroom. In this webinar, Dr. Mahon describes five criteria used to evaluate the quality of educational apps, and participants get a chance to apply those criteria in evaluating an educational app.

Well worth watching!

Friday, October 17, 2014

YouTube Social Studies Channels and Resources

I did a bit of research to develop a concise list of You Tube channels and playlists for our Social Studies department. The feedback I got was these were very useful, so I thought I'd pass them on. Here's what I pulled together, with some brief notes...

  • Crash Course World History & US History
    • Fast paced 
    • Great opener or refresher
  • Hip Hughes History
    • Geared to HS AP students
    • Upbeat & engaging fashion - great for new unit
    • 50 videos on 1000 years of history, produced in Britain
  • Yale Courses YouTube playlists
    • MANY playlists on wide variety of topics
  • Smithsonian Natural History YouTube playlists
  • History Teachers YouTube videos
    • History set to modern music!
    • Example: Attila the Hun to the tune of “Here Comes the Rain Again” 

What do you recommend?

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Five Ways to Use Google Forms in Your Classroom

The recent release of new functionality to Google Forms reminds us why we like it so much. Now you can shuffle questions and include a Search feature.  It also provides a shortened URL to share with others! 

Here’s our top 5 ways to use Google Forms in your classroom:

Self and Peer Review Allow students to reflect on their performance, and that of their team.  Be sure to ask them how they will make their next collaborative activity better.  Keep on hand for conferences.
Document PD Every time you attend a PD session, complete the form, including title, presenter and summary.  Have checkboxes to indicate what professional or employer goal the session met.  When the end of the year comes, you have all your information in one place.
Quizzes Perfect for quick formative assessments and trackable data.  Use Flubaroo to score and email results to students.
Collect Student Work Do you have students using Web 2.0 tools to show what they know? Have a form ready for them to send you their URLs.
Rubric Ever collect projects and wonder if the student even looked at the rubric?  Create a form and have them score their work before you do.  You now have a starting point for student conferences too.
OK, one more…

Class Management Use Forms to document student behavior.  Include name, incident and consequence.  Sort by name, and use to inform conduct grades and parent conferences.  
How do you use Google Forms in your classroom?  Please share your ideas!

Monday, September 22, 2014

iOS and Android Apps - Back to School with Balefire Labs

Here's a great back to school article by Karen Mahon, President of Balefire Labs. Balefire Labs is a web resource providing research-based reviews of educational apps for iOS and Android.

I think you will find one or more useful resources in the article.


Saturday, September 20, 2014

Productivity Tools for the Educator

The recent announcement of new Apple products and their updated operating system highlight how dependent many of us are on tech tools that are supposed to improve our lives.  I’m just as guilty, with too many devices, running too many operating systems, and a love for the newest and greatest ed tech applications.  

As with closets and drawers, the time comes periodically to do a “spring cleaning” and clear out the unused apps and dusty folders that no longer serve their original purpose.  For me, such cleaning also allows those quality applications to rise to the top.  

The focus of this post is quality productivity tools - sites and apps that provide four important functions:
  • Saves time on tasks I have to do frequently
  • Works with most of my devices (phone, tablet, laptop)
  • Is used often during the week
  • Improves my life by respecting my time or taking tasks off my list
Not surprising, the ones that stand out are all Google applications.  They run on all my devices and allow me to access them at work, at home and when I travel.

Google Forms A “survey” application that auto-creates a spreadsheet of responses (including a visual summary). Can be used to gather information, for formative assessment, rubric, student reflection form, class management log, documenting PD, collecting student work, and more.  Having all the collected information in one place provides a huge organizational benefit.  

Google Calendar Create a class calendar and share it with your families. Turn on notifications and reminders, add collaborators, and attach documents.  Use the invitation feature to share events, like Back to School Night or the class party.  I can have my personal events on the same Google Cal, but keep those private. Even works offline.  

Google Classroom Allows teachers to assign and collect work paperlessly.  Auto-creates folders on the students' Drive, which improves and models organization skills. Teachers can access student work in one place and easily provide real-time feedback. Still in beta, with more features to come.
This is just a short list, and we know there are many more good productivity tools out there. What do you like to use, and how does it benefit your life?

