Tech Salad

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Tag: instruction (page 1 of 7)

About the Author

Ms. Kass and her students are making books about plant and animal cells on their iPads. They are using SketchBook and Book Creator to gather everything they are learning through labs and research. The books are going to be great and after Spring Break, we are going to make them available for download.

To make these books more like books, the students will be working in Ms. Ray’s classes to write biographies to use on an “About the Author” page to append at the end of the cell information. Although we are close to the end of the year, during the course of our conversation about rubrics and peer editing, we realized this was a great year-long project, and even a great project to last the full three years of middle school. 

Next year, we will start early. Students will interview each other write each other’s biographies. This will help the kids get to know each other as they come together into a single middle school from three elementary schools. They can use this bio at the end of all their books. But, as the year goes on, kids will have newer accomplishments to mention in their biographies. They will also improve their writing and wish to make changes.

As the kids go on to seventh and eighth grades, they can continue to add accomplishments and revise their writing. Towards the end of their third year in middle school, the kids can compare versions and see how much they have grown, both in their writing and in their lives. These biographies could be used in applications to Governor Schools and for scholarships later on.

I wonder what the effect on the students will be.  Having all their accomplishments written out in front of them will show them how much they have done, and how much they can do when they set their minds to it.

Archie and Veronica Explore the Internet

For the past few minutes, I have been flipping through a copy of Exploring the Internet published in 1999. Surprisingly, I have found the Amazon link. The book is a very interesting stroll down memory lane.

Do you remember Archie and Veronica? How about Lycos, Atavista, and Infoseek? Did you know that Lycos is still in operation? Back in the day, I was a big fan of Infoseek, knew all about Telnet and IRC.

The book is full of names and acronyms that have come and gone over the past two decades. The statistics are hilariously quaint. Did you know that there were 35 million people accessing online content from home in 1998? Did you know they were posting as many as 250,000 articles to Usenet each day? Usenet posts were the nerdy precursors to tweets. How many tweets are tweeted each day?

Despite being hopelessly out of date on the tech front, the book has a lot to offer. The main focus is on finding and using information, a topic in which there is always something new to learn, no matter how much expertise you might have.

I am a firm believer in the mission of this book despite the goofy spider graphic.

Information literacy and digital citizenship must be a part of the recipe in every single learning activity involving any digital tool. They are not the exclusive domain of Language Arts teachers suffering through formal research projects with their students. I might hang on to this book to pull out ideas when I work with teachers.

Technology changes, and it changes teaching. The truth remains that good teaching always covers the most important concepts.

Active, Engaged Math

“Well, of course you can do that in (fill any subject). Math is different.”

“I can’t use that tool if it does not have a built-in equation editor.”

“I don’t have time for that. My students need to practice solving math problems.”

I can hear these things a million times. I still don’t believe them. Here’s proof that we can have relevant, real-world, engaging learning activities in math class. And these are just three examples.

Cathy Yenca’s blog

Robert Kaplinsky’s lesson ideas

Mr. Orr’s blog


Sharing Copies – Google Apps

In previous posts I have written about Teacher Dashboard, Google Apps, and how to share documents with students. Here is one more way that lets you share a link to a document in Schoology (or anywhere else) bypassing the Smart Copy button in Teacher Dashboard.

If you need to share a document with students and you want each student to have his or her own copy, here is what you do:

  1. Create the document in Google Drive. Make sure it has a distinctive name that lets your students know what it is when they see it in Google Drive again.
  2. Click the SHARE button and select to share the link to the document by clicking on GET SHAREABLE LINK.
  3. Copy the link and paste it into Schoology (or your blog, or an email, or Twitter…)
  4. Before you send or publish, edit the link. Change the last part of the link where it says /edit?usp=sharing  so that it says /copy
  5. Share the link!
When your students click on the link, they will see the following screen:
When they click the blue button, they will have a copy of the document they can edit and turn in to you via Teacher Dashboard or Schoology.
Easy, right? Let me know if you have any questions.


Schoology – Student Completion Requirements

True or false: When I give my students work, they all finish at the same time.

