Google Slides for Learning Objectives

The only bad part of being involved in multiple Twitter chats, attending conferences, and listening to educational podcasts is that I can’t always remember where I hear some really great ideas. This is one of those great ideas and my spin on it.

An important part of the learning process is that all students know where they’re going on their journey each day. For a great post on why we use student learning objectives, check out The Hidden Power of Learning Objectives by Meghan Everette @bamameghan

In our school, as in many others, we are expected to have those objectives and essential questions visible for students at all times.  However, writing these on the board or on large poster paper doesn’t always make them truly visible for all students. For most middle & high school students, they are also only visible for less than an hour each day.

Enter Google Slides
When you start a semester, create a Google Slides presentation in which you will put all of your learning objectives for the semester. Each slide will be a new learning objective and your current learning objective will always be on Slide 1.

Creating the Google SlideShow
Open a new Google Slides presentation and use the Title Slide layout so your learning objective is the largest text and the subtitle should be the date. I suggest using dates and not Day 1, Day 2, etc… because if a student is absent it will be easier for them to find the date. When you get to the 2nd day, follow the directions below:

  1. Right-Click on the FIRST slide and choose Duplicate Slide
  2. Left-Click (select) on Slide 1
  3. Change the date (in the subtitle) and the learning objective (if necessary)
  4. Repeat steps 1-3 each day

Always duplicate the first slide so when you or your students open the presentation, the first slide is the one you are using in class that day. Also, if a student was absent, they only have to go to slide 2 to see what they did yesterday.

Embedding the Google SlideShow
Since we use Schoology for our LMS, not only can we post this presentation as the first item in our courses, more importantly, we can embed it which means the SlideShow will actually be open to Slide 1 (your current learning objective) every time your students open that course. As a Double-Bonus, we only have to do this once!

Screen Shot 2018-12-27 at 10.11.14 AM

Image 3 – Publish as Embed

Step 1 – Publish your Google SlideShow by clicking File/ Publish to the web… and choose Embed. Make sure your settings match those in Image 3, then click Publish and OK. You will be prompted to Copy the embed code.

Step 2 – Post your SlideShow in your Schoology course by clicking Add Materials and choosing File/Link/External Tool.  Choose Link.  Paste your link in the Link/URL box and type your Title in the next box and click Add.


Now any updates you make in your SlideShow will automatically appear in your Schoology course and your students will see the current objectives when they open your course.

Screen Shot 2018-12-27 at 11.00.35 AM

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Is Spring Break for Grading or Relaxing?

How many times have you started Spring Break with great aspirations and ended the week saying, “Well at least I got my car washed”?   Part of this week off for teachers is to relax, rest, and refresh. The other part is a mad scramble to play catch-up on grading and lesson plans before the end of the year. It’s the worst balancing act of all time because if we fail to catch-up on the grading, we come out of break more stressed than when we started.

Spring break is comingPart of the issue is that teachers spend WAY too much time grading homework and other papers that were meant for formative assessment – not for grades. When we do this, we reinforce the idea that school is about grades instead of teaching our students the importance of becoming a life-long learner. We perpetuate the notion that grades tell us how our students are doing, instead of using better measurement tools to see what they truly understand.

If I want to know where my students are on a certain concept, and I’m a high school teacher with 125 students, I can watch their 30-second reflections through Recap in just over 1 hour, and I get so much more insight as to what they do and don’t understand. What do I see if I grade worksheets which they copy from their friends, their parents, or somewhere online?

If I want to know where my students are with their vocabulary, I can check the data from Quizlet to see how well they’re doing with the posted lists (which I had students create). Or, I can use Schoology quizzes and tests so parents have better insight as to how their child is doing with the content being covered in class. Either way, I’m not spending time grading worksheets, quizzes or tests.

If I want to see if my Science students understand a process, I can watch screencasts they create with Explain Everything to demonstrate their understanding of the process. These 1-minute videos can be uploaded to Schoology, graded by using a rubric,  and that information is immediately available to students and parents so they know what they need to work on. If I return their lab report with a C+, does anyone really understand where they failed to connect the content?

