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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Do You Even Know What Our ‘Digital Natives’ Need?

Young digital Native

Marc Prensky popularized the phrase Digital Native as early as 2001 in his article “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants“. In his article, he focuses mainly on the digital immigrants which are the people new to this world of technology – especially in the classroom.  His explanation of the digital natives is that of a generation who has spent more than twice the amount of time on computers, video games, cell phones, etc… than they have spent reading. He also explains that these students are learning in a different way than previous generations, and focuses on the benefits of gamifying the learning process – even in what some people would see has a ‘higher level’ course that uses CAD (computer-aided design) software. This is truly a different way of learning and involves a major overhaul of our teaching strategies and classroom structure. The most amazing thing to me was the fact that this was written more than 15 years ago.


Unfortunately, people have started throwing around the term ‘digital native’ in an effort to explain their students’ familiarity with technology and the resulting gap between the teachers and students. Using this term tends to drive parent and community demand for 1:1 programs in their schools, it drives the need for teacher training in the use of computers and other devices in their classrooms, and it drives the demand for EdTech consultants to prepare schools in their move to 1:1 programs. Although it’s wonderful to see these programs growing throughout our country and beyond, the goals of these programs aren’t anywhere near what Prensky was describing over 15 years ago.

It seems that administrators and school boards generally take a slower approach to technology integration and worry about the addition of devices to the classroom creating a difficult adjustment period for teachers. This approach creates a problem with making actual changes in the classroom. Teachers look for and find, the technology that creates a close fit with what they’ve done in the past. They incorporate tools which help them distribute worksheets or practice problems from the textbook (or their filing cabinet). They use games such as Kahoot which focus on reviewing material.  As teachers incorporate these tools, which tend to be at the Substitution level of the SAMR model, too many administrators see this as ‘integrating technology’ and another box is checked off during teacher evaluations.

If we took time to understand how these Digital Natives learn and how they use technology on a daily basis, it could help us truly transform education. Many of these students don’t know much (if anything) about how to write an email in a professional manner, how to create PDF’s from their documents, or how to properly attach files to an email. These are skills we use in the workplace and skills we expect our students to know, but these are not skills our students need in order to either learn or demonstrate their understanding of the material. Instead, these are the skills we want our students to know in order to fit into our world and demonstrates our misunderstanding of the digital native.

So, instead of embracing these ‘digital native’s’ familiarity and knowledge of technology, we continue trying to fit them into the same educational system their parents went through – except we put devices in their hands. Too many educators accept that our use of electronic worksheets and reading textbooks online is fulfilling the needs of our students and producing the necessary technology integration in our schools. However, making real changes requires true innovation (and please don’t use ‘innovation’ as a buzzword). Innovation is not reflected in digital worksheets or typing papers. Innovation needs to truly reflect how we change the structure of our classrooms and how we adjust the strategies in our classrooms to reach this ‘new’ type of learner.

To some educators, this is a scary proposition because it requires real change and it requires it to happen in a short amount of time. Every year we don’t move further toward project-based learning, inquiry-based learning, and gamification is another year we fail to meet the needs and learning styles of these ‘digital natives’. This means we can’t simply be the ‘digital immigrants’ that Presnky describes in 2001. Instead, we need to be the leaders in a digital world and more importantly, the leaders of an educational shift toward building more effective schools for our children.

Image credit: “Young Digital Native” Image Charlotta Wasteson

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Memes for Reflection

I was subbing for our film studies class that was watching the end of Singing in the Rain. When the film ended sooner than the teacher anticipated, I was trying my best summon my inner tech nerd I am and find a cool way to get feedback from the students. I can’t tell you how many Google Forms I’ve created and pushed out in the last year, but screen-shot-2017-01-12-at-10-36-49-amI wanted something more creative.

I decided to give them an image to create a meme. As I was in the process of projecting the image, the teacher walked in and said, “Use the meme to tell what you thought about the movie.” We didn’t get too many responses, but the one here was the overall consensus winner.

It got me thinking a little more about using this in other classes, and how a teacher could easily have students do this in any classroom without a lot of setup work, and limiting how much time students spend looking for images. If the teacher puts 4-5 images into a Google folder and shares it with their students; the students have a variety to choose from and can get to work on the meme much sooner.