Yes, keeping kids on task is one of the most difficult issues faced by teachers. Schoology has a tool that can help.

When you have multiple activities planned for a class period, you can create a folder with all your resources and require that students work in order, achieving a minimum score per item. Watch this tutorial to find out how to set up a classwork folder with Student Completion requirements.

Data-driven Games?

Over the weekend I traveled to an event in Florida and got to talk to Marcelo Stavale Molina very briefly at the end of a session. He is a Brazilian educator and his students do quite  lot with Scratch (link to his Scratch page). He described a game for visually-impaired players developed by 7th graders that I can’t wait to try out. So, I’ve been thinking about the role of programming in problem-solving and creativity all day.

I was skipping from one web page to another earlier today and found this FlowingData website. One of their recent entries links to a very detailed analysis of the frequency of letters in specific positions in words. Since I like playing word games like Scrabble and WordWrap, I had an idea. What if the points awarded by a digital version of Scrabble took into account more than what letters you used? What if we could apply this dataset to a scoring scheme so the value of the letter varied based on the difficulty of placing that letter at the beginning, middle, or end of a word? Imagine assigning a multiplier that either rewarded  you for an uncommon placement, or penalized you for a very common one.

If nothing else, this would be a great example of math in real life. Any takers for this G21 project?

Teacher Dashboard Workflow

It has been about two months since we started using Hapara’s Teacher Dashboard with our Google Apps for Education. So far, we love it. Everyone has good things to say about this tool that helps our teachers and students keep everything organized and visible.

Two of the teachers who have been the heaviest users of the tool are Mrs. Abbott and Mrs. Ray. Both of them are Language Arts teachers who, in the past, have carried reams of paper back and forth between school and home. They have had to decipher interesting handwriting, straighten out crumpled papers, and struggle to give timely feedback to students. Since our introduction of Google Apps for Education about a year and a half ago, these two teachers have moved towards a paperless environment. Still, managing the endless lists of shared documents in Google Drive was not easy. Now it is much easier and much more effective.

I have learned from both, and today I sat down with Mrs. Ray to develop a workflow to make giving her students support and feedback easier. I thought other teachers might find it useful.


Teacher Dashboard Writing Assignment Workflow

  1. Create a document with instructions and a rubric. First, write the instructions as you would when you create a handout for students.

  2. At the end of the instructions, insert a page break and create your rubric. Be specific. Rubrics, in my opinion, give better guidance than the best set of written directions for almost any assignment.

  3. Use the Smart Copy function in Teacher Dashboard to automatically add a copy of the instructions and rubric in each student’s folder.

  4. Students write their paper “sandwiched” between the instructions and the rubric. Every time the student accesses the document, the instructions and the rubric are right there, helping students stay on track with the assignment.

  5. To grade the paper, the teacher scrolls to the bottom of the paper after reading the assignment and highlights the appropriate rating in the rubric.


This workflow addresses issues that teachers face when students work on projects over several weeks or months.

First is the most obvious problem. Giving students pieces of paper they need to keep for a long time is always a dicey proposition. Even the most organized students can have a binder mishap and their papers scatter all over the parking lot. Having the handouts incorporated in the assignment document, in digital format, is the best way to hang on to them.

Since the Smart Copy document is automatically shared with the teacher, the teacher can use the Comments function to provide guidance and support before the assignment is due. I recommend having set dates when the teacher will be looking at the works-in-progress (homework grade?) to give students an opportunity to get feedback prior to the final due date. Some students might need more support than others, and this is a seamless way of giving them feedback without calling attention to them. Only the teacher and the student will know there were comments made on any particular document.

I hope this helps teachers thinking of getting started with Google Docs and Teacher Dashboard. We still have a couple of after-school sessions on the schedule to look at these tools in depth, and I’m always available to work one-on-one with teachers who can’t stay after school.


