Monday, July 15, 2013

Tackle Technology: Conquering Teacher Fears

"Do one thing every day that scares you." -Eleanor Roosevelt

"Do not be too squeamish about your actions, all life is an experiment." -Ralph Waldo Emerson

As teachers, we're often pushed to try new things and technology is certainly up there on the list. Recently, I got my hands on an iPad and have been playing with various technologies for teachers. The apps I have tried far exceed what I have included here. Here's a few things I have learned.

1. Lesson Planning Apps: Every teacher has a different expectation for planning apps. There are good ones out there, but your individual needs will ultimately drive your choice.
Planbook Touch
  • Option 1: Planbook Touch. I chose this app after testing the computer version (and various other free planning apps). It is somewhat customizable and you can enter standards into plans (sadly, this feature is "coming soon" to the app and is currently only available on the desktop version - when it comes, the ability to click on a standard to include in my plans will be its predominant feature). There are many other similar planning apps. Many reviewers suggested that this is a poor choice for elementary teachers. $9.99 Update: After some use, I say don't waste your time unless you only plan on your devise or a computer. I want a program that syncs between home and school - it's too expensive to get this software for my iPad, and 2 work computers (not including my home computer if I was so inclined). Also I ran into some scheduling problems with the app that do not exist in the Windows edition. Try iLesson Plans instead for a cheaper, iPad only option.
  • Option 2: Pages and Dropbox. Instead of paying for a planning app use whatever template you currently use on your computer along with Dropbox to share files between your computer(s) and iPad. Unlike an actual planning app, it will not sync with a calendar, which is a downside for many teachers. For me, sharing on Dropbox makes it preferable and I can honestly say that Pages was the best purchase I have made for the iPad. I am astounded at how nice a document I can make with this app and unlike Google Drive, the tables are fully functional, with merge cell capability and other things that  please me. Since my lesson planning template is a fancy table, this was important.
    Pages: $9.99; Dropbox: Free!
  • Pages
  •  Option 3: Evernote. One teacher I read about puts his plans in Evernote, then takes photos of students, their work, and writes a mini-reflection. He puts entire units in one "note" so that the next year he can look directly through his day by day plan with reflections and make the changes he needs to make. It's a great idea for year-to-year planning. Free!

2. Apps for Notes/Meetings: I wanted the iPad to replace the binder I carry with me (the one that gets overfull with information by the end of the year) so I need it to store my notes for the year. I can keep notes from staff meetings, parent meetings, team meetings, committee meetings, trainings, etc.
  • Penultimate: A notebook that allows you to use your finger or a styles to create hand-written notes. If your handwriting is nice enough, it also lets you search your notes. For example, I can search for notes on "Pete" so we can review interventions in place and their results at a later meeting. Also, as a drawing style app, it allows me to use mind-mapping in my notes, unlike a type-based app. Syncs with Evernote so you can see other notes at the same time. Free!
    • Update: This has become one of my favorite apps and several colleagues who have watched me use it have asked about it. I am to go-to-teacher for old notes from meetings because I have them all in one place and they're easy to find (sorted into individual "notebooks" as opposed to all in one binder or hard notebook). I can take photos of documents we look at or use, or a co-workers notes to include in my own. I have also e-mailed pages to colleagues or my boss. This app is a gem.
  • Evernote: A type-based notebook tool. Allows you to take photos that are inserted directly into the note. Has a checkbox tool so you can insert click-able boxes into your notes. Includes all Penultimate notebooks for viewing (not editing). Free!
3. Management Apps: How can we keep track of what our students are doing?
  • Evernote: Sorry to mention this one again, but with Evernote, I can photograph student work or a behavior reflection a student fills out and file it away for a later parent-teacher conference, to share with my peers in an RtI discussion. I don't have to worry about saving the hard copies in my overfull binder. I can even use the checkbox feature and a pre-made RtI checklist and check off interventions we choose for this student. Free!
  • Class Dojo: I have mentioned this before, but Class Dojo works with an internet based program for tracking student behavior (good and bad). I intend to use this to keep better track of off-task behavior, but also to help encourage me to reward great behavior. This is something I am going to use in conjunction with my classroom economy (click to get started on your own). Printable reports, make it useful for sharing at conferences. Free!
  • Teacherkit
  • TeacherKit: Similar to Class Dojo but with more complete classroom features. It syncs with Dropbox and allows you to input seating charts, attendance, behaviors reports (either click a button or type in a customized note), and has a gradebook feature. You can sort students by names and grades and do a few other fancy things. This is more app than I need, but I thought I would share. Free!
4. Calendar Apps:  Any calendar app is a good one. I use CalenMob because I liked how easy it was to sync with other Calendars (like my Google calendar) and I like the "Agenda" feature. This calendar is nothing special. There are probably others that are just as great if not better. Free!