So, as you prepare for Spring Break ask yourself, are you going to use this as a time to relax, rest, and refresh? Or are you going to spend your time grading your students’ worksheets that were done by their friends or their parents?

If you feel that teachers should be ‘working’ over Spring Break, I agree. However, our focus should be working on ways to innovate our lessons and our classrooms. Maybe that involves reading a book like Innovator’s Mindset or Ditch That Textbook, participating in Twitter chats like #1to1techat or #tlap, or collaborating on a new lesson with another teacher in a coffee shop. But please don’t waste your time grading things your students never did in the first place.

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Using Google Keep, AutoCorrect & Bitmojis for Formative Feedback

Disclaimer: I love Google Keep and I think it is one of the most underutilized tools in the Google Suite. My entire purpose in life is to bring the power of Google Keep to light and encourage other educators to harness its’ power. Well, maybe not my entire purpose but I do think it’s a tool we can take advantage of for grading – along with AutoCorrect.

Take Advantage of AutoCorrect


Screen Shot 2019-06-22 at 7.43.05 AM

Automatic substitution in Google Docs

One of the issues with formative feedback in Google Docs is the amount of time it takes to write comments on each student’s paper. So, what if those comments you use all the time were already built into your Google Docs?  Open Google Docs and choose Tools / Preferences and at the bottom of that list is Automatic Substitutions You can enter your own codes that get replaced with the text you want in your document (see image). Be careful not to use combinations of letters or words that could mess with your own documents because these are in play any time you open a Google Doc.  I use “ot” for when students are off topic, “wt” for when students need to be reminded of the proper tense, and “cyp” for checking their punctuation. I don’t worry about marking specifics for high school students because I feel they should be able to locate these types of errors on their own.

Google Keep

Keep iconI use Google Keep as my main tool when I’m researching topics, curating resources from Twitter chat, and most importantly sharing the shopping list with my wife so I don’t forget things at the grocery store (besides where I parked). Even though nothing can match the power of a tool that makes me look better as a husband, Google Keep is really handy for giving feedback within Google Docs.

Most of the time we are giving formative feedback during the writing process, we use many of the same phrases over and over again. That’s not a bad thing when it’s what the students need to hear. It’s only a bad thing when we have to type/write the same things over and over again, and that’s where Google Keep comes in.

I take about 4-5 of my most common comments and type them into separate Notes in Google Keep. I give them all the same label of ‘Writing Errors’ and then ‘pin’ them to the top of my Keep notes by clicking the pushpin in the top corner of the note. If you’re a really visual learner or just someone with OCD who loves colored tabs in their binders, you can change the color of your notes so they’re easier to identify.

When I open Google Docs, I click the Keep icon on the right side of the screen and immediately I can see all of my ‘Writing Errors’ notes appear next to the student’s document. When I get to a place in the document that needs some of this feedback, I click that spot in the document, change the font color, click the 3 dots on my Keep note, and choose “Add to document”. I find it much easier to change the font color before adding the note because I don’t need to select anything that way.

You could even create a label of Keep notes that go with specific standards or grading criteria and those would be the ones you pin for that grading period. You can also use the search feature at the top of the sidebar of Keep to locate other notes you might want to use. There is also easy access to creating a new note at the top of the Keep sidebar. You can use this if you find yourself writing the same comments on a specific topic – and yes you can ‘pin’ it right from the sidebar.


Bitmoji Imageyou apostrophe and letters R and ESeriously, Bitmoji’s as a tool for formative assessment?!? Younger students love stickers on their papers and high school students like to regress to where the like getting stickers on their papers again, but you can’t put stickers on Google Docs and the tech team generally frowns upon putting stickers on the school owned Chromebooks or iPads. Just add the Bitmoji extension to Chrome and as you grade papers, you can then click on the Bitmoji extension, search for the appropriate Bitmoji, then copy and paste into the document. Right now, Bitmoji messages are not customizable, so I use them mainly for the Good Job or Fantastic – generic feedback.