If students are struggling to create their meme, encourage them to write down some of the key ideas, terms, and content that was covered in the lesson. This reflection will do much more than simply help students put a caption on a picture, it will help them walk through the material and evaluate what they learned throughout that lesson.

After they have time to reflect, they can choose one of the images and create their meme in Google Slides, Keynote, Canva, Adobe Post, PowerPoint, etc…  Once the meme is created, the teacher should have a plan for submissions. It would probably be best if all of the memes were submitted in the same format (.jpg) so it’s easier on the teacher to go through the submissions quickly – especially if they are being shown to the class.

One great way to collect these and expand the students’ audience would be using a Padlet wall where students could post comments on each other’s memes as a form of peer review. Richard Byrne demonstrates how to enable commenting on Padlet walls in his blog post.  See Richard Byrne’s post at Free Technology For Teachers


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Blind Kahoot – Building an Engaging Lesson

What is a Blind Kahoot?

It is a Kahoot game created like any other Kahoot game, except in this case the students don’t have previous (or very limited) knowledge of the topic. The Kahoot is used to introduce a new concept or topic and keeps students engaged by answering questions throughout the lesson. Each student is engaged in the process by answering every question and seeing immediate feedback.


The questions build on each other throughout the lesson. The Blind Kahoot template follows a pattern that helps reinforce what students are learning.

  1. Blind Question – something they haven’t learned yet.
  2. Post a prompt to Explain and Discuss the answer to the Blind Question. This is a great place to add an image that helps explain the blind question.
  3. Reinforcement question – use a series of these to reinforce the concept. They can break it down into separate components, or they can build from easy to difficult. This should not be just 1 single question. I’d suggest 2-3 reinforcement questions.
  4. Repeat the Blind Question – this will help you compare results from the first question
  5. Ask a new Blind Question – thus restarting the process of 1-4.
  6. Periodically ask questions like: How well do you understand this? (scale of 1-4)

Question Times & Types

Typically answer times are longer than a Kahoot game, but it isn’t necessary to give extra time. Sometimes a question that asks for a reaction, rather than solving a problem, can be just as effective in engaging a student’s thought process.


One of the most difficult things about playing Blind Kahoot, is that students are in game mode. They have played Kahoot and other similar games in many of their classes. They know that the first one with the answer gets the points. This creates a real problem in making Blind Kahoot an effective teaching tool.

If you make the questions worth 0 points, students may tune out the game – and therefore the content because they can’t ‘win’. If you leave the points on the questions, students don’t spend time thinking about the problem or new concept in front of them and we miss a great teaching opportunity.

My suggestion is to make the questions worth 0 points, but to reward students with extra credit, an award, a certificate etc… for students who get the most right throughout the process. Also, it would be a good idea to explain not only that you are going to use Kahoot in a different way, but also explain WHY. “We are using Kahoot today, to help us learn something new. Points won’t be important but your answers can earn you extra credit.”

Top Tips

The tips below are from Stephanie Castle . She is an Apple Distinguished Educator and Biology teacher. You can follow her on Twitter at @castlestephanie

Level the playing field

According to Steph Castle, “Blind” Kahoot!’ing works best if you know it is truly blind – not already covered as part of a spiral curriculum. That, of course, means taking the time to understand what your students have learned in other classes. From Steph’s perspective, the first question really catches them off guard, and flips the students straight into questioning mode.

Sneak in some rules

Now is the perfect moment to explain what the correct answer was, and why – for example, a rule that she applied to deduce the correct answer. The second and third questions are opportunities for the students to apply that very same rule, which helps consolidate that knowledge and really make it stick.
When she’s happy that everyone gets it, she might pose a similar question, but with a tiny twist, and an opportunity to introduce a new rule.

Spark critical thinking

She also advocates making the most of being able to embed images and video, and using those to prompt critical thinking. Get them to look BEHIND the pictures and the charts. What is the chart showing? More importantly, what is it not showing?

Blind kahoot template:

They designed this kahoot especially for teachers to quickly and easily adapt for their own subjects. Preview the kahoot to learn the basic structure and some tips that will make even your very first Blind kahoot stand out. Then, duplicate the kahoot and edit to adapt it for your topic and learners.