Minecraft and Spatial Thinking

How long has SketchUp been around? My earliest blog post referencing SketchUp is from December 20, 2008, but I know it had been around for a long time before that. I enjoy working in SketchUp, and I have encouraged teachers to use it many times. I always warned teachers and students there would be a steep learning curve and an adjustment to working in three dimensions. Today, however, something clicked.

This morning I was working with students in Mrs. Kass’s Science class on creating zoo enclosures for endangered species. As I did last week in Ms. Curfman’s class, I started our SketchUp project by helping the students build a house. This is a great introduction to all the most commonly-used tools. In the past, I would have to spend a long time discussing what students were seeing on their screens, learning to use the orbit tool, zooming, etc. In Ms. Curfman’s and Mrs. Kass’s classes, the kids jumped right in and started working. Nobody was confused. Nobody ended up looking at their house from underground, trying to figure out how to get back to the top.


As the class was wrapping up and students were putting their computers away, one girl said to another, “It is like Minecraft, but you build with lines instead of blocks.”

There you have it. These kids can navigate virtual 3D spaces effortlessly. It is what they do in their spare time. If we make the most of this spatial thinking ability (see why it is important), if we apply it to creativity and problem-solving, I think we are going to see some interesting things.



By the way….I’m INSANE about the teacher dashboard.  The amount of info it gives you is incredible.  I don’t have to worry about logging in to a million different accounts when there is a question.  It’s so convenient.

Sometimes we find a good tool. Sometimes we find an insane tool. I’m very happy we have Hapara’s Teacher Dashboard, and if we judge by the above quote, so is Mrs. Abbott.

We have been using Google Docs for about four years now, but there has always been a high entry point for this tool. Teachers must feel comfortable organizing files in folders and tracking who is sharing what where. With Teacher Dashboard, all that becomes so easy you can get started in just a few minutes.

Head over to John Hendron’s blog and watch the video. Let me know if you would like my help. I know you are going to like this.

Planning and Revising

As the year winds down, several teachers have stopped by to talk about projects that are still in the works around GHS. This has started conversations about planning for next year’s G21, especially when a project had great potential but had a few problems in the execution. I’d like to share some of what I’ve discussed with teachers in hopes of helping others start looking ahead.

As you read this, keep in mind that many of the teachers I have spoken to over the past week plan on revising this year’s project for next year. They are using their experiences this year to make next year’s version better.

  1. Whatever your project might be, build in check points and deadlines during the project’s progress. This is a great method of keeping students organized. Having intermediate deadlines assures that students are making progress even if the due date is still far in the future. Most importantly, looking over whatever the students might have accomplished prior to the due date lets the teacher give feedback and help students maneuver some course-correction if the project is heading in the wrong direction. This is makes any project a more valuable learning experience than when students are allowed to turn in products that do not meet teacher expectations.

  2. Avoid scheduling pitfalls. The end of the second marking period and the beginning of the third are prime times for snow closings and delays. Working around these times away from school is never easy. I’m not telling you to just sit on your hands in the winter. Just allocate enough time for the project to be successful. Of course, I also like working on G21 projects early in the school year. The collaborative and creative nature of the projects helps create a true learning community within your classroom, and the earlier in the year this happens, the better.

  3. Make the project part of what you do throughout the year. Rather than interrupting the flow of your curriculum with a well-meaning but disconnected project, look for something that blends in seamlessly with what you already do. For example, if your students are producing a collection of videos about different topics covered, build that into each unit you teach and do it in small bites. The first unit might be difficult, but as the year goes on, the kink will work themselves out. By the end of the year, your students will be pros.

  4. Make the project useful and meaningful. This advice comes from a teacher who will be using this year’s project as part of her instructional materials for next year. Her students are leaving a legacy, and they know it. This has been a great motivator for them.

  5. Make technology a tool rather than a goal. Don’t approach your project by saying, “I want to make a movie” without thinking of what making a movie will involve or teach your students. Start with what the kids should learn instead, and find a product that will allow everyone to learn and express their learning with creativity and a personal touch.

Keeping all this in mind, I think next year’s G21 projects can be even better than this year’s projects. I’m excited to have started the planning process with a few teachers already.


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