If you have any other ideas for using tools like this in your formative feedback process, I’d love to hear about it. Leave a comment, hit me up on Twitter @polonerd or email me

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Why Connections Matter

On Tuesday night I returned from Summer Spark in Milwaukee. My head was still spinning and full from all of the great presentations and new ideas I heard, my heart was still racing from Joe Sanfelippo’s keynote, but most of all my heart was full from all of the love shared between friends at an Edtech conference.

This was the 4th year I’ve been to Spark (sorry to say I missed year 1) and every year my PLN grows but in different ways than just connecting with someone on Twitter or Facebook groups. At a mid-sized conference like Summer Spark you make awesome personal connections with people who have been in your PLN for months (maybe even years). You get to have dinner with people you haven’t seen in a year or more, or maybe people you’ve never even met before.

game night

It’s pretty clear when we go to dinner for game night on the first evening of the conference, and we turn 10 tables into one giant table so we can all sit together (until the table literally can’t grow anymore), this group is close and wants to learn more about what we’re doing in our classrooms, our schools, and even more about our future plans.

As far as game night goes, Jon Spike walks in with his bag of games, along with others who bring their favorite board games and let the fun begin. The fun and connections at this point are amazing and there are even some grudge matches from two years ago when it comes to CodeNames. Right Kristin?

Screen Shot 2019-06-20 at 11.27.05 AM

The conference is wonderful because Pam NosbuschChuck Taft, Michael Matera, and so many others put their heart and soul into making it great. However, the true “Spark” we get in June is an uplifting of spirits and excitement from connecting with other inspiring educators, learning from them, and most importantly sharing with them what we do, what we want to do, and how they can help us get there.

All of this fun and all of these close relationships really go back to where it all started for many of us – Twitter. When we connect on Twitter, or any Social Media platform, we share what’s we’ve accomplished, we look to others for advice or ideas, and we ‘talk’ with each other about different topics in chats.

Who to Follow – When you find that first person you want to follow, click on their name and then click on where it says “Following”. Look at who those people follow because that is a choice they made to follow those people. You can glance at their profile and even see who those people follow – welcome to the most awesome rabbit hole.

Twitter Chats – If you haven’t done any Twitter chats, I’ve listed a few below but feel free to try ones that more closely tie into your content area or grade level. The chats are usually 30 or 60 minutes long and you’ll be connecting with educators from all over the country and possibly people from other parts of the world. Make sure you don’t pull a @GameBoyDrew and forget the #. If you don’t use the #, nobody else in the chat will know you’re saying anything.


#122edchat after @moler3031 session on EduProtocols

Use Tweetdeck – Tweetdeck allows you to created columns based on a # or a particular user – plus other choices.  This makes it easier to track what people are talking about in that chat. You also have a notifications column so it makes it easier to see who ‘liked’ your post, replied to your post, or even just mentions you in possibly a different chat.

Simply put, get on Twitter and follow other educators. It’s polite and good practice to follow the people who follow you; except for the bots and the inappropriate accounts – check who they are and what they’ve posted before you follow someone. Check your feed occasionally and search some hashtags (#) to see what people are talking about.

Most of all, have fun connecting with other educators and don’t forget to introduce yourself when you meet them in person at awesome conferences like Summer Spark @usmspark #usmspark

BTW – I had to delete the word “just” multiple times as I wrote this. Thanks Angela!



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Embracing the Writing Process in 2019

I just got back from a lovely trip to Meijer with my daughter. We went there to buy dividers for her binder. She is required to turn in all the materials she used for her Bitmoji Imageresearch paper (literary analysis) which have already been submitted, returned, and graded on separate occasions. This week, I also had a student ask me how to print her beautiful webpage (created in Adobe Spark Page) so she could put it in her binder. I wanted to cry but instead, I helped her create a QR code & and printed it on a page for her portfolio so others could experience her website.

Why are we not embracing the tools our students will need in their future? Why are we not teaching them how to use publish their thoughts and ideas for a broader audience to see?  To be clear, I’m not using this as a soapbox speech to tell everyone that everything we do should be done in new ways and on a computer screen.

  • I believe it is still very important for students to organize their ideas, annotate their research and create their outlines.
  • I understand that much of the annotation and some of the organization should be done with paper and pen.
  • I think it can be advantageous for students to turn in a printed rough draft that can be used in a collaborative setting to show students where the errors or shortcomings of their paper are.