5. Instructional Apps: Some things to make your classroom the best it can be.
  • Voice Dream: Free text-to-voice app. Reads about 30 seconds at a time to students who struggle with reading. I can open documents from my Dropbox in this app and it will read it to students. Free! (The full version does not stop after 30 seconds - but clicking play every few seconds isn't a big deal to me).
  • Dragon: Free voice-to-text app. This app requires a little training because you have to teach kids to add punctuation as they are speaking. It means they have to be very thoughtful as they "write." If students do not stop at the end of a sentence and say "period" they end up with a lot of editing to do when they are done, but you can edit your text using the keyboard after speaking. One colleague and I thought it would be fun to have kids tell a story or explain something to it, then they could print and edit their story to see how important punctuation is in making something clear and understandable.
  • Knomia
  • Knowmia: A free whiteboard app which allows you to make animated lessons. I haven't played with it a lot yet, but I am excited to try.

Know of some great apps that are helpful to a variety of teachers at all levels? Share!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Class Dojo: A Great Classroom Management Tool

Create a Class Dojo account to help keep track of student behaviors or skills long term. This is a great customizable tool for teachers! See the image slideshow below to to see some of it's features.

Slide Overview:
  1. Teacher Login
  2. What is "Class Dojo"?
  3. Create Multiple Classes (or Multiple Assessment Tools)
  4. It's easy to create a class
  5. Add students
  6. Create Behaviors - Positive and Negative
  7. Start class and monitor behaviors
  8. Look at whole class reports
  9. Look at student level reports
  10. Communicate with parents
  11. Create student logins (if desired - students under 13 should not legally be given this privilege)
  12. Be creative!

Teaching Technologies

Today I attended a book club with a group of elementary teachers. I hadn't read the book; I originally showed up as "tech support" for one of the teachers (and returning a computer I was "fixing" for another in attendance). I stayed and had lunch and talked about the book anyway.

Here are a few things that came up today (and that I helped set up for them in the past):

1. Google Drive for "documenting" discussions
  • One teacher in the book club had asked me to create a template for discussions (prior to their meeting last week). She wanted to print it and pass it out. After some thought, I instead set up a Google Document with the categories she wanted. She shared the document with their principal and with the attending teachers. In the document they record the book, discussion questions, and standards they can teach with it and there's no retyping, nor is everyone required to take notes.
  • Today we used the document - but I got to really help them see how a book can teach so much more than just literacy skills (which is part of their goal for meeting). Many of their social studies standards worked very well with the book, but they were focusing on civics concepts. I showed them how to get creative, how one character's decision really showed the economics concept of "opportunity cost" which is written into the 4th grade standards.
2. Class Dojo for tracking student skills/behavior
  • I haven't used this one, but one teacher mentioned using Class Dojo to monitor student behavior. It is a good tracking tool and you can print reports to share with parents or make it competetive by posting points on a screen or interactive board (SmartBoard or Promethean) so students can see where they stand.
3. Symbaloo
  • Keep track of bookmarks across computers (I have a personal computer and 2 classrooms with their own computers). I like symbaloo better than a traditional bookmarking system because it is more visual (Google Chrome keeps track of links - but not like this). One librarian suggested creating grade level pages and putting this on computer stations in her library with the links readily available for kids to click on and go to different resources. All I know is, if I find a cool interactive at home, I add it to my Symbaloo stuff and when I get to school I can access it with the click of the button (this is my home page on all my computers). I also have a link to my school e-mail and gradebook on here for easy access at school and home.
4.  ActivInspire
  • There is a free personal edition that we can all download and use, but if your district uses this software, chances are Promethean has provided your school with an access code that teachers can use to download the full edition for their home computers. Check with a tech savvy colleague or someone from your technology department to get this code. If not, certainly try the personal edition. Powerpoints be gone. One thing this software allows you to do is draw on websites, your desktop, essentially any file you could have open. Highlight, circle, strikethrough - whatever you might want to do. You just use the desktop dashboard tool.
  • I installed this on one teachers home computer today.
5.  Clickers
  • One teacher and I had a discussion about test taking skills and we realized that it would be beneficial to create an ActivInspire quiz for clickers where students read the prompt and solve it on paper. Then have multiple choice answers appear to "match" to their solved answers. I recommended this to a 3rd grade teacher who said students think that they just get to "select an answer" when it is multiple choice and that they love them because "they don't have to solve it," or so they think. She was totally frustrated.
  • She loved the suggestion because it also means one more thing that is instantly graded.
6. My Classroom Economy
  • Teach personal financial literacy and manage your classroom at the same time! 
  • Okay, this isn't actually technology - but it's great:
  • One teacher and I already do this --> but a colleague sent me this link and now I have materials to infinitely improve on my design.
  • Create an online planbook. Great for keeping track of what you did from year to year and for a teacher like me with multiple classrooms - a nice way to keep your plans with you wherever you are
 I'm sure there was more. We had quite the conversation. Just a few ideas to take into next year.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Teacher As Web Designer