Click here to see Kahoot’s explanation of Blind Kahoot

App Smashing

Explain Everything – If you are running this game from an iPad, you can leave the Explain Everything app open while the game runs. By simply double tapping the home button, you can switch to Explain Everything and demonstrate what was asked in any of the Blind or Reinforcement questions. You can record these explanations and make them available to students as a video or a PDF.  This allows your students to use the game notes as a reference tool when they begin working with this new concept.

YouTube or Khan Academy – Have videos cued up that might help explain the process, or even show a clip of the video and use that as a prompt for your Kahoot question.

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Closing the Gaps with Formative Assessments

formative-vs-summativeFormative Assessments provide information about how students are doing during instruction so that actions can occur to modify instruction based on that information.  These can be as large as a chapter test, or as small as a single ‘check for understanding’ question after presenting new material. Formative Assessments assess where students are at that particular point in time so teachers can address gaps in learning and adjust instruction accordingly.

If we can close these gaps and modify instruction by using formative assessments:

  • Why do we only use tools like Kahoot & Quizlet Live as review games at the end of a chapter or unit?
  • Why aren’t we using these tools throughout learning the process?
  • Why don’t we use these tools in a variety of ways?
  • Why haven’t we harnessed the power of the data we get from these tools to help our students close gaps in their learning?

Most likely we can give one common answer: “That’s not how these tools are presented to us and that’s not what we were told they are for.”

As you read through the following formative assessments, think about how you can use formative assessment tools to do the following:

  1. Teach a new topic while getting feedback
  2. Use the data from these tools to differentiate instruction
    1. For all students
    2. For students who are showing gaps in the learning
  3. Use student feedback to help drive instruction

Physical Exit Tickets

Exit tickets can be as simple as students showing how well they understand the day’s material by holding up beteen 1-5 fingers:

  • 1 finger means they have very litle understanding
  • 5 fingers means they completely understand.

Teachers can also have students solve a problem, write the answer on a Post-It Note, and leave it on the door as they leave the class.  Feel free to leave your favorite physical exit ticket in the comments below.

Technology Exit Tickets

Socrative offers a digital exit ticket where teachers only need to write one question. These exit tickets can be used by simply opening Socrative Teacher and clicking Exit Ticket. The students are asked:

  1. How well did you understand today’s material?
  2. What did you learn in today’s class?
  3. Please answer the teacher’s question

For question 3, teachers can either have a question built into their slides, or just give an oral question which focuses on that day’s learning objective.  This same exit ticket could be created through other tech tools such as Google Forms, Schoology Quizzes, etc…

So remember, exit tickets only take a few minutes to create, a few minutes for students to complete and most imporantly they allow teachers to have insight as to where a gap in learning has occurred. This allows teachers to close gaps sooner by addressing them that evening with a follow-up screencast, or the next day by adjusting instruction.

GoFormative & ClassKick

Both of these tools allow students to work out problems during class, or even as homework, while the teacher can see in real time where students are struggling or succeeding. This allows the teachers to focus on students who may need more help along the way without delaying feedback.  When students receive feedback in real time, we can not only close gaps in learning in more effective ways, we can close these gaps before they become too wide and require more time and effort – which may discourage students from putting forth more effort.

Blind Kahoot

Instead of using Kahoot the day before a test to review material that students should already know, why not use it as a teaching tool where students are more engaged in the process. While the material is being presented students are being asked key questions that tie into the learning objective. These questions tend to be narrower in scope and encourage students to ask more questions about what this new topic.

What’s that you say?  Kahoot being used to promote Inquiry Based Learning?  Personally I think inquiry based learning is where we need to be if we are ever going to unleash the true power of using technology in the classroom.  Hopefully that will be my next blog post – stay tuned.

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Audio & Video Tools for Student Reflection

At our PD on Friday, I had the pleasure of working with our World Language department. When it comes to integrating tech in their classes, they have been risk takers; and even better, collaborative risk takers. We’ve witnessed some amazing projects and classroom exercises over the past 2 years which have utilized various apps on the iPad.

They asked me to discuss tools which would allow them to hear their students speak more, which they have found to be an area our students need more work. The plan was to discuss creating group chats in Voxer & WeChat. Only two people in the department had even heard of these tools, so I wasn’t sure what to expect (we only had 1/2 hour for this discussion).