The Research Process

When students are researching, why not teach them how to utilize Google Keep. Students with iPads can use the app, and students with Chromebooks or computers can install the Keep extension. This tool allows them to capture the information they need while also capturing the URL of the article. Students can use the app on their iPad or phone to take pictures of books or printed articles they find, and Keep will convert those pictures into text (OCR) which they can access later. Students can create labels for these notes in Keep and organize them according to their outline.  When they write their papers, students can access their Keep notes while in the Google Docs app and easily move quotes and other information into their paper while having full access to the source it came from.

The Writing Process

When students begin the writing process, teachers can push a blank document out to all their students through Google Classroom or Google Drive Assignment in an LMS like Schoology. The teacher then has access to everyone’s document throughout the writing process and can leave comments and/or corrections at any time. You can even set a due date for the rough draft, have students submit the paper, grade them, and then unsubmit the document so students can use that document to adjust and complete their final draft. If you need a comparison of the rough draft and final copy, the teacher and/or student can access the rough draft through File / Revision History.

Buyin the binder tabs

Buying the binder tabs

The Publishing Process

When we require students to submit a binder of all their work, where does it go? Who sees it? There are so many different ways we can publish student work in today’s world. They can create their own Google Site, write a blog throughout the school year, publish their writing in an eBook, or even create a podcast where students can reflect on the writing process and what they learned about their particular topic. This part is so essential because it gives students a wider audience and the ability to create a more positive digital footprint. This becomes a creation which can be shared with college admission officers, foundations offering scholarships, and so much more.

Hopefully, teachers can use these ideas to better understand this is not about ‘change for change sake’. This is about updating a process so our students are more prepared for their future and they can begin creating a positive digital footprint which will benefit them in their future.  I am however in talks with the school to recover my $3.99 for binder tabs.

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Where were the review games during the learning process?

As we enter the home stretch of the semester and prepare for final exams at the high school level, I can already hear the Kahoot music start and see the projector bulbs burning out from overuse. Quizlet flashcards and games will be running on all the student devices. My question is really simple: Where were the review games during the learning process?

If teachers were only using them the day before a test or quiz, again I ask; Where were the review games during the learning process? With all the data these games and review tools give us access to, why aren’t more teachers using them as exit or entrance tickets? With a simple 3-5 question Google Form, teachers would be able to see how well their students understood that day’s lesson. By using Blind Kahoot, teachers could see how quickly students are grasping a new concept. Simply look at the spreadsheet or the graph of the results in G Forms. What does it tell you? Is there an area where more students struggled? Do you have a follow-up video or mini-lesson you could use the next day to help close the gap for students who struggled? What’s your plan if it’s more than just a few?

Sometimes a simple multiple choice or short answer quiz/review doesn’t really tell us where they’re getting lost. That’s where a 30 second recording can come in handy. Screencastify, Recap, Flipgrid or even the Clips app for iOS allow students to record themselves explaining the process of how they arrived at an answer. With these recordings we can actually hear the exact point at which the student got off track (if they were even on track to begin with).

I can hear the dreaded question now, “Do you know how much time that will take? Thanks to a basic understanding of math, yes I do. Even if I have 5 classes of 24 students each, that’s only 1 hour of videos to watch – yay math! I wouldn’t ever suggest doing videos like this every day, but I do suggest it for key concepts that create the base for other concepts students will be encountering in the coming days/weeks. If the concept is extremely important for future success, it’s worth it to listen to our students and hear they actually ‘got it’, because there is no review game or set of flashcards that will close this gap in the 3 weeks before final exams.

Some people see these tools as ‘more time consuming’ or ‘another thing’, but wouldn’t it save us more time by using this other thing? Wouldn’t it be easier to cover the next concepts and topics if our students had a stronger base under them? For example, wouldn’t it be easier to teach a volleyball player how to jump serve if they already know how to serve overhand, make a proper toss, and have good footwork? I could either spend 30 minutes on each of those things and then reinforce them throughout the season, or I could spend all day in the gym teaching a jump serve to someone that can only do an underhand serve. Everyone involved in the process would become extremely frustrated and the chances for success would be minimal at best.