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Introduction to iPads iOS 7: Part 1--Hardware - from Tracy Watanabe's Blog

Here's an excellent post to jumpstart your iPad implementation, from Tracy Watanabe's Blog .

Directly from Tracy's blog..."How does a teacher start to use iPads in the classroom? This post will include the basics for getting started. Part 1 focuses on the hardware fundamentals with iOS 7, while Part 2 focuses on iPad integration in the classroom." Read the whole post here!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Time for the Back to School Ed Tech Checklist!

It's already mid-August! Time to get cracking. Developing lessons that have sound pedagogical foundations and integrates ed tech is essential in this day and age. Additionally, there are some basic prerequisites that need to be addressed to get the year off to a smooth start.  Here's a list with back to school ed tech to do's.

With Your Administration and IT Team...
  • Confirm the budget for ed tech needs.  Order anything you have the budget for so it's at school before the year starts!
  • Review and update your Acceptable Use Policy.
  • Make sure carts are set up right - do they charge devices, is the timer working? Enough power supplies?
  • Device tune-up: Check batteries, replace missing keys, wipe them down, update/refresh/re-image, add apps...
  • Tune up/double check your Google Apps for Ed policies and settings.
  • Determine where you'll store 'the new gear' for the year (hopefully this already happened...)
  • Understand or develop a procedure to check-out/check-in devices.

In Your Classroom…
  • Create a Tech Boot Camp agenda ("How do I...?") for students and roll it out by first week of school.
  • Determine your go-to techie kids (after school starts, of course).
  • Develop your first (one, or three, or five...) ed tech integrated lessons.
  • Confirm all the wireless access points are plugged in and functional (summer cleanings and all).
  • Update student lists - add to Google Apps for Ed, LMS, SIS, online edu sites, etc.
  • Make sure document cameras, projectors, etc. are functional. Do you have a spare lamp?
  • Confirm the location of digital cameras. Make sure they're charged up. Create a signout sheet.
  • Develop a brief communication to parents about your ed tech plans (i.e., why is this important?).
  • Freshen up your class webpage for the new year.

For Yourself…
  • Partner up with another teacher to grow your ed tech knowledge and skills.
  • Find a blog that will help you learn more about new tools, tips and techniques.
  • Add one new thing to your tech tool belt.

What other items can you add to this? Let us know!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Fair Use and Copyright Resource - Media Education Lab

Timothy Vollmer
I recently read that 90% of the content found on the Internet was created in the last 4 years.  New material - text, images, video, and music - is available to us to access at a rapid rate.  Ways to use it, repurpose it, and share it are growing too.  New multimedia tools and social media networks are sprouting up on a regular basis. Even our old friends, like Facebook and Twitter, are coming up with new ways to add to the proliferation of information we see each day.

Add to that what educators regard as a confusing Fair Use policy, and teachers are at times leery to jump into the pool of Web 2.0 creative opportunities for their students.  Unfortunate, but necessary, as those who create work need to be protected from unscrupulous use of their creations.

True, Fair Use is purposely contextual in application.  While many see this as confusing, the more one studies it, the more that makes sense.  Nothing we use either inside or out of a classroom has identical purposes or applications. It comes down to asking the question, “Am I using the creative work of others to somehow financially or personally benefit?”  If the answer is yes, copyright infringement might be in play.  

Being we are in education (therefore, fall under Fair Use provisions) we have our own “magic checklist” to consider. Have we and our students: checked who owns it, received permission to use it, given credit to the creator, bought it (if necessary), and used it responsibly.  Are we as teachers modeling these practices for our students?  Are we requiring students to abide by them every time?

I have discovered a very complete resource to help teachers navigate through the murky waters of copyright and Fair Use.  The Media Education Lab at the University of Rhode Island has created a complete site of videos, slideshows, and other information specifically designed for teachers.  Take a few minutes to see what is available and consider referring to it when questions arise.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Summer's Coming! What's on Your "To Do" List?

Monday, May 26, 2014

Coding for Fun and Critical Learning

There are so much talk and so many options out there to get students interested in coding.  Why should students learn to code?  Simple - it builds critical thinking functions. As a former junior high teacher, I would have loved students come into my classroom with the ability to make independent decisions and feel they had the ability to step "outside the box."  I always believed that ability was there, the students just didn't understand the functions to access it.  Coding is one way to build that necessary thinking.