Most of us, as teachers, are required to assemble some form of website in order to advertise our school and interface with students and parents digitally. However, most of us also lack the time to do a great job at this as well as the know-how.

That's where Google Sites comes in. As part of the whole slew of Google Apps available, Google Sites allows you to develop a web page with very little effort. I built a site with multiple pages in about an hour. Then I slowly added and updated to make it better. The nice thing is, they have pre-made sites you can use and fill in, or you can make a very simplistic one from scratch. If you're also a user of Google Drive, you can embed documents, presentations, etc. from Drive into your site for some easy to update features.

Here's a few of the basics.
Choose a template.
  1. Go to
  2. Create an account, login with an existing google account, or use a school account linked to google if you have one.
  3. Click the "Create" button.
  4. Select a template. I prefer the blank template and editing on my own, but there are some great pre-made educator templates.
  5. Select your site name.
  6. Click the "Create" button.
  7. Click the "Edit" button (it looks like a pencil) to update the page.
  8. Or click the "New Page" (looks like a page with a plus sign) to create another page.
Sample page with "edit" and "new page" buttons.

 Some advice about your site: This sample site looks beautiful. However, most of us don't want to get locked into updates like "word of the week," "student of the month" or any fancy editing needed to update homework or announcements.

Try to keep your commitments to your webpage low and easy to accomplish. What is the best bang for your buck? What is the most useful to you, your students, and their parents? Depending on what we teach, these things can be different for all of us. You can Google search lists of what to include for a slew of ideas. Here are a few things that I find relevant:
  • Parents struggling with disorganized, non-communicative students can use my website to help keep their kids on track. Here's how I help them:
    • "How can parents help?" page which provides ideas for guiding a student through homework without giving away the answers or needing to know them.
    • "Communication" guidelines suggesting how parents can prompt students to talk to their teachers and how to let me in on it so I can help make sure it happens (and we can secretly make sure they are getting the right information back to their parents).
    • Most important: the "Homework" page updates my homework daily (without me ever entering my website structure).
  •  Resources: What extras do parents or students at your level need?
    • Parents of avid middle school readers struggle to keep up with what their kids are reading, but want to know they are reading safe materials - I have linked the "young adults" section of my Goodreads account to my school website with some embedded gadgets. When I read a book and update my Goodreads account, it automatically updates the information on my website.
    • Websites - textbook access, games, research resources, etc. are all beneficial to include on a website
    • At the elementary level a weekly schedule is a nice thing for a parent to have access to.
    • My mother, who teaches elementary, includes a weekly spelling list on her website.
    • Many teachers these days find it beneficial to post some version of the standards they teach on their website.
If you want to get a little fancy with your website, here are a few considerations:
  • Get a Picasa account (free) and make edit some pictures to give your website some flashy images.
  •  Embed web gadgets using the insert feature and an "embed gadget" tool or the "html box" you can insert directly from Googles searchable list of gadgets.
  • Embed documents, forms (for quizzes or surveys), presentations, etc directly onto the webpages (I use an embedded document for my homework page - I update the document and my website is updated, without having to even login to my website). If I embed a Google documents version of an assignment instead of uploading a document, I can edit it and those fixes will be automatically available to my students, no uploading new versions necessary. Google Sites makes this as easy as "insert document."
  • Create some different link functionality or link to outside websites using the "edit layout" function under the "more" button.
Note: make sure to link back to any district purchased websites, so parents and students can find your site!
My science website.
The sky is the limit! Keep playing and let me know if you discover something cool!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Google for Grading