It might be too late for you to incorporate these tools into this semester, but next semester is over a month away. What new tool are you going to implement that will help your students achieve more success next semester? Who are you going to encourage to join you in your new adventure?

To be clear, I’m not discounting the importance of reviewing material before an exam, or using flashcards to study. They are still an important part of the process, but it could be a more effective process for everyone involved if we had a clearer view of where our students were throughout the process.

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Taking My Flooded Basement to the Classroom

The Background
We came home from a 4th of July party in a storm with torrential downpours. We are one of the lucky ones in a newer development where all our wires are underground and therefore it is a rarity that we lose power. We hadn’t had water in our basement in 10+ years when the sump pump failed. We didn’t lose power that night, but when my daughter was walking through the basement and water began coming up through the carpet, we realized something was really wrong and it was not going to a fun cleanup. The sump pump was still running, but there was a crack in the pipe under the water level, so there was no warning that our basement was about to flood.

How do you cut carpet?
There are 2 ways to cut carpet. When we started, the only choice was to cut it from the top. Even with a brand new razor blade or carpet knife, this takes 2 or 3 slices to get through the carpet and the mesh that holds the carpet together.  We soon realized it was easier to make fewer cuts on the top and then roll the carpet so we could make larger and longer cuts on the bottom – it only took 1 quick run of the blade from the underside!

How many times do we continue to do things the same way, because we can only see one side of the problem? We keep hacking away, our tools lose their ability to cut through the problem, and we lose so much valuable time because we aren’t looking for a different approach or even a different tool. The solution to cutting the carpet was to attack it from another angle. Are we allowing our students to do this in the classroom? Are we collaborating with other teachers to make this happen?

How do you remove water-logged padding?
Due to the water, the weight of the padding was really slowing down our progress. We had tried using a shopvac to remove the water from the carpet, but that was a fail. It didn’t remove the water and we still had padding that weighed too much.  We tried squeezing water out and having someone else shopvac the water. The answer was using the shopvac while the padding was still in place, and then removing the padding.

Sometimes we need to remove a layer to get to the underlying problem. We try helping a student with a problem or a concept but they struggle because the real problem is in a misconception they have in their foundation. We need to utilized formative assessments better. A simple pre-test or review of necessary concepts can give us an understanding of why we can’t get the ‘top layer’ fixed. Then we can use different methods and strategies to fix the bottom layer before we move on.

How do you remove carpet tack strips?
After the carpet and padding were removed, our next challenge was the tack trips. I’ll admit to already stepping on one of these in bare feet because I didn’t want to get my shoes wet. It hurt as bad as you would think, and I now have a sore foot AND wet shoes. I had no idea how to get these little boards off my cement floor, and I had no idea how they were installed. One YouTube video later, along with a trip to the hardware store, and I was ready to go.

How often do we allow students to find the answer or discover the answer? I would have started with a different approach to the tack strips and ended up with a mess. Learning is messy. Why not allow our students to follow their path and record their successes. That should be the YouTube video I find; one with a student explaining how they discovered the best answer.

How do you remove carpet glue?
First of all, the term ‘carpet glue’ is misleading because it actually holds the padding in place – but I digress. There are so many options for removing carpet glue. Use boiling water. Use Acetone. Use Goo Gone. Scrape it with a long handled 4″ razor blade. I asked my Ace Hardware guy, which one is best? His answer, “Depends on your floor, and what you’re trying to accomplish. If you don’t care about the floor itself – then use Acetone and a 4″ razor blade. Your best bet is to try several approaches.”

How do we approach our students in the same way? Depends on the student and what we are trying to accomplish. Some students are going to need that soft approach of water. Some are going to need a more abrasive approach. What we need are the variety of tools (strategies), and more importantly how to use them effectively.

The New Floor
My last job was to find a replacement floor. I knew I never wanted go through this ordeal with carpet again – even though I learned how to handle it. I didn’t want tile, and I didn’t want cement. I found an innovative solution. Vinyl flooring that resembles laminate, but guess what – IT’S WATERPROOF.  Finally, someone saw the need for a new product and spent the time and effort to create it.