Here are two coding apps that students will really enjoy.  One is for younger students, the other is geared for high school.  Adults of any age who want to see what coding is all about would enjoy both.  Both were introduced through Imagine K12, an education start-up incubator located here in Silicon Valley.

Kodable: Programming geared for little ones (5 years and up, and adults like me).  It's currently iPad only, but should be web-based and Android by Fall.  There is a teacher dashboard with 105 self-guided levels for kids to enjoy. Basic is free, upgrades will cost.

CodeHS: Full computer programming curriculum for high school students. Students should be designing their own games within a year. They even have tutors available.  Free to try, with a basic individual subscription of $25/mo.

These are just two worth looking at.  If you use others, please let us know!

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Creativity Apps for iPads that Primary Teachers Love

I had fun working with teachers this week at an iPad workshop.  The focus was creativity, including a discussion of ways to integrate technology with CCSS.  Both elementary and primary teachers were engaged in learning about the apps and how to use them in their classrooms, but it was the primary teachers who really got into the process.  

Below are the four apps that primary teachers loved.  They used all in building "student samples" and teacher presentations.  Their focus were science related (life cycle of the Painted Lady butterfly, for example). Check out these tools - as you can see, the theme here is simple and fun...

Tellagami - short animated videos
Haiku Deck - simple fun presentations (web-based too!)
Adobe Voice - storytelling that is fun and easy
Story Creator - create beautiful storybooks

All these apps allow for emailing links and copy of URL as forms of sharing.  Haiku Deck and Adobe Voice have thousands of beautiful images available for you to use.  My teacher test-sample loved that feature.  All allow you to pull in your own images.

Use these apps to...
  • have a character tell their story
  • have a person from history share their claim to fame
  • have a cell, plant or planet in the background and discuss its features
  • recite a famous poem or speech
  • write own poem to share
  • discuss a period in history
  • show proficiency in a foreign language
  • share geometric shapes in real life
 All these apps are free,  If you have a creativity app you just love, let us know!

Friday, May 9, 2014

Google Cultural Institute - Global Teaching at Your Fingertips

My job affords me the opportunity to speak to parents about raising good digital citizens. My goal is to highlight what's positive about their children being "online". Young people can learn more about their interests, develop better communication skills, and become more familiar with new and developing technologies. They also have the awesome opportunity to learn about other cultures and viewpoints. One site they can use for that is Google Cultural Institute.

Check out this video for a quick look at what GCI can do.

As a teacher, this site has unlimited uses in your classroom.  Your students can tour some of the most respected art and history museums in the world.  They can compare works side-by-side, zoom into art pieces so close you can see brushstrokes, and tour the museums as if you were there.  

Art instructors can use this site for virtual tours, analysis of works, and studies of artists. Other teachers should consider visiting this site when studying the Holocaust, women, Greek culture, wars, industry or specific time periods.  There are exhibits featuring Anne Frank and Nelson Mandela.  After a few minutes scrolling through the galleries, any teacher should find something to use in lessons.

I appreciate Google using their powerful resources to bring students opportunities to learn more about the world around them.  The Google Cultural Institute and the Google Art Project are two ways we can better understand the issues that frame our world, and the cultures that make our society so diverse and rich.  

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Comic Creation using Google Slides

While researching fun, creative strategies for a Chromebook integration presentation, I ran across this informative video by Eric Curts.  Eric demonstrates how to use Google Slides to create comic strips.  

Once you see how simple it is to create comic strips, your students won’t need to use more costly comics applications. Just watch the first 20 minutes or so of the video to get the gist of the process, check out his resources, share key steps with your students, then turn them loose. 

Use copyright-friendly scenes for background, clipart images for characters (use the png format for a transparent background), and callout shapes for dialogue.  Add the “slide to right” transition between slides to simulate reading an actual comic. Of course, they can ratchet up the creativity with student-created characters that they draw, cut out, take pictures, then insert.