As many readers already know, Google has a slew of tools that help us as teachers. Well, today I challenged myself to do a little work with Google Forms with great results. Thank goodness because Sharpschool's exported results were completely useless to me - I gave 2 quizzes this year through that system and it was more work than it was worth (as was designing a class website through them - I now have a Google Site as well).

So here are your steps:
  1. Open Google Drive (
  2. Create Form
  3. Write your quiz questions
  4. Click "add item" for additional questions.
  5. Send form. (see note below)
  6.  Choose response destination: new spreadsheet.
  7. Insert Script.
  8. In the script gallery, search "Flubaroo."
  9. Install Flubaroo.
  10. Take quiz and input correct answers.
  11. Use Flubaroo with your quiz as the answer key.
Steps 3-6.

Response Spreadsheet.

 Basic Options:

You may choose question type: (text options require student answer be spelled exactly like yours for grading purposes*)
    •  Multiple Choice
    • Text
    • Checkbox
    • Paragraph Text
    • Scale
    • Insert Script
    • Grid
*My solution to the text issue is to provide a word bank somewhere on the quiz.

You may "require" questions so students can't skip them.

Challenge Options: (for the brave and tech savvy)
You may embed images in your quiz for additional materials (a primary source to interpret or a data table/graph to analyze).

Install Flubaroo.
If you want to use 2 different forms for progress monitoring purposes (say variations of the same quiz), you may have the answer data saved to one spreadsheet. When choosing your response destination, simply choose to send responses to an existing spreadsheet and select the spreadsheet your would like to use.

 Getting feedback:

 Flubaroo shows individual student scores and percentages, shows student scores for individual answers.
Grade with flubaroo.
Flubaroo also highlights questions that a majority of students did poorly on. This pattern recognition can help you go back and reteach tough concepts.

In addition to Flubaroo, Google has a response summary under their "response" heading that allows you to see graphs of answers to help you look for patterns as well. This is better for seeing specific misinterpretations because the information is divided by answers.

Give Feedback

Reteach to the whole class, reteach to small groups, reteach to individuals. Or graph success over time in a portfolio folder. Other ideas?

Sample grades by Flubaroo.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Switching Topics

For the past couple years I have taught Earth Science to my 6th graders. However, this year I am switching to an integrated model designed by the state. I am pleased with this, but it's also time to start developing a curriculum map for next year. Scary!

First step? Find out what the heck it is I will be teaching. Here's the overview:

Content Area
Grade Level
6th Grade
Course Name/Course Code

Grade Level Expectations (GLE)
GLE Code
1.       Physical Science
1.       All matter is made of atoms, which are far too small to see directly through a light microscope. Elements have unique atoms and thus, unique properties. Atoms themselves are made of even smaller particles
2.       Atoms may stick together in well-defined molecules or be packed together in large arrangements. Different arrangements of atoms into groups compose all substances.
3.       The physical characteristics and changes of solid, liquid, and gas states can be explained using the particulate model
4.       Distinguish among, explain, and apply the relationships among mass, weight, volume, and density
2.       Life Science
1.       Changes in environmental conditions can affect the survival of individual organisms, populations, and entire species
2.       Organisms interact with each other and their environment in various ways that create a flow of energy and cycling of matter in an ecosystem
3.       Earth Systems Science
1.       Complex interrelationships exist between Earth’s structure and natural processes that over time are both constructive and destructive
2.       Water on Earth is distributed and circulated through oceans, glaciers, rivers, ground water, and the atmosphere
3.       Earth’s natural resources provide the foundation for human society’s physical needs. Many natural resources are nonrenewable on human timescales, while others can be renewed or recycled
Colorado 21st Century Skills
Critical Thinking and Reasoning:  Thinking Deeply, Thinking Differently
Information Literacy: Untangling the Web
Collaboration: Working Together, Learning Together
Self-Direction: Own Your Learning
Invention: Creating Solutions
Reading & Writing Standards for Literacy
in Science and Technical Subjects 6 - 12
Reading Standards
·         Key Ideas & Details
·         Craft And Structure
·         Integration of Knowledge and Ideas
·         Range of Reading and Levels of Text Complexity
Writing Standards
·         Text Types & Purposes
·         Production and Distribution of Writing
·         Research to Construct and Present Knowledge
·         Range of Writing
Unit Titles
Length of Unit/Contact Hours
Unit Number/Sequence
Changing Environments
4-6 weeks
4-6 weeks
Building Blocks of Life
4-6 weeks
Environmental Systems
4-6 weeks