Voxer & WeChat
These are both Social Media apps that essentially give users the ability to chat by leaving voice messages. Users can leave typed messages as well in the chat.  The key factor for using these tools in the classroom, or professional development, is that you can create Group Chats. After students have created their accounts on Voxer or We Chat, students can submit their username through a Google Form.  The teacher can then copy and paste usernames to the class group. The teacher can then push a question or prompt out through Schoology (or any other LMS), and students would respond within the group chat in Voxer or WeChat. This way, the teacher only has one place to go, doesn’t need to download any files, and responses for the entire class are within one group chat. If a student has a question, they can ask it within the chat, and other students or the teacher would be able to respond.

Recap App
The Recap App allows teachers to create a question, push it to all their students, and have each student record a video explaining their answer. This ability to collect student reflections throughout the learning process is key for teachers to truly understand where students are in the learning process.  The app allows teachers to set a maximum time limit for the student responses, and requires no uploading of video for the students. When the students complete their video, they tap the submit button. Once the video is submitted, the teacher can scroll through all videos within their class. There is no need for uploading or downloading video on the teacher side.

The Tellagami app allows students to record their response to a prompt, without using video of themselves. They can create their own avatar (limited choices in the free version), change the background, and record a voice message of up to 90 seconds (30 seconds in the free version). The video can then be saved to the camera roll and submitted to the teacher through Google Drive, Classroom, or your choice of Learning Management Systems. By using this app, the students are less apprehensive about recording themselves because they are ‘hiding’ behind the visual of an avatar.  The downside to this app is that the video files must be uploaded and downloaded which may be more difficult for younger students.

Adobe Spark
Adobe Spark offers 3 different tools (Video, Post, and Pages), but the ability to create an online video for free with student voice-over is a tool and advantage that we’ve never had before. The visuals available in Post & Pages is great, but to hear them through Video is something we need to take advantage about.

If you would like to share other tools or ideas to give our students ‘voice’ in our classrooms, please feel free to comment below.

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4 Changes Making an Impact

Change #1 – New Faculty
This is the sSHININGtart of year 3 of our 1:1 iPad program at Marian Catholic. At the beginning of this process we welcomed a new principal. This year we welcome a new President to our school, and over the past 2 years we’ve had approximately 12 new hires (8% of our faculty).  These changes have helped to bring many new ideas to the table, and question the status quo. Sometimes the status quo is a good thing, but it’s an even better thing when we ask ourselves why we do things a certain way.

Change #2 – Free Books
This year we eliminated approximately 65 paid textbooks. They have been replaced with Open Educational Resources textbooks or other resources our teachers have created over the years. OpenStax has a great set of free textbooks, and hardcover teacher materials cost less than $60.   As a private school, our students purchase their books so we have dropped our textbook cost for Fresh/Soph from $300+ per year to under $150.  AP Textbooks are still an issue with price, but OpenStax has released AP Macro/Micro, Calculus, and others.  We’ll get there soon enough. OER Commons is another great site for free resources.

Change #3 – New Students
When we started, there were NO students at Marian Catholic who had been part of a 1:1 program before. Now it is only our Senior class who remember what high school was like without an iPad. Although people refer to this generation as ‘digital natives’ – a term I despise because they don’t come to us ready to do ‘work’ or ‘education’ on these devices. These ‘digital natives’ know how to get around firewalls and how to play games. However, they need help with simple technology tasks like attaching files to an email and accessing their eBooks.

The bigger issue here is the developing culture of surface dwellers. Because of the instant gratification and other factors, it is difficult for them to get past the surface or bare minimum. They don’t want to read directions or even get to the 2nd page of a Google search. Thanks Julie N Smith for discussing this at SummerSpark in Milwaukee.

Change #4 – Pedagogical Changes
The changes we’ve seen as a result, or as a part, of our 1:1 iPad program have definitely been focused on one goal: Make our lessons and classrooms more engaging for our students. Whether it’s been collaborating in PLC sessions, or teachers trying new strategies with students, the focus has been on our students.

Future Changes
As we move forward, if we are truly going to use this opportunity, we must move our students from being surface dwellers to lifelong learners who are willing to explore topics in more depth.  We must move our faculty from standing in front of our students to sitting amongst them and facilitating deeper discussions. We must make these moves together and with the clear purpose of preparing our students for their future world. A world where they can get answers to simple question at any time; but more importantly, a world where companies will need employees who can solve complex problems by understanding why the problem exists and how to dig deeper to find these solutions.


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