Using Comics in Class to:
  • illustrate a concept from class.
  • retell a story
  • reenact a famous scene
  • create an autobiography
  • explain vocabulary

This is one of those strategies that give students opportunities for choice, creativity and to work with others.  It’s one of those “show what you know” activities that pushes them to higher levels of learning.  In addition to your subject matter standards, comic creation also meets your common core writing standards.

Think about how you can use comic strips in your classroom. I think your students will have fun creating comics to share with classmates and their families. Consider posting them on your class website or blog to share with a broader audience.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Close Reading Sites to Meet CCSS

Looking for some quality online close reading choices for your students?  These sites all address Common Core standards, provide exposure to non-fiction, have embedded reading comprehension questions, and access to a teacher dashboard for easy management.  I have spoke to teachers who have use at least one of these sites, and give each high marks.  

Newsela - This site is completely non-fiction, using the most current news articles as the reading. Newsela is unique in that it scaffolds each article to five different lexile levels.  No more students reading at frustration level, and all students can join in the conversation.  There are quizzes associated with each story.  Free version, and a pro version that offers a dashboard system.  

Curriculet - Rent books for your students to read.  The inexpensive rental includes annotations, reading comprehension questions and quizzes, all aligned to the Common Core.  Book choices include short stories, non-fiction, drama, and more, grades 3 - 12. Teachers can create their own “curriculets” too. (Note, the authors of this blog are content developers for Curriculet).

ThinkCERCA - Provides leveled information texts connected by grade and themes.  A unique tool to support problem-based learning.  Themes include technology, culture, and social responsibility.  Includes writing prompts and rubrics.  This is not a free site,  Currently free to use texts for grades 4 - 12.

Youngzine - Another opportunity for students to read about about global issues. This site provides their own articles, written about topics that interest students. Students have opportunities to post comments in a safe environment meant to promote learning and collaboration. Check out the "meet the expert" pages too. Free, includes teacher management. Great for home-schoolers too!

Use these site to support your reading program and help you meet your CCSS.  They provide variety that your students crave.  Do you have other close reading sites you like?  Let us know!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Communication Tools for the Chromebook

I bet there are a few of you who now have access to a cart of Chromebooks and are eager to start integrating them into your classroom strategies.  The combination of laptop and cloud-only storage (for the most part) might be a daunting proposition for some, but you will find that awesome classroom learning and student outcomes can happen using a Chromebook.
As always, keep your learning goals top of mind, and then find the applications that work best to accomplish them.  This post focuses on Communication applications and extensions you can use on a Chromebook.   As these are web-based tools, you can use just about all of them on Macs, PCs, and mobile devices too.
Remind101 – This is a one-way text message system that allows the teacher to keep students and parents informed of classroom and school activities.  More and more teachers tell me what a lifesaver this has been, especially those who teach younger students.
Blogger - Blogging made easy!  Indeed, blogging supports Common Core standards (ELA and math), provides for a broader audience, and gives students voice.  Consider it for teacher, student, or general sharing of learning.
Screencastify – Chromebook’s screen-casting extension.  This is simple to use, saves your video in Google Drive.  It’s still in beta, so anticipate some wonkiness.
Google Voice - Manage all your phones to one location (extension).  This is not really a classroom tool, but it’s nice to get emails with a voice message and a transcript of that message.
IFTTT (If This Then That) - Very fun! Create easy scripts (recipes) that allow your apps to play nice together!  Automagically post a Twitter update when a blog post goes live; send a text message on a regular schedule as a reminder; lots of combinations to consider.
There’s more, please let us know what communication tools you use, regardless of device!

Friday, April 4, 2014

More iPad Creativity Tools!

Need some new iPad apps that will let your students turn their creative energy up another notch? We’re all about tech in the hands of students as a means to deeper learning, and these apps will allow them to get there. Best news, they are all FREE!

Tellagami - Create short animated movies that include your voice or an app-created one!

  • Have a character tell their story
  • Pick a person in history and have them describe their claim to fame
  • Use a cell or planet as the background and have the avatar name and discuss its function or make-up Recite a famous poem or speech
  • Read a poem they wrote 
  • Take a trip or go back in time and describe its role in history
  • Practice or show proficiency in a foreign language 

Baiboard - Visualize, share and collaborate via zoomable, multi-page whiteboard

  • Have students in one room write math problems while others solve them
  • Collectively analyze and annotate a pdf document
  • Work on a graph or chart over and over again
  • Use a map or chart to track directions 

Touchcast - TouchCast is not only a great content creation tool for teachers that takes the flipped classroom concept to a new place, but also a highly engaging tool that can also be used as a platform to give assignments to students. Includes a detailed pdf guide on how to integrate Touchcast into education.