The Earth Systems standards are of course old news - I have taught those before. We also hit on mass, weight, volume, and density before and have hinted at the particulate behavior behind solids, liquids, and gases, The rest is shiny and new.

Here's one of the sample curriculum maps the state has provided. I love that it takes on the format of UbD (Understanding by Design, Wiggins and McTighe).

Unit Title
Changing Environments
Length of Unit
4-6 weeks
Focusing Lens(es)
Standards and Grade Level Expectations Addressed in this Unit
Inquiry Questions (Engaging- Debatable):
·         How do changes in one (population) affect balance in an ecosystem?
·         How would life / ecosystems be different if Earth’s surface did not change?
Unit Strands
Life Science, Earth Systems Science
change, equilibrium/stability, ecosystems, environment, population, energy, matter, flow, cycle, surface features, constructive/destructive forces, interaction, patterns

My students will Understand that…
Guiding Questions
                                   Factual                                                                                                     Conceptual
The interactions among organisms in an ecosystem facilitate the flow of energy and cycling of matter and follow predictable patterns.  (SC09-GR.6-S.2-GLE.2-EO.c;  IQ.2; N.3)
What biotic and abiotic factors comprise ecosystems? (SC09-GR.6-S.2-GLE.1-EO.c)
What are ways that we can describe and measure populations and ecosystems? (SC09-GR.6-S.2-GLE.1-EO.a)
 How does a food web show the flow of energy through an ecosystem? patterns (SC09-GR.6-S.2-GLE.2-EO.b)
What “jobs” do organisms do to facilitate the flow of energy and cycling of matter? patterns (SC09-GR.6-S.2-GLE.2-EO.c;  IQ.2)
How do biotic and abiotic factors interact in an ecosystem? (SC09-GR.6-S.2-GLE.1-EO.c)
Why are there generally more producers than consumers in an ecosystem? (SC09-GR.6-S.2-GLE.1-EO.c)
How does the flow of energy compare and contrast with the cycling of matter? patterns (SC09-GR.6-S.2-GLE.2-EO.c)
The interaction between Earth’s constructive and destructive forces explains both the pattern and changes in surface features on Earth. (SC09-GR.6-S.3-GLE.1-EO.a; IQ. 2; RA.1)
What constructive and destructive forces affect Earth’s surface features?
How does Earth’s surface change over time? (SC09-GR.6-S.3-GLE.1-EO.b,c; IQ.2;  RA.2; N.2)
How do forces inside the Earth and on the surface build, destroy, and change Earth’s crust? (SC09-GR.6-S.3-GLE.1-EO.a; IQ. 1; RA.1)
How do changes in Earth’s surface alter the nonliving environment of ecosystems? (SC09-GR.6-S.3-GLE.1-EO.b; RA.1)
Changes in the environment can determine the survival of populations and the stability of ecosystems. (SC09-GR.6-S.2-GLE.1-EO.a; IQ.1)
What types of environmental changes can occur? (SC09-GR.6-S.2-GLE.1-EO.a)
What is meant by “equilibrium” of an ecosystem? (SC09-GR.6-S.2-GLE.1-EO.c; IQ.2)
How do environmental changes explain why populations decrease or increase? (SC09-GR.6-S.2-GLE.1-EO.a)
How do environmental changes affect the survival of individual organisms, populations and species? (SC09-GR.6-S.2-GLE.1-EO.a)
A general understanding of ecosystems and environmental change allows scientists to predict and model potential impacts on populations of organisms. (SC09-GR.6-S.2-GLE.1-EO.b, d; N.1)
How do models help scientists to predict future events? (SC09-GR.6-S.2-GLE.1-EO.d; RA.1; N.3)
How might future environmental changes affect the survival of individual organisms, populations and species?  (SC09-GR.6-S.2-GLE.1-EO.d; N.3) and (, N.2)