How do we encourage our students to FIND the problems like this, and not just solve problems like removing padding, tack strips, and carpet glue. How often do we allow them to search for an innovative solution that solved the real problem like – any carpet in a flooded basement needs to be removed. I’m glad somebody approached the problem differently, because I’ll never be doing this again. My new floor.

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Online Testing with No Internet

Internet Error

Our school has always been a little ahead of the game when it comes to technology. I’ve been there 17 years and on my first day, we already had a campus-wide WiFi network. We are a private Catholic high school of 1,100 students with a 1:1 iPad program that started with all 4 classes of students. We have a classroom set of Chromebooks in case our teachers need/want them instead of iPads for a day or two.  Our current bandwidth is 600 Mbps, of which we use at least 200-250 Mbps on a daily basis.  We use Schoology as our LMS and in an average month, we will have over 1 Million page views in Schoology from students, teachers & parents. Honestly, we have the perfect environment to do online testing with our students.

I encouraged teachers to try more online testing this year and at the end of 1st semester, 31% of our teachers gave their final exams online. We gave each teacher 2 Chromebooks to use as backup devices in case a student had an issue with their iPad and we utilized Respondus Lockdown Browser to keep students locked into their tests.  We had a couple minor issues with students tests not submitting right away, but a couple minor adjustments and we felt great about the results and the ease of accessing data from the exams.

This semester, after teachers saw how effective and easy online testing was, we were up to 43% of teachers giving final exams on the iPads. We even had an English class and two different Biology classes use AMP (Schoology’s Assessment Management Platform) to give their exams. AMP will be able to give us data that’s easier to access and more importantly allows us to create questions that could never be asked on a ScanTron type test.

‘Doomsday’ – Days 1 & 2 of 2nd Semester Exams
Our phone system is internet based, and when we started the first day of exams the phones were down along with the networked computers. However, the WiFi was up and running and we only had a few glitches with the testing. After exams, we rebooted the system and the entire network crashed. It was one of those things we could never see coming. Our core switch went belly-up and took our entire network with it. Since this switch costs about the same as 1/2 a teacher’s salary, it’s not something we keep extras of – nor is it something you can run over to Best Buy and grab on your lunch break. HP could get us the piece by the next day, but we have exams to give before then – Online!

Our teachers were at home scrambling to put together a printable copy of their exams (something Schoology needs to greatly improve on), our tech team helped print them out and make copies – it only made sense since we literally couldn’t do anything else besides clean our desks. Our office staff helped by pulling out stacks of pencils and ScanTron sheets. By the time our online testing teachers walked in the next morning, they all had exams in their mailboxes and were ready to go.

Although our network had been down for no more than 20 minutes over the past 3 years, we ran into the worst case scenario – almost. As one of my friends said, “Well, it could have crashed at 8:00am today”.  So the question becomes, “How do you encourage and support teachers moving to online testing, without creating more work for them?”

Backup Plan Suggestions

  1. As you create an online exam, use Google Docs to type your questions. Then copy and paste them into the online testing program. It doesn’t have to be G Docs, but it does have to be cloud-based.
  2. If you use test bank software like ExamView, make sure you save and print a copy of the test before converting it to an online format.
  3. Have at least 2 spare devices per room, and let teachers know who else near them is giving an online test. They can always send a student to that room first to see if those devices are being used.
  4. Every teacher giving an online test has my cell number so they can text me in an emergency. We have 2 other tech team members and they know during exams, these teachers and students are our #1 priority.
  5. One classroom set of printed exams is the only way to avoid that 8:00am crash without wasting any exam time.  I hate this idea because it defeats one advantage of online testing – trees don’t have to die. But if a system crashes at 8:00am and you have 20+ teachers giving exams with only 3 copy machines… well, you do the math.
  6. Don’t make any network changes within a week of the exams – if possible. Stick with the old adage ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’.  This wasn’t our issue, but I’ve seen it before.

Please feel free to share your ideas for a backup plan. I’d love to hear them and share them. 

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