Flowboard - A new approach to creating and publishing interactive presentations. The Flowboard Guide makes it easy!  It has a web-based version too!

  • Illustrate landmarks in places being studied
  • Go deeper into science concepts
  • Present different types of figurative language
  • Show geometric shapes found in real life 

Aurasma - Using Aurasma you can create augmented reality layers; Aurasma calls them “auras,” that pop-up when you scan objects with your iPad or iPhone.

  • Have a historical figure tell his story
  • Recite a poem
  • Have younger students describe learning
  • Open house information for parents
  • Share a science or math process

Monday, March 31, 2014

It's World Backup Day - make sure your data is backed up

Another great article by David Andrade. BACK UP YOUR DATA!!! Please... do it now!

It's World Backup Day - make sure your data is backed up

Friday, March 28, 2014

What ‘They’ Forgot to tell you When Flipping your Classroom

Here's a guest post by , Middle School Science Teacher at St. Leo the Great School in San Jose, Ca., all about tips and tricks to successfully flip your classroom. Thanks, Cheryl!

The “Flipped Classroom”, it’s what everyone is talking about and for good reason. I jumped into this with two feet, full steam ahead. I thought, “Here is the answer to my problems of students missing class due to illness, sports or school assemblies.” I reasoned, “I’ll get more teaching time and then I can do the activities with my students that will help them really ‘get’ the concepts they need to master this topic”. But then there are those things ‘they’ forget to tell you about, like: curation of all that data, the time it takes to make all those videos, and what if the students don’t watch the lesson?” Here are some things to consider before you jump into the flipped learning pool.

Curation:  Where do you organize all those ‘flipped videos’ that you make? There are many answers to this question, Google Sites (part of Google Apps for Education) being one. However, the learning curve can be a bit tricky.  Here’s my sample page.   Another option is  The user can drag and drop the content right onto the site and they have some professional looking templates.  However, the tool I found to be the best is This is a drag and drop interface.  Blendspace accepts anything that is on the web or your computer and organizes it easily without having to understand coding.  Here’s a sample page by Jennifer Barnett, on Plate Tectonics.  Whichever you choose, stick with it - students have a hard time with change and you’ll avoid the excuses that will come up.

It will take longer than you think:  Until you get the hang of your screencasting software, you’ll take longer than you think to make a video.  The rule of thumb is:  For a 3 minute video it will take you approximately an hour to create, edit and tweak the video.  There are a ton of free apps out there: for ipads  - Educreations, Explain Everything, Showme.  Chromebook (and Chrome) users can use screencastify, and snagit  from the Chrome web store. For desktop users, two good choices are screencast-o-matic and . If you are willing to pay for  more robust software, there is Camtasia by Techsmith and Captivate by Adobe. There are more, but that will get you started.

Homework: What happens when students don’t watch the video lesson? I ask students to watch the video in class and they are not given the opportunity to participate in the activity until they finish.  It only takes one time for a student to be sitting on the sidelines when others are having fun doing an activity to make sure they ‘do’ the homework.  

Quiz often:  Give formative quizzes often.  I have students take a formative quiz after each video - they cannot move on in the lesson until they ‘pass’ the formative quiz.  A quick check of blendspace shows me who still has to pass and what they are struggling with.  

Expect some resistance: I was really surprised when I encountered resistance from the students to flipping my classroom.  But students have a system and an expectation in class. When you flip your classroom, it upsets their ‘norm’.  This can be problematic for some students.  To help them, ask them to hang in there for, say a month and then revisit the topic. I haven’t had a student yet want to go back to the traditional method once they get the hang of a flipped classroom and all the individual attention they get at school.

So is flipping worth it?  I’d say, “Yes, and make sure you go in with your eyes open and tools in your toolbelt”.  

What's your experience with flipping your classroom? Send us your tips and tricks!