Critical Content:
My students will Know
Key Skills:
My students will be able to (Do)
·         The difference between biotic and abiotic (SC09-GR.6-S.2-GLE.1-EO.c)
·         The reasons why there are generally more producers than consumers in an ecosystem (SC09-GR.6-S.2-GLE.1-EO.c)
·         How food webs help us visualize the flow of energy through and ecosystem (SC09-GR.6-S.2-GLE.2-EO.b)
·         Matter cycles within ecosystems (SC09-GR.6-S.2-GLE.2-EO.c; IQ.1)
·         Earth’s surface is constantly changing (SC09-GR.6-S.3-GLE.1-EO.c; IQ.1)
·         Examples of how forces inside the Earth contribute to changes in the surface of Earth’s crust (SC09-GR.6-S.3-GLE.1-EO.a; IQ.1)
·         The constructive and destructive forces  brought about by changes to the Earth’s surface (SC09-GR.6-S.3-GLE.1-EO.a; IQ.1)
·         How environmental conditions affect the survival of individual organisms, populations and entire species (SC09-GR.6-S.2-GLE.1-EO.d; N.3) and (, N.2)
·         Develop, communicate and justify an evidence-based explanation about why there generally are more producers than consumers in an ecosystem (SC09-GR.6-S.2-GLE.2-EO.a)
·         Design a food web diagram to show the flow of energy through an ecosystem (SC09-GR.6-S.2-GLE.2-EO.b)
·         Compare and contrast the flow of energy with the cycling of matter in ecosystems (SC09-GR.6-S.2-GLE.2-EO.c)
·         Gather, analyze and communicate an evidence-based explanation for the complex interaction between Earth’s constructive and destructive forces (SC09-GR.6-S.3-GLE.1-EO.a)
·         Gather, analyze and communicate evidence from text and other sources that explains the formation of surface features (SC09-GR.6-S.3-GLE.1-EO.b)
·         Use or create a computer simulation for planets’ changing surface (SC09-GR.6-S.3-GLE.1-EO.c)
·         Practice the collaborative inquiry process that scientists use to identify local evidence of constructive and destructive forces (SC09-GR.6-S.3-GLE.1; N.1)
·         Create and compare models of natural processes that affect structures (SC09-GR.6-S.3-GLE.1; N.2)
·         Interpret and analyze data about changes in environmental conditions (SC09-GR.6-S.2-GLE.1-EO.a)
·         Develop, communicate, and justify and evidence-based explanation about how ecosystems interact (SC09-GR.6-S.2-GLE.1-EO.b)
·         Model equilibrium in an ecosystem (SC09-GR.6-S.2-GLE.1-EO.c)
·         Examine, evaluate, question, and ethically use information from a variety of sources to investigate how environmental conditions affect survival (SC09-GR.6-S.2-GLE.1-EO.d)

Critical Language: includes the Academic and Technical vocabulary, semantics, and discourse which are particular to and necessary for accessing a given discipline.
EXAMPLE: A student in Language Arts can demonstrate the ability to apply and comprehend critical language through the following statement: “Mark Twain exposes the hypocrisy of slavery through the use of satire.”
A student in ______________ can demonstrate the ability to apply and comprehend critical language through the following statement(s):
Ecosystems change over time as populations interact with each other and the changing environment.
Academic Vocabulary:
analyze, interpret, evidence, interactions
Technical Vocabulary:
weathering, erosion, deposition, constructive forces, destructive forces, ecosystem, population, species, crust, survival, equilibrium,  producers, consumers, food web, food chain,

Just so we're clear, the state of Colorado has provided these sample curriculum models as a tool. They are not something I absolutely must do. For example, I would prefer to start with atoms in the "building blocks" unit and then move into this. Why? Well, having taught about the constructive and destructive forces on earth, I know that the whole "building blocks" idea can be very helpful in developing a concept of how molecules behave before we ever begin this unit. Then we can use that foundation to help problem solve through how exactly our constructive and destructive